Swedish Simplicity

My grandfather has always been two.

That was always his answer when, as a child, I would ask him how old he was. It would send me into fits of giggles every time, playfully punching his stomach as I sat on his lap and asking other silly questions. Every year passed and I got older, graduated high school then college, got married, and had a baby. And truth be told, I don’t know what my grandfather’s actual age is. He’ll always be two.

I knew exactly what I wanted to do for this challenge as soon as I read it. Despite Sweden being the main country of my heritage, I had never made a single thing from its cuisine. Sadly I’ve barely even tasted it. While chefs like Marcus Samuelsson are taking Swedish foods to modern levels, it seems that to the mainstream, the only Swedish food in existence is meatballs and lingonberries – and that’s because of IKEA. Some know about gravad lax or lefse, and the stories of lutefisk, but Sweden has more to offer. Of course, the harsh winter climate lends itself to a certain type of eating – preserving has been a large part in Swedish culinary tradition, and oftentimes the meal had to be reduced to simple meals that gave you fuel, but not much to look at.

That isn’t to say Swedish food is devoid of flavor. Spices and herbs like fennel, anise, caraway, juniper and dill all lend a hand. Creamy sauces assist wild game and smoked fishes. Less becomes more as you learn to really taste what’s in the food.

While Swedish food did not appear often at my grandfather’s table, I have to wonder if he longed for it. He was a radio operator in the navy but picked up some cooking along the way and continued to use his skills at home, although cooking for the younger versions of my brother, my cousins, and me probably did not lend to much experimentation when we were around. I do, however, remember there always being fresh loaves of vört limpa on the table. He would bake the limpa into small loaves so it would be the perfect size for a quick bite. As a child I hated it (I was quite the food brat as a child) but I knew instantly I would make it for this challenge. But what to pair with it?

Fish has a long tradition in Sweden, especially smoked or pickled fish, so that was where I headed. Salmon? Too pedestrian. Herring? I just can’t get behind something that is labeled as a “kipper snack”. Lutefisk? Yeah, we’re not going to go there.

Finally I settled on a dish called Janssons Frestele, or Jansson’s Temptation. The dish is said to be named after Swedish opera singer Pelle Janzon, and after it was published in 1940 it began appearing on smörgåsbord tables everywhere, especially the julbord (Christmas feast). (As a side note, the smörgåsbord is probably why Minnesotans are often known for serving “a little lunch”.)

Frestele ingredients

This dish uses sprat, a small fish similar to sardines. The recipes I found for Jansson’s Temptation usually listed anchovy, although they said sprat is more authentic. Which meant, of course, that I had to find this Baltic fish in the middle of Texas. Thankfully, after coming up empty-handed at a few stores, I was able to snag a can and we were on our way.

What does sprat look like, you ask?


I freaked out a little but I was ready to tackle the task at hand.

Jansson’s Temptation

serves 6-8

5 to 6 potatoes, cut into large matchsticks
2 medium onions, sliced thinly
1 tin smoked sprat
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400. Grease a large baking dish. Saute the onions in 2 tablespoon butter until just softened and translucent. If the sprat is not already filleted, halve them and remove the spine, if you’re weirded out by bones like me. Layer 1/3 of potatoes in the dish, and top with 1/2 of the onions and 1/2 of the sprat.

Repeat layer, and cover with remaining potatoes.
Pour cream over top and dot with remaining butter. Sprinkle on breadcrumbs.

Cover with foil and bake for approximately 1 hour.


makes 2 loaves

Limpa ingredients

1 3/4 cups orange juice
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup molasses
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
1 tablespoon salt
2 1/2 cups rye flour
2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 300 degrees, turning off immediately once heated.
In a small saucepan, combine orange juice, butter, molasses, brown sugar, fennel seeds, and caraway seeds. Heat just until butter is melted, sugar is dissolved, and liquid feels about the same temperature as your inner wrist.
Pour into a mixing bowl and whisk in yeast and salt. Stir in rye flour, then add in AP flour gradually until dough is soft and pliable. It should still be somewhat sticky. Let rest for 20 minutes.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for approximately 5 minutes. Set in a large greased bowl, cover with a towel, and put into warmed oven. Let rise until doubled, approximately 1 hour.
Punch down dough, divide in half, and shape into loaves. Place loaves on lightly floured baking pan or a greased bread pan. Cover and let rise on the counter until doubled, about 1 hour.

Limpa after rise

While dough is rising, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Once ready, slash tops with a floured serrated knife and place bread in oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until loaves are dark and crusty.

Limpa, baked

I served these dishes with a Swedish-style sausage purchased from my favorite sausage people, Kocurek Family Charcuterie. In Swedish sausage the meat is spiced and combined with potato before being cased. It was the perfect way to round out these two classic dishes. I hope my grandfather is proud of the way I chose to honor our heritage through food, and I can’t wait until the day I can visit Sweden and experience it all for myself.

Swedish Simplicity

This is my entry for Challenge #2 in Project Food Blog. Please consider voting for my entry from September 27 to September 30. You can vote by going here. Thank you!


  1. says

    To me, both dishes look wonderful but I’m so impressed by your limpa. It’s beautiful. I tackled bread making for the challenge but mine didn’t come out like yours. I just voted for you.


  2. Food o' del Mundo says

    Your grandpa sounds like he was a wonderful man and you did him proud with this lovely post. I surely would love to be served this plate! Voting now, and Here’s to both of us hopefully advancing to the next round.


  3. says

    Truly lovely post that garners a vote from me! I love IKEA, but I love your exploration into Swedish food even more :)

    My own entry, Indian dessert Gulab Jamun, is soaked in rosewater, cardamom, and saffron syrup as well as lots of sweet memories.


  4. Jim says

    A terrific meal.

    If you wanted to substitute something for sprats due to availability, would you recommend anchovies, herring, sardines, or something else? What do the sprats taste like right out of the can?


  5. Magnus says

    looks great I bet your grandfather would be proud if he saw it…looks authentic to me and im a native Swede. You got the bread nice and rustic…perfect meal for the winter season that is around the corner….most swedes actually only eats Janzons temptation around x-mas but some use it as comfort food…


  6. Ann-Marie says

    If you’re ever in Chicago in the winter, you need to head to Tre Kronor restaurant for some of the best Swedish food in the U.S. It’s on the north side of the city (across the street from North Park University, founded by Swedes in 1892). They have amazing Swedish food year ’round, but in December they host a julbord, complete with gravlax, lutefisk, numerous kinds of herring, potatiskorv, Janssons frestelse, limpa, hardtack, and so much more. It’s $50/person, but you can stay for two or three hours and go back as many times as your stomach will let you! This regular customer — of 100% Swedish heritage herself — promises you will not be disappointed.


  7. says

    Your bread is beautiful! I love rye bread but have never made or tasted limpa. I’m really intrigued by the addition of orange juice. It certainly gives the crumb a nice color. :)


  8. Swede girl says

    Love these recipes! I’m a Swede in San Antonio, TX and I would love to know where you found the Sprats?


    Megan Reply:

    Hi there! I honestly can’t remember if I got them at Central Market or Whole Foods, but it was one of the two!


  9. caela says

    Well I’m born and bread swedish and this has me scratching my head.
    The bread u posted looks great but does not look like traditional limpa.
    Jansons Frestelse is ALWAYS made with anchovies and nothing else. This is not authentic nor correct.
    I do understand that recipes change when people come to a new country, I’m sure that’s what happened here.



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