Icelandic Buttermilk Barley Bread Recipe
It sounds like a mouthful but Icelandic buttermilk barley bread is amazing. We tasted it at Skorrahestar Icelandic Horse Farm in the Eastern Fjords of Iceland and it was so good that I asked Thea, from Skorrahestar, if she would share the recipe. Made with barley, an ancient grain gaining popularity for its health benefits, this bread is dead easy to make once you have all the ingredients. It’s also very nutritious which means that you can make a long loaf at breakfast for big family reunions and know that stomachs will be full until lunchtime.
At Skorrahestar, Thea makes this bread almost every day and stores it on her kitchen counter under a linen cloth. In London, I made her recipe for a family reunion and it lasted two breakfasts for 10 people. Everybody was raving about the subtle cumin taste and the authentic “Nordic bread” consistency. Such grainy breads are common in northern countries in Europe and you’ll love this one.
To make it, you’ll need to find a secret ingredient – barley flakes. Thea uses a type of coarse barley flakes that doesn’t exist outside of Iceland called Byggflogur. They are to barley what steel-cut oats are to oat flakes–flattened grains with broken bits which provide a wonderful chew in the bread. I’ve searched high and low online but can’t find it outside of Iceland (fortunately I bought a bag over there). If you happen to travel to Iceland, stock up at the supermarket! Otherwise, I have two alternatives:
- steel cut oats
- a blend of barley flakes and hulled barley grains.
- 4 cups of whole wheat flour
- 2 cups of byggoflogur or 1½ cups of barley flakes and ½ cup of hulled barley grain, previously soaked in cold water overnight and drained or 2 cups of steel cut oats
- 5 tsp of baking powder
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 quart/liter of buttermilk
- 1 Tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 Tbsp caraway seeds (optional but delicious if you can find them)
- ½ cup pumpkin seeds (optional)
- Combine dry and wet ingredients.
- Preheat oven at 350F/180C.
- Pour in long (30cm/10") bread loaf tin pan lined with parchment/baking paper.
- Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until a knife comes clean.
- Let cool overnight before slicing.
I used Bob’s Red Mill Hulled Barley and Shiloh Farms Barley Flakes.
If you want to enjoy this bread in true Icelandic fashion, serve it with salted butter, smoked trout, sliced cucumber, sliced tomatoes, sliced cheese and ham. It would do great on a family picnic or other outdoor activities as this bread won’t lose its shape in a backpack.
To add to the experience, I have a book suggestion for the grown-ups. Eat the bread while reading Arnaldur Indridason’s murder novels, such as Strange Shores. The author hails from the Eastern Fjords through his grandmother and this one is set there in the winter.
4 thoughts on “Icelandic Buttermilk Barley Bread Recipe”
In my 50 years of bread baking, the use of leavening agents, such as baking powder or baking soda, somehow goes against my religion.
I have substituted these chemicals with natural wild yeast (a “sourdough” starter that is not sour), and I also exchanged the buttermilk with spring water.
This has improved the crumb and taste of this “byggfloegur” bread considerably.
Unfortunately it is no longer a real Icelandic bread, since my version reflects a long German bread baking expertise.
Hello Hartmut, love your experiments. As you’ve pointed out, this type of bread is a “quick bread” as opposed to a naturally-risen bread and it works well but I can see how a sourdough starter would improve the texture. Our host in Iceland made two loaves of this bread per day during the tourist season and working on a farm, she needed the process to be quick and efficient. I really enjoyed the taste. Regarding the water substitution, did you do a 1 for 1 substitution?
As a retired person I have plenty of time to bake bread for my wife and I, and my fellow veterans at the American Legion.
Answering your question, I completely exchanged buttermilk with spring water, and at a 90% hydration level.
Do you mind telling me where you reside? I assume it is not California where I live, but perhaps the United Kingdom? In your writings you also mention something about Norway. One of my brothers has been living there most of his live.
When I was young, handsome, and with a pleasant odor, I traveled all over the world, including numerous times to Iceland, England and France.
I used to live in California and now live in London in the UK. Norway is a wonderful country that I only discovered recently and it’s easy to fall in love with the landscapes. Such a great place. I wonder if you would try this recipe with buttermilk just once because the acidity of the buttermilk really lends itself to the barley cumon seed combo and the texture of the bread, though it is a quick bread, does not suffer.
Best wishes to you too! Laure