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Monday, April 19, 2010

Everyday Bread #9

(German Hearth Bread, or Farmer's Bread)

This past weekend I was working nights, and felt I couldn't explore as many of the breads that I would like.  However, I did find a couple of breads on the German website that don't require a lot of preparation or baking time, just a lot of waiting time.  Thinking that this might be perfect for my situation, where I am working twelve hour nights and sleeping during the days, I tried to organize my time to make a couple of German style loaves.

The first bread that I thought was interesting was a Bauernbrot, a German Hearth Bread, or Farmer's Loaf.  The thought behind this bread was, to make a sort of a fake 'sourdough' starter with very little yeast, and a long rise.  Then, on the day of baking, you mix it with more flour and other ingredients (but no more yeast), knead it and let it rise 30 minutes, knead it and shape it, and let it rise 30 minutes more.  It then gets baked for a full hour.  So the outlay of time is: 24 hour fermentation, then 1 hour of rising/proofing, with a tiny bit of kneading, and a baking of one hour.  Some of the people who commented on the recipe indicated that they had let the ferment stand for as long as 48 hours and got similar results.  So the fermenting stage is somewhat flexible: what I required, however, was a 2 hour baking day.  Did I have that much time when I woke up from my daytime sleep, to still bake this loaf (before I had to go off to work again)?  I decided to try it and see.

After working all night Friday night, then, on Saturday morning when I got home I mixed up the ferment.  The plan was to let it sit until Sunday afternoon when I woke up, if there was time to bake.  That was a little more than 24 hours, but it couldn't be helped.  If there wasn't time to bake it, it would sit there until Monday morning (48 hrs) or even Monday afternoon (54 hrs or more).

The first part of the recipe is easy: you mix it up and then forget about it.

German Hearthbread:  "Bauernbrot"

Day 1:
  • 50 g yeast  3/4 tsp dried yeast
  • 250 ml water
  • 150 g mixed flours (1:1 rye and wheat)

Mix yeast in lukewarm water, add the mixed flour.  Stir well and let sit 24 hours.  This will be your 'sourdough' starter.

When I measured out the ingredients, however, I noticed right away that the yeast was way too much.  Fortunately, my wife was there and she told me that the German yeast is different.  "It comes in cubes," she told me.  "You should be able to look up on the Internet some equivalencies for our dried yeast."

That is what I did.  I am not certain that my calculations are correct, having been quite sleepless when I did them, but I learned on the internet that the 6 oz cube of German fresh yeast is roughly equivalent to our single packet of dried yeast, which is about 2 1/4 tsp.  I converted the oz to grams, and figured that

1 x 6 oz  cube of yeast = 170.979 grams.
I only wanted 50 grams, or 1.7647 oz.

Since a 6 oz cube of German fresh yeast is roughly equivalent to 2 1/4 tsp of our active dry yeast, I figured I would need 0.66176 tsp, or about 2/3 tsp.

Since I didn't have a measure for that, and my scale didn't go to half grams, I used 3/4 tsp yeast.

I made a mixture of various flours:
48g    all purpose wheat,
34g    whole wheat,
34g    light rye and
34g    dark rye,
150 g. total 

I mixed it up and set it out to ferment.  I checked on its progress when I could; I think it rose a little bit and fell back; and although it did get a bit of foaminess to it, I have to say that it was always very wet.

The next day when I awoke in the afternoon, I continued on with the recipe:

Day 2:
  • 350 ml water
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 250 g mixed flour
  • 400 g wheat flour
  • previous day's quick fake 'sourdough starter'
Combine the fake 'sourdough' from the previous day with the warm water.  Mix with oil, the flours and salt.  Knead will and let it rise 30 minutes.  Knead it well again.  Shape to a large pancake shape.  Place on a baking sheet 30 minutes more.  Score with a sharp knife.  Brush on yogurt.  Bake in preheated oven at 200 degrees C for 1 hour (395 degrees F).

Even as I was mixing it up, I realized that this was a very wet dough.  I was supposed to knead this, and despite flouring the countertop heavily, and incorporating a fair amount of whole wheat flour, the dough continued to stick to the countertop, requiring me to peel it off with the scraper.

However, by folding it and kneading it, and scraping it and adding some whole wheat flour, eventually I got it to a place where the gluten was forming, and the ball was somewhat cohesive and slightly less sticky.  I had incorporated, I would say, less than a cup of whole wheat flour.  I gave it a rest for 30 minutes.

Then I kneaded it again, and shaped it.  Here I made a rather important innovation or change in the recipe.  Here is what I was thinking:

My wife visited my mother-in-law and gave her some of my wecken that I had recently made.  I wanted to know if they looked like the wecken that she knew from Germany.  But my wife only relayed a comment of my mother-in-law: "Why is the bottom of his bread so steinhart?" she wanted to know.  My wife assumed it was because I had baked them on the hot baking stone (I hadn't).

But I took the problem under advisement.  Maybe I'd try something different.  Maybe instead of moving the proofed dough onto a hot stone, I would try proofing the dough on a cold stone, and putting the cold stone with the bread on it, into the hot, preheated oven.  Would that make my bottom crust a little less hard?

So I shaped the dough into a boule, set it on the cold baking stone, and let it proof on top of the oven while I preheated the inside of the oven for 30 minutes.  In the last few minutes before baking, I dusted the dough with dark rye flour and then painted it with plain yogurt and scored it.

Then I stuck the baking stone with the dough on it, into the oven and I took the dog for a walk.  It was going to be baking in the oven for an hour.

I was impressed with the rise of this loaf, and for the most part I really liked its appearance, however, it was not without its problems.  Professional bakers and good amateur bakers would not be impressed with the way the crust split in several places (am I still underproofing?). 

The worst split might be explained because of the cold stone.  Although the bottom doesn't seem to be stone-hard, this loaf looks as if it wanted to lift off the stone, and would rip its feet off to do it.

I only waited about an hour after taking the loaf from the oven before cutting into it, because I was desperate to see the crumb, and I had to go to work again.  So I cut into it while it was still slightly warm.  The crust was not hard in the slightest.  And the crumb was dense, but not hard, it seemed quite moist to me.  I quite liked it.

But I made my wife take a small bite, even though she wasn't hungry and didn't want it, and she impatiently scolded me and told me that this loaf could have been baked longer.  "You see how it squishes down?" she told me, after she reluctantly bit into it.  "It's mushy.  You could have cooked it longer."

But there is the eternal trouble: if you bake it longer, the crust gets too hard, and the centre dries out.  Somewhere is the optimal baking time for each bread.  For this bread, made with this flour, 60 minutes baking time was close, but no cigar.  It needed just a touch more time baking.

Notes to Myself:
  • Add a cup of whole wheat flour to the recipe.  Let's be honest about the amounts used.  Alternatively, put the wet dough into a casserole type pan and stand back and watch.
  • Try this recipe again with some boiled grains (wheat, rye, rice) and maybe some tiny seeds (millet, flax, sesame) in the yogurt you brush on.
  • Don't proof the dough on a cold baking stone, ( don't use it like a baking sheet, it doesn't work the same, the dough will rip its legs off trying to get away from the stone)
  • try baking the loaf an extra 10-15 minutes.  Try preparing the loaf with a real sourdough starter.  Or preferment the starter described in this recipe a day or two longer.


  1. Thank you for your thoughtful notes! My hubby is German and I'm striking out for the first time after having wrapped my head -- and hands -- around French and Italian (sort of) breads.

  2. Germans love their bread as do the French and Italians. It would be a very long journey to explore all these cultures through bread alone. But how fun.