A Scandinavian Treat: How to Make Hardtack

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ILLUSTRATION: KIM ZARNEY
Even if your kitchen isn't as rustic as this one you can still learn how to make hardtack.

The national heritage of many nations includes some
delicious form of flatbread: the Mexican tortilla, Italian
pizza, chapati from India . . . and, here in northern
Minnesota, the descendants of Scandinavian settlers still
bake hardtack. While visiting a local farmhouse, John (my
husband) and I happened to sample some of that last
delicacy. We liked it so much that, as we left, our hostess
made us a gift of a whole bagful to take along. Although
our farm was only four miles away, the sack was empty by
the time we arrived home! Everyone I know who’s tried this
nutritious fare acclaims it as THE super munchie.

Hardtack can be made with any combination of flours you
choose: corn, wheat, oats, barley, rice, rye or unbleached
white . . . but if you use a generous ratio of whole grain
flours the taste is sure to be delicious. Buttermilk,
yogurt, whey, cream and sweet or sour milk may be used
interchangeably as the necessary liquid, or you can try
mixing them.

The real art of making good, crunchy hardtack lies in
rolling the dough very thin. The traditional method is to
compound a stiff mixture, put some flour on a board and
then take a small lump of the blend and spread it out as
much as possible. Then comes the difficult part . . .
transferring the flimsy film to a cookie sheet. John
experimented with several batches and found that this last
step was just too hard to handle . . . so he eliminated it
altogether by simply rolling the dough out on the flat pan
in the first place.

Here, then, is the “new, improved” Cuddy method of making
hardtack: First, lightly grease and flour your baking
surface. Then take an egg-sized piece of dough (enough to
cover a 14″ X 16″ sheet when it is spread out), dust the
lump with flour to prevent sticking (repeat as necessary),
center the ball on the cookie sheet and squash it slightly
with your palm.

Now start flattening the mixture and think sheer! A flour
sock slipped over a rolling pin is the perfect tool to use
at this point, but–in a pinch–you can
substitute a cylindrical jar. With some practice your
proficiency and speed at this baker’s task will improve
tremendously. Trim off any excess dough and throw the
scraps back in your mixing bowl.

Bake the flatbread in a hot oven (around 400°). If you
have a wood stove, be careful until you get to know its
nature. The “loaf’s” edges nearest the firebox may tend to
scorch if the hardtack is left too long. When the border
browns, flip the bread over and bake till it’s almost
cardboard stiff. Turn your unleavened creation again and
wait this time until the thin slab is cardboard
stiff. Then remove the whole thing from the oven and
carefully lift the results of your labor off the sheet. Get
ready to stand back if there’s anyone around with an
appetite! This treat can’t be surpassed when it’s hot and
fresh.

A recipe using about five cups of flour will yield at least
five batches. To store the hardtack, break it into pieces
and place them in a cannister, a tin container, a jar with
a cover or anything else that’s airtight. This is one baked
goody that won’t ever spoil as long as it remains dry.

Flatbread is an ideal provision for hiking or backpacking
because it is lightweight, compact, and keeps well. You can
carry many days’ supply with ease, and the crunchy morsels
are satisfying and sustaining. We use this food around the
homestead as both a staple and a snack. Eaten with butter,
cinnamon and sugar, cheese, sausage, nut butters,
preserves, etc., hardtack becomes the vehicle for whatever
taste trip you crave. And it’s just as good all by itself.
I think we’ve discovered the closest thing to Tolkien’s
Elfin Waybread!

     Number One                                  Number Two
3 cups unbleached white flour                2 cups wheat flour
1 1/2 cups graham flour                      2 cups unbleached white flour
  1/2 cup cornmeal                             1/3 cup shortening
1/2 cup shortening                          1 cup yogurt (thinned with water
1 1/2 cup milk                                  to the consistency of cream)
1 tsp. sugar                                 1/2 cup dark corn syrup
1 Tbs. salt                                  1 tsp. salt
                                              1 tsp. soda

     Number Three                                Number Four
4 cups flour(s) of your choice               3 cups flour(s) of your choice
1 cup oatmeal                                1 1/2 cup wheat flour
  1/2 cup shortening                          1 cup sour cream
2 cups buttermilk                            1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. salt                                  1 small cup sugar
1 tsp. soda                                  1 tsp. soda
                                              dash of salt to taste

    Number Five                                  Number Six
4 cups flour(s) of your choice               7 cups unbleached white and/or wheat flour
1 cup barley flour                           3 cups rye flour
1 cup cornmeal                               1 qt. buttermilk or 1 pt. buttermilk and 1 pt. cream
  1/2 cup drippings                            1/2 cup shortening (omit if cream is used)
2 cups sour milk                             1 cup sugar
  2/3 cup sugar                                1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. salt                                  1 heaping tsp. soda
1 tsp. soda

    Number Seven (Vitamin B Variation)
Using yeast instead of leavening, mix:
1 tsp. yeast
2 Tbs. molasses, honey or sugar
1/4 cup lukewarm water

Let this mixture sit 30 minutes (until it's bubbling), then proceed with any above variation,
omitting only the soda. Stir the wet ingredients into the yeast mixture and then gradually add
flour until the dough is stiff and sticks to a spoon.