Crisp bread is a type of unleavened bread that is made from whole grain rye flour, water and salt. The bread is treated in a special way during kneading to help it produce air bubbles while it bakes. For more than 1,000 years, crisp bread has been used as a staple food, originating in Sweden. If kept dry, it can last for years, providing a whole grain food with a high amount of fiber.
The first crisp bread was made in 500 AD in Sweden. It was first baked with a hole in the center of the bread so it could be stored on long pegs inside the home. Vikings would take the bread with them on expeditions because it would remain edible for a long time. The bread spread into many neighboring countries and was very common in the 1800s. In countries such as Finland, where bread was baked only twice a year at the time, crisp bread was made and stored for months before being eaten.
The traditional recipe for crisp bread is simple. Whole grain rye flour is mixed with water and salt to form a firm dough. That dough does not use any leavening agents and comes out of the oven too tough to bite into. Early Swedish bakers, however, would incorporate snow or flakes of ice into the dough so they would evaporate during baking and form air pockets. The air pockets soften the texture of the bread, allowing it to be eaten.
The simple flour, water and salt recipe for crisp bread is shared by a number of other breads. Hardtack uses the same recipe, although white flour is used instead of rye. The tough hardtack biscuit originally was used as a military ration and was a go-to food when it needed to last for a long time. Unlike crisp bread, hardtack is nearly impossible to eat on its own and needs to be soaked in some type of liquid.
After the 1800s, variations on traditional crisp bread started to appear. Some commercial bakeries began to add small amounts of yeast to the bread to soften the texture. Later recipes would even call for the bread to be laced with spices to add some flavor to the otherwise bland crackers.
There are a number of recipes that call for this traditional bread. These recipes are usually liquid-rich, baked dishes in which the dry and crisp nature of the bread will hold up through long baking times. The breads also are enjoyed as a snack when eaten with pickles or fruit jams and make resilient bread crumbs.