Swedish Hardtack Crackers

I have made crackers before, both savory and sweet. While the results were good in my first savory attempt, I have to admit that I wasn’t all that sure of myself because I didn’t think the original recipe was very good. Before my course officially ended, our instructor gave up a copy of a cracker recipe and mentioned that it was worth making our own. Her recipe turns out to be very similar to one in Baking with Julia, so I’ve chosen to make Savory Wheat Crackers (on the left in the photo).

On the facing page (shown in right of photo) is a recipe for Swedish Oatmeal Hardtack. I tried to make hardtack once, long ago, when I was under the understanding that it was simply flour and water mixed together and baked until it was hard. Hardtack definately carries the connotation of something unpalatable with such a long shelflife that it was a staple on long voyages and in the army in, and possibly before, the 18th century. Swedish hardtack is not the same type of cracker. It is much richer, using butter, shortening, oatmeal and buttermilk and can be eaten for breakfast as well as with dips.

The wheat crackers were very simple to make. Mix flour, salt and water in a food processor, rest it, roll it out and bake it for a brief period at a high temperature. You can top them with anything sweet or savory. I used garlic and salt on some and coconut and sugar, as per a suggestion in the recipe. Unfortunately, most of them did not get very crispy! The flavor was bland and the slight chew that remained was unplesant. The baking time was way off base – I had to bake mine more than twice the recommended time and they still weren’t crisp. The recipe stated to roll out the crackers as thin as possible, but if it was supposed to be thinner than I was able to get them, they must have had someone incredibly strong roll out the dough.

The hardtack, on the other hand, was excellent. It was easy to mix and the dough was easy to roll out with lots of flour. The dough was also very forgiving, so you can patch any tears or move bits of it around to make a perfect rectangle, at will. I have to say that the baking time was, once again, way off base. This would not stop me from making these again, though.
Here’s my revised version of the recipe. These have a great inherent balance of sweet and savory. You might like them sprinkled with a bit of salt before baking, if you have a “salt tooth”, like me.

Swedish Hardtack

4 tbsp shortening

2 tbsp butter, softenend

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup rolled oats (quick cooking, not instant)

3/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

3/4 cup buttermilk

Combine flour, oats, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl and whisk to mix. Stir together shortening, butter and sugar (the recipe suggests using a spatula for all the mixing). Add dry ingredients and buttermilk to the butter mixture. Chill, covered, for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Using lots of flour on a sheet of parchment paper, roll out 1/3 of dough at a time until it is as thin as you can get it (1 mm or less). Transfer paper to baking sheet. Score dough with a fork and use a bench scraper or a knife to divide the dough into rectangles (I like mine to be on the small side – 1 x 1.5 inches). Bake until the tops of the crackers are golden, 12-15 minutes. If you take them out too soon, they will not be crispy so you may want to bake them longer.

Feel free to bake a small test batch first to see how long they will take to bake, as it will vary with the thickness of your dough.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool and store in an airtight container.

14 comments

  1. Instead of being incredibly strong, could they be rolling out the dough with a pasta machine or something like it? I’ve never tried it, but I imagine a pasta machine might work pretty well for rolling out cracker dough.

  2. I’m glad I read this. When I saw ‘hardtack’, I thought it was about candy!

  3. Scuplin – That’s a great suggestion. If I attempt this cracker recipe again, I might try that. The hardtack was easy to roll out by hand, so I wouldn’t change that.

    Stephanie – Mmm… candy. I’ll have to do a post on making candy one of these days.

  4. How interesting! I’ve never heard of hardtack, nor of something with those ingredients.. I’ll have to try and make it, and see what it resembles! :)

    Anne in Sweden :)

  5. The recipe reads and looks really good. I’ll have to try this. It would be nice to have something different for breakfast.

  6. I make wheat crackers like the ones you made, from the book Flatbreads and Flavors. And yes, some are crispy and some are not. Even as a think about them, they don’t sound that great but I think I like them because they’re imperfect. I don’t say that very often about baked goods either. :D

  7. Anne – It’s funny that the book never mentioned exactly how it got the name “Swedish Hardtack” – just that it was eaten for breakfast. Maybe it’s a regional thing?

  8. Ana – Try cutting the crackers in larger squares for breakfast. They’re good with jam.

    Samantha – The authors of Flatbreads and Flavors are the ones who contributed the recipe to BwJ. I liked the plainness, but ultimately feel that crackers should be crispy and/or crumbly, not chewy, as these turned out. I would try another recipe from them, though.

  9. Nic, these sound great. I love homemade crackers and usually it takes a lot of time in the kitchen. This receipe looks simpler and very good. I will definitely give them a try!

  10. Looks great! I’ve never heard of them either (also swedish). We have crackers like that but never heard that name. But it sounds like it has swedish origin since the last part of the word (“tack”) means “thank you” and the first part probably was “hård” which means hard.

    My guess is that it was something brought by swedish settlers and then became forgotten back in Sweden but stayed alive elsewhere. Well, time to bring it back then I guess. Have to try making some…

  11. This is the authentic recipe for Swedish Hard Tack….the exact recipe that the Tie Hacks use to make. The Tie Hacks were a group of Swedish loggers that made railroad ties all winter long in the Wind River Mountains of western Wyoming. Hard Tack was a staple food that these men took with them to the woods when they were logging.

    Interesting story… http://www.duboiswyoming.org/tiehack. Also, to get a much better cracker texture first roll out your dough with a regular rolling pin and then roll over it with a Swedish Knobby Rolling Pin. Swedish Knobby Rolling Pins are available at Swedish Specialty Shops or chef-type online stores. Great way to incorporate stoneground whole wheat flours and good oils (check out http://www.tropicaltraditions.com) into your daily diet. Have fun!

  12. Hi,

    “Hardtack” was a staple of both Union and Confederate armies during the civil war era. They baked the things by the thousands in factories, packaged them in crates, and used them often months after packaging. Some poor soldiers complained that the only fresh meat they were everissued by their war dept. was in the form of insects living in the hardbread. Also known as “tooth dullers”.

  13. just came across this searching for cracker recipes, so I don’t know if anyone is still active here, but… In my family this is called knackebrot (with the appropriate umlauts). I’m second generation Swedish American. Maybe some of the Swedes recognize it by this name.

  14. This recipe looks outstanding. How much does a batch make? I need to feed 120+ people. I want to use this cracker to accent a salad and date roll. Thanks.

    Kim

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