Germans almost never have toasters, and this is because the bread is Already Amazing. Their faces would twist in uncomprehending Horror were I ever to speak of the rectangular loaves back home – limpid, those soft sandwich breads – but is that really what you eat? And I’d tell them yes, solemnly, for it sounds DRAMATIC that way. No variety whatsoever, oh, it is horrible – they nod their heads, as though in new-found understanding: She had no choice, the bread was no good! This is why she’s here.
Germany’s rich, elaborate and Opinionated* bread culture yields many a dark and crusty treasure. And I am Quite convinced this caraway-scented mixed rye loaf is one of those shiniest of things. It is also a perfectly good reason to cultivate sourdough starter in the first place, and care for it as a member of the family (except, one you feed sparingly, kept hidden away in a dark corner, only barely introduced to particularly observant visitors in passing)
*Because according to Tim, when it comes to Great Bread, we’re in the Wrong Part of Germany completely. These Rhinelanders, they have No Idea, he mutters, making everything too sweet and feeble somehow, and Definitely not sour enough – Certainly not compared to *feigning surprise now* FRANCONIA! (It seems Germans are, invariably, at least a little bit patriotic towards their Very Particular epicentres of origin) So you see maybe where we’re going with this. He even bought a lovely but not entirely necessary Gärkörbchen in anticipation of Emma Getting the Hint. Any other course of action would Have to be interpreted as a clear act of sabotage on my part, against his immediate and/or absolute happiness.
“I don’t understand – why aren’t you making already this bread?”
I didn’t spring Immediately into action, for I didn’t grow up in these parts, with this calibre of bread, nor its philosophy and reverence. We would be relying on Tim’s native judgement for taste experiments, as default expert, and you must know all too well how dauntingly narrow the spectrum of Delicious can be when it comes to satisfying nostalgia.
But, AS IT TURNS OUT, even without a comparable bread memory to activate, the bread was and is Undeniably beautiful.
With its moist crumb and aromatic personality, the Franconian was overwhelmed; he found himself catapulted back in time, to the Butterbrot of childhood.
He filled a whole new pocket of enthusiasm with murmurings about depth and texture and wow-feelings, and how he wants experiments, lets make experiments! He cried. Let’s fill it with seeds, and use different combinations of different spices, More caraway, more Everything, we could add onions, we could make it with rye only, we could change the ratio of sourdough to dough-dough! Everyday, a different dough! The world lies before our feet, with you as my bread queen.
(In that world, in which we all become bonafide bread queens – There should be no conflict to speak of: we would reign over our individual but equally exceptional kingdoms in austere benevolence, as the years roll peaceably by, bountiful loaves eschewing at pace from our kitchen-castles, sighs all round, doves cooing)
It’s all, thrillingly, rather German: Preparing and planning ahead for Future Mornings, always making sure you have enough of Everything in reserve, never caught short, never without salami in your refrigerator. There may then be long and sensible breakfasts, of breads and Brötchen with meats and cheeses on Frühstücksbrettchen, slices smeared with Kräuterquark, shuffling to the stove in Hausschuhe to collect the mumblings of the coffee pot (Oooh, fertig!)
Let’s talk about baking the actual bread, though – we’ve translated the original recipe, but also made adjustments over the course of our experiments: added a little more salt, used dry yeast, and more SPICE. One thing we did, was throw in a cup of water right before closing the oven door (Wvhhoosh!) to generate steam in the first part of cooking. This is supposed to help form the beautiful crust. I’m not sure if our method is a recommended one, but it is one of the more Dramatic ways of going about it, and I do like that.
Rye bread is insanely moist, in dough form especially, and need not be kneaded! Which is Extremely Cool, as long as you are aware of that from the beginning. My first rye adventure confused me greatly.
Franconian Rye Bread
Recipe adapted from Plötzblog.
175 g Rye flour (German type: Roggenmehl 1150)
145 g Water
17 g Starter
18-22 hours later:
265 g Rye flour (Roggenmehl 1150)
50 g Strong/high grade white bread flour (Weizenmehl 550)
235 g Water
7 g Fresh yeast (or 1/4 teaspoon dry yeast)
12 g Salt
1 tsp Fennel seeds (heaped)
1 tsp Coriander seeds (heaped)
2 tsp Caraway seeds (heaped)
24 hours before you plan to want to have some bread, prepare your rye sourdough. Mix ingredients together and cover with a damp tea towel or cling film, to prevent drying out. Leave in a cosy place at room temperature for 18-22 hours.
Grind the seeds in a mortar and pestle – roughly or finely – then mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl until it comes together evenly in a relatively sticky ball. If you have a kitchen mixer: 5 minutes on level 1, then 2 minutes on level 2. If you don’t: mix with a wooden spoon until you are happily aggravated and your arm is Kinda Sore. 2 whole minutes? It can rest for 30 minutes now (at 24C), and so can you.
Gently form the dough into a round (or oval, vaguely) shape, and coat the top with rye flour. Find something you can use as a Gärkorb/bread basket (such as a bowl) turn the bread top-side down, flour and all, into it and let rest another 30 minutes (24C).
Preheat the oven to 250C. Set a baking sheet in the middle. Bake the bread at this temperature with a cup of water for 15 minutes, then drop temperature to 200C for another 35. Total baking time is 50 minutes. Will be delicious immediately, and doubly so tomorrow.