Saturday, December 31, 2011

Unlevened Barley Buns

    This recipe was directed to me the other day. It is an article written by my obviously favorite medieval researcher and author, Carolyn Priest-Dorman. The article titled "Viking Barley Bagels: Unlevened Barley Buns" was written after she researched this bread for her 12th Night feast in the East Kingdom in January of 1993. It seems fitting that I should use her rendition of this recipe for our 12th Night celebration and Investiture.
    In her research she designed this recipe using an analysis of breads and buns found in 9th and 10th century graves in Birka, Sweden. The shape she uses for this bread, a small bagel shape, came from a Migration Era find, also in Sweden. She adapted the technique and flour proportions with the help of the cookbook "The Tassajara Bread Book" which uses measurements very similar to known Viking measurements.
   It is a simple, unlevened bread. In English, that means no yeast or yeast type substance is used. It makes it so the buns do not rise and are dense due to the lack of air in the dough. They are made from whole wheat and barley flour, which adds to the flavor, but also makes for a dense, solid bread. This bread is a meal all in itself, which is why they used it for travelling. Eat a piece of a hearty bun such as this with a chunk of cheese and/or some fruit and there is your travelling meal for mid-day.
   I add this to my entries on the basis that Nobleman or not, he was travelling and would need to eat. He simply would reach into his handy dandy leather pouch convieniently hanging from his belt and would pull out a barley bun and eat away.
    The recipe is made with simple ingredients that even the poorest and slowest of Vikings would have available to them or could trade for: wheat, barley, salt, oil and hot water.

I started off by grinding the whole wheat and the barley into flour. I used my hand crank grinder, and while not period, it still was almost an hour of grinding to make the flour for this recipe.

Then, over low heat, roast the barley flour in some sesame oil until it turns golden brown and smells absolutely delicious. I have never heard of browning ground flour before. The only reason I can think of is the releasing of flavor. It went from "that smells like it may make a tasty bread" to "I cannot wait to eat this bread--it smells so good!" After it is browned, combine it and the wheat flour, salt, more sesame oil and boiling water is all added at once. Carefully, since it is rather HOT, knead it as small chunks first, then larger chunks of dough until all the dough is being mixed by your hands at once.

The incredibly stiff dough is then divided up into 24 portions. Each piece is then rolled into a ball and flattened slightly. I used the handle of a wooden spoon to poke a hole in the center. This bread is so very dense that if the center were not cut out, it would never bake all the way through and would be doughy in the middle. The buns resemble mini-bagels sitting on my pans. They are left to set, covered with a towel, 6-8 hours. They do not rise at all. They then bake for an hour.                                                                    
Done. They look like ginger snaps, are crunchy like pretzels and are slightly sweet with a yummy nutty flavor. I like this recipe!



  1. What a great recipe. I plan to give it a try. How long do you think they would keep? They sound much like hard tack that was used on sailing voyages which I understand would last for quite some time (although it may have had weevils after a while - yuck!).

  2. They were very hard/crispy and dense. I would imagine they would keep for quite a while in a sealed container. As with anything, weavils are possible in storage. They tasted ok, but had a crumbly texture. That said, like hardtack, it would sustain you on long travels. We are just spoiled by our modern tastes now. Lol.