On the heels of my mother-in-law's disastrous experience when trying to eat the Rustic Crust of the Rye Bread made with Lahey's methods that I gave her the other day, when she broke her tooth, I decided to try and make something that she could actually chew without breaking her jaw.
My wife found several bread recipes in an old German magazine that she had, among which was this one, called 'Wecken'. There were no pictures, but I was intrigued with the name which apparently means 'Awaken', or 'Wake up!'. I translated the recipe the best I could out of German, and then asked my mother-in-law if she had ever eaten Wecken.
"Oh yes," she said. "We used to buy Wecken from the bakery. They were always best made fresh, you had to eat them on the day they were made, or at the latest, the next day. I don't know that you can make them here. The flour is so different."
Many of her recipes that she brought from Germany had to be adjusted for flour content when she arrived in Canada. You either had to back off the flour a bit, or increase the hydration for Canadian wheat. When my wife's Omi came from Germany she noticed right away that our flour was substantially different. "It even feels different," she said, when she tried to work with it. The stories of the higher gluten content in Canadian wheat may indeed be true. Here is the recipe I was working with, in translation:
WECKEN (Wakeup buns)
- 500 g flour
- 30 g yeast,
- 80 g sugar
- 200 ml of milk
- 1/2 Teaspoon each salt, cinnamon and cardamom,
- 80 g butter,
- 2 eggs,
- 1 egg yolk for brushing.
Place flour into a bowl and press down a small depression in the middle. Mix yeast with 1 teaspoon sugar, a little warm milk and some flour. Cover and let stand for 20 minutes Add the remaining sugar, milk, spices, flakes of butter and eggs. Beat All ingredients to a smooth dough and ferment until it bubbles. Roll the dough to form balls about 5 centimeters in diameter (just under 2 inches) and set at intervals of 5 cm on a greased baking sheet. After another 20 minutes, brush with egg yolk and bake in preheated oven at 200 ° C (about 390 degrees F) for about 20 minutes.
When I got all the ingredients together for the Wecken, the one thing that I immediately noticed was, "Hey! That's an awful lot of yeast!" The yeast is added to the warmed milk, with a bit of sugar and a bit of flour, and it is allowed to rest for a full 20 minutes. In that time, the yeast really gets a deep yeasty, beery odour to it. I think that the yeast I used might have been quite a different yeast than the one that was used in the original recipe. I can't imagine bakers using that much yeast for a daily breakfast bun, which is what the wecken is. (Note: Indeed, these old German recipes call for a different yeast, that they call cubes of yeast. Apparently this is fresh yeast, or cake yeast, and one cube is 6oz or 170 grams, and it is equivalent in yeast leavening power to 1 packet of our dried instant yeast, which is about 2 1/4 teaspoons. I really did put WAY too much yeast in this recipe...) But maybe that's the point: they are supposed to be easy to make, as in, make them when you are the first one up, so that everyone else has breakfast when they smell the bread is made. Because wecken are breakfast rolls, containing milk, eggs and sugar. If you could make it with orange juice, you'd probably have a complete continental breakfast.
Dubious about the amount of yeast, I nevertheless decided to try the recipe as written (or translated) to see what would result. The dough, when it mixes up, is quite wet, and to me had the consistency of a sweet dough, maybe even a cake dough. That is probably the eggs, milk and sugar that gives it that consistency. I stirred it into existence. There was no kneading involved. Would kneading have improved it? Would gluten have formed? Would it have been more bread-like?
I think the recipe asked me to leave it to rise until it forms bubbles in the dough. With that amount of yeast, I thought, this isn't going to take very long.
In about 20-30 minutes, it had bubbles, and to my eye had doubled to about 1 1/2 times the original size or so. I ripped the dough off the main ball and formed some 2" balls and put them on a baking sheet. I had about a dozen such balls. In the beginning I tried to make tiny boules, but there wasn't a real gluten structure. They really can't be worked too much; they are a strange consistency, more like a dumpling than a bread. So I just plopped them down and let them continue doing their thing.
At the 20 minute mark, the oven was preheated and they were ready to stick in the oven.
I brushed on the egg yolk, tried to score a few of them to see what would happen to them, but they still had not developed any real gluten yet, so I was unable to put a mark in the mushy dough. I stuck them in the oven, and they cooked quickly.
I brought one that was still warm to my wife, who said that they looked good, but she wanted to know "why are they done already?"
I told her that they are a breakfast roll, and are meant to be made in a hurry. We ate them with butter and jam. "My mom will like these", she told me.
"Do they taste yeasty?" I asked. She considered it, and shook her head no. That surprised me.
I took a bite. To me, the small buns tasted a bit like miniature scones, but without any baking soda taste. They were kind of sweet. But they weren't really bread, to my limited experience of bread. I might make them again, but I wondered if there ways to improve them. I thought that they would dry out fairly quickly, and become stale fast. About 20 minutes after taking them from the oven, I stuck half a dozen in the freezer to see if they could be kept.
Everything in this recipe works out to 20 minutes:
20 minutes to get the yeast to foam
20 minutes to get the dough to bubble
20 minutes to let the balls settle and
those same 20 minutes to preheat the oven
20 minutes to cook
20 minutes to cool
If you aren't awake by then, you might as well go back to bed.
Notes to Myself:
- Is there a way to use less yeast, and have it sit overnight and just bake it in the morning?
- Could you develop a whole wheat wecken? Or even a wecken that has a core of bran like my previous experiment of the 'detox bread'?
- Would this dough have been better if it was kneaded?