Recipe – Kefir and Cardamom Breakfast Loaf (+ Gluten Free)

A perfectly probiotic morning bread you can whip up in your jammies and eat warm smothered in marmalade alongside a cup of Earl Grey. Let’s be honest, the majority of the probiotic cultures were killed during the baking process, but for any newly addicted kefir-philes among you, this bread is an absolutely fantastic way to put your leftover probiotic dairy to extremely good use. It is also the perfect loaf if you are gluten intolerant, as you can easily swap the mixture of rye, whole wheat, and all-purpose flour (plus the spelt bran) for gluten-free types and still end up with an incredibly tasty bread. This is possible because this is not a highly leavened bread. It is designed to be thick and hearty, not open and airy, so we don’t need to form strong networks of gluten to trap gases formed during the rising process.

I fell in love with the rich, sweet breads such as filmjölkslimpa when I was in Sweden, and as it has so far been impossible to find their like here in Montreal I have decided to recreate them from scratch for our family. Apart from their rustic texture and spicy aroma, one of the wonderful things about these breads is the length of time it takes to prepare them. Since they are leavened using sodium bicarbonate instead of yeast, the entire process takes no more than 75 minutes. Start mixing at 8 am and enjoy a toasty slice at 9.30 am. A good start to a weekend? You better believe it.

How does sodium bicarbonate make the bread rise? It does this by reacting with acids present in the mixture, forming carbon dioxide gas that expands the network of carbohydrates and proteins inside the dough as the loaf bakes. In the case of filmjölkslimpa, the filmjölk is the acidic element. Filmjölk is a type of mesophilic bacterial culture (thus the “fil”) grown in milk (“mjölk” in Swedish). A mesophilic culture grows best in the range of room temperature, and it forms the basis of many popular types of fermented dairy products in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, filmjölk is not something you really find on the shelves in North America, but you can find something that tastes and behaves similarly – kefir.

Liberté plain and probiotic kefir

I can tell you firsthand that this non-effervescent kefir from Liberté is a pretty good approximation of filmjölk – tastewise, anyhow. Kefir is actually a more complex type of fermented milk because besides being a home to those helpful probiotic bacteria, it additionally contains yeast colonies that co-exist in harmony. This mutually beneficial arrangement is the microscopic equivalent of flatmates, and is termed a SCOBY – Symbiotic Community of Bacteria and Yeast. Ah – ha, yeast! Isn’t the yeast helping the bread rise? Probably in an incredibly unhelpful way the yeast is trying its best to contribute, but the yeast present here is not so efficient, at least not compared to baker’s yeast. I will actually try and do some pre-ferments in the future, as I do when I make my beer-based pizza dough, trying to use the yeast in the kefir to leaven the bread. It should be interesting, so be sure to check back in the future and see how that unfolds. For now let’s get back to our faux filmjölkslimpa.

I tweaked a recipe from my Allt om Mat cookbook to incorporate the Canadian staple, maple syrup, and the spices cinnamon and cardamom. When the smell of this bread cooking begins to wander into the bedrooms nobody is going to be able to resist peeking through the oven door. Guaranteed. As I said, if you are interested in a gluten-free bread just make the necessary adjustments to the flour and bran. You will be suitably impressed with what you pull off the baking rack and you could well find that your kefir purchasing doubles in order to keep pace with the demand for this bread!

Slices of warm and hearty breakfast bread

Kefir and Cardamom Breakfast Loaf

500 mL plain kefir
100 g whole wheat flour
120 g all-purpose flour
120 g rye flour
50 g flax seed
20 g spelt bran
100 mL maple syrup
15 g sodium bicarbonate
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp salt

I told you this was easy. Turn on the oven to 170ºC (350ºF). Mix together all of the dry ingredients in a bowl, then pour in the maple syrup and kefir. Let the wet mixture sit for 10 minutes before transferring into a greased loaf pan and placing on the bottom rack of the oven. Bake for 1 hour before removing from the oven. My advice is to eat this warm with melted butter and some jam or a nice tart cheese. Chase it down with a strong cup of tea or coffee and use those carbs, caffeine, and vitamins to propel you into the afternoon. If an extra helping of sweet takes your fancy then brush with maple syrup and sprinkle with some bran and flax seeds.

This recipe is going to be one of several during the next weeks, as I delve more into kefir, filmjölk, and a host of probiotic fermented milk products that you may well be overlooking.

UPDATE: Gluten Free recipe

Due to popular request I have come up with a gluten free version to share with everyone.

500 mL plain kefir
100 g white rice flour
120 g amaranth flour
60 g buckwheat flour
60 g tapioca starch
50 g flax seed
120 mL maple syrup
15 g baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp salt

Note that besides substituting the flour for gluten free varieties, there is an extra 20 mL of maple syrup, 1/2 tsp xanthan gum, and 1/2 tsp baking powder to take note of. Xanthan gum is an interesting substance – a polysaccharide industrially manufactured by the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris on a large scale in bioreactors. The gum is used as a thickening agent that attempts to reproduce some of the ability of gluten to add a bit of elasticity and stickiness to gluten free dishes, allowing them to hold more moisture than they normally would. It does not have much of a taste, so it is often used in modernist cuisine in place of cornstarch.

Would love to hear comments on the gluten free version!

4 Comments

  1. Jason R
    January 17
    Reply

    Nice! I’m sure to try this easy recipe…… one question… Would almond flour work in place of the others? Then it might not only be gluten free, but paleo as well 🙂

    • Immortal Pestle
      January 17
      Reply

      Absolutely!

      Almond flour is a great idea, and a common gluten-free wheat substitute. I would recommend adding a bit of baking powder (not soda) to give a bit of extra lift to the bread. I say baking powder because it contains sodium bicarbonate along with an acid in powder form that will produce gassy carbon dioxide when water and heat are added, so you don’t depend on the acid in the kefir still remaining. You probably won’t need to bake the loaf as long, either – maybe 45 minutes instead of an hour. Just keep an eye on the crust of the loaf as an indicator.

      Let me know how it goes 🙂

  2. Tara
    January 18
    Reply

    This is so funny! I recently fell in love with kefir. I thought there was no point saving your recipe because I am moving to Sweden shortly and they do not have kefir there. I thought “maybe I could substitute filmjölk?” Then I read the article where you mention filmjölk and became so happy! Thanks for posting. Can’t wait to try it!

    • Immortal Pestle
      January 18
      Reply

      You can find kefir in Sweden, though it is not as common. Arla, Scandinavia’s largest dairy producer, makes some but you will only find it in the larger grocers. If you have already been to Sweden then you know that by way of contrast pretty much every place, down to Pressbyrån, has fil. Hope you enjoy the recipe!

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