rieska with butter

It’s official. My case of cabin fever has moved beyond the stage of being curable — at least, that is, by anything other than time. No amount of willpower, movie watching, exercising, music listening, Valentine’s Day-ing (though I must say my valentine is one very bright spot, even in these sunless days) or cookie eating is going to tear me from the threshold of these winter blues.

It happens every year, and so I’ve come to expect it and, like a flower wrapped tightly in its bud, wait (mostly) patiently for the impending thaw of springtime, when it bursts in a colorful force through the crunchy gray snow and melts all of it — and my wintry woes — away.

In the waiting, however, I’ve learned to create for myself an arsenal of survival tools — a really good book, some good company, a few cups of warm tea. And now, perhaps, this bread, as rustic and reliable as one needs when he or she is feeling cabin feverish. This bread — this rieska, this Finnish wonder of ridiculously easy bread baking — is a true companion in these darker days.

rieska in baking dish

I don’t know what it is about this recipe that first caught my attention. Maybe it was the simplicity of it, or the basic roll call of ingredients. Maybe it was the description — a “cakey drop biscuit,” an “easy baking powder bread,” “packed with whole grains.” Or, perhaps, it was the adventure of creating something I never had before.

preparing sandwich with rieska

Or, maybe it was because I just wanted a really good sandwich.

In any case, rieska is one recipe I won’t be leaving behind. It’s durable enough to hold a few slices of meat, cheese and veggies, but soft and moist enough to warrant its “cakey” descriptor. It takes less time to throw together than it does for me to get dressed in the morning, and its buttery and mildly sweet flavor is unusually refreshing — not at all how you’d expect it to taste at first sight. It’s just the thing for those, like me, who are anxiously counting down the days to when the sun re-emerges from behind the clouds, when the birds start chirping and the chilly trees clothe themselves once again in fragile, flapping green leaves. Until then, this bread will keep me satisfied.

rieska sandwich on plate

Courtesy of King Arthur Flour

Yields: 2 dozen 2-inch squares

1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup dark or light rye flour, or pumpernickel flour (I used dark rye)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Lightly grease a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and set aside.
In a large bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together oats, rye flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. Add butter in small cubes and cut into the dry mix, using a fork or pastry blender, until the butter is thoroughly distributed. Stir in buttermilk until well combined.
Pour batter into prepared dish and spread evenly with a spatula. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until top of bread is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool in baking dish completely before slicing or serving.