Tuesday 17 May 2016

Bread, glorious bread (or The Brilliant Simplicity of an Open Sandwich)

I love bread. I could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I don't, but I could. Poor bread has a bit of a bad rep nowadays among all kinds of fitness enthusiasts and gluten has basically been demonised. I'm not going to rant and rave about that because all sane people know that (good) bread is good for you and that gluten is not devil spawn. However, I will state, just for the record, that all diets that prohibit bread should be banned, people who throw away bread crust should be fined and I don't trust people who don't eat bread.There. Now we can move forward.

Finnish bread I baked in England.
In my childhood home (and in countless other Finnish homes, I'm sure), bread was what you had for breakfast, for a snack after school and sometimes for an evening snack too before going to bed. It was in the form of an open sandwich, voileipä. It was nearly always rye bread (and I mean proper rye bread, not the kind that's more than a half wheat but called rye because it has a smidgen of rye in it) or crisp bread (that was made of rye too). I loved going to friends' houses because they sometimes had wheat bread that was called ”ranskanleipä”, ”French loaf”, lovely soft white bread that my mum only bought when it was reduced. I was annoyed then that we couldn't have it more often but of course now I know that my mum knew it had a very poor nutritional value.

My grandmother cooking by the wood-fired stove.
Bread is what I start missing first when I'm outside Finland. Needless to say, the entire 3.5 years in England I kept searching shops for good rye bread, had whoever was visiting bring me a suitcase full of Finnish bread and came back from holidays with an airline baggage allowance worth of Finnish rye. While in England, I also made my first proper rye bread since my childhood.

My grandparents lived in a house with a wood-fired oven and a couple of times a year the women in the family would get together and bake rye bread (and sometimes Karelian pastries, which I will return to later in this blog). There were four generations present at best, my great grandmother being the eldest and the keeper of the baking secrets. Later my family lived in that same house and the tradition continued. Sadly, the house is not in the family anymore but the baking continues.

In Finland, as in many other countries, I'm sure, bread is the ultimate cucina povera, because you only need a bit of flour, water and salt and then some magical kitchen chemistry happens and suddenly the previously bland and pretty much indigestible ingredients have suddenly transmogrified into nutritious food. Finnish bread comes in many many forms and not just in rye but rye bread seems to be the essence of Finnishness. There are regional variations in the form, sweetness, acidity and seasoning. The flat discs with a hole in the middle are part of my childhood whereas my partner, who is from Eastern Finland, is used to round, plump loaves. Rye bread can also be dried, the original purpose of which was obviously to preserve it, but different kinds of dried breads and crisp breads are still popular. They are delicious, cheap and keep well. Nowadays you can even buy your 100% rye bread in handy portion-size pieces to avoid having to cut it. 100% rye bread goes very tough very quickly but the thing is it's at its best when it's so hard you can hardly get a bite off. This TV commercial really says it all. It's not subtitled but the dad says ”Well, are you hungry or not?” and the on-screen text after that means ”Hard as life”.

Even though I prefer 100% rye bread, I do like other kinds too. The important thing is it has flavour and something to chew. When travelling, I love to taste local breads and, when possible, bring some loaves back with me. I recently went to Denmark which is known for its smørrebrød and had some amazing open sandwiches which inspired me to make some with a bit more effort. At its simplest, my weekday breakfast open sandwich may only consist of bread, (real) butter and some ham and cheese but I like to add vegetables to that. It really depends on what's in the fridge. One evening a couple of days ago, my evening snack open sandwiches looked like this:

I decided to make three sandwiches and one just had to be with cured salmon. Cured salmon is definitely among the top three rye bread toppings. For me, salmon needs acidity and a soured dairy product of some sort so I served the salmon sandwich with a horseradish crème fraîche, bits of lemon and fresh dill. The main ingredient in the second sandwich was pork belly which I roasted in the oven with a BBQ glaze. In England, I came to love the amazing union of pork and apple so I served the pork sandwich with an apple sauce. I also felt it needed a bit more acidity so I pickled some beetroot and finished it off with thyme leaves. The third sandwich is very humble but that's why I love it: sliced new potatoes and boiled egg with spring onion. Just a bit of parsley and salt and voilà! So good! I used rye bread for the salmon and the potato sandwiches and oat loaf for the pork. If you want to give these a try, there's a complete list of ingredients at the end.

You can't get Finnish rye bread in most countries, but you could use German rye bread (the moist sliced dark bread with seeds). It's sweeter but the texture works well with these heavily laden open sandwiches. In any case you should use bread that's quite heavy and dense so that it won't go soggy easily. I'm not going to write down recipes per se as I recently made fun of open sandwich recipes (everyone can put stuff on a piece of bread, right?) but let me know if you want the precise recipe of the horseradish crème fraîche, the BBQ sauce, the apple sauce or the pickling liquid. If you want the secrets of the salmon curing you have to talk to my partner as he is the curing master in our house.


slice of rye bread (see above)
cured salmon
crème fraîche (with grated horseradish, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, black pepper and salt)
bits of fresh lemon
fresh dill
salt and black pepper


slice of oat loaf or similar (see above)
slices of pork belly (glazed with a BBQ sauce)
apple sauce
pickled beetroot, thinly sliced
thyme leaves


slice of rye bread (see above)
boiled new potato
hard-boiled egg
spring onion
salt and pepper

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