All grains contain peptides that mimic morphine or endogenous opioid substances. This is where I deal with my latest loaf craving. Get your bread-based exorphin fix here.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Everyday Bread #15 - Brötchen Quest

My First Transformation Experiment
of Helmut's Deutsche Hefe Brötchen

The Quest for the Perfect Brötchen goes back many many years.  When I first married, I became aware that my father-in-law and mother-in-law were always on the look-out for the perfect brötchen, and they simply could not find one to suit their taste.

I always assumed that it was merely that they were looking for an elusive taste and texture from their youth, from a period that no longer exists.  After all, they were born and raised in East Germany, in a time when the wheat was different, the seed, the climate and soil was different, the flour was different, the processing was different, the hand-made textures were different, the entire social structure surrounding the distribution of bread was different.  The brötchen they were looking for, here in Canada their adopted land, simply no longer (never did here, never could here) exist.

Oh, they would try some buns from a local Portuguese bakery, and for a time these would suffice.  They would get someone who was coming by the bakery to make a special 'bun run'.  But then, requests for these special trips began to fall off.  And I think it was because they came to realize that the Portuguese bakery's buns, while close to what they had in their mind as the ideal brötchen, ultimately didn't live up to that archetypal brötchen that they held in their memory and in their hope.

I was never involved in trying to find the perfect recipe to bake the brötchen myself, because I've only recently started baking.  And so back then, I didn't fully appreciate the difficulties involved in trying to duplicate the authentic brötchen recipes: even now, I am only beginning to understand.

I've tried to translate a few recipes for buns from German baking web sites, but so far, I haven't had much luck.  The flour in Germany is graded by ash content, and over here in North America, we don't care about that, we only grade it based on protein.  I have learned that their 550 flour has 550 g/kg of ash (I guess that is what we would call the mineral content of the bran and germ), and that this is more or less equivalent to the U.S. all purpose flour.  But there again I run into problems when I find that U.S. all purpose is different than Canadian all purpose; generally in the U.S. a mixture of hard and soft wheat is used (with many regional changes in consistency), whereas in Canada, we use mostly just hard red wheat for our all purpose.  The upshot is Canadian AP flour has more gluten.  And this might explain why my brötchen always fail, and why they sit like a stone in the gut, or why my mother-in-law  breaks her teeth on the crust.  I was beginning to think that the Quest for the Perfect Brötchen was yet another fool's quest on the bread crumb trail.

That is why my ears perked up when my mother-in-law returned from a visit to her son Helmut's home in Michigan with rave reviews of the brötchen he had made for them.  Naturally, I asked for the recipe.  It turns out he used the recipe for German Brotchen (sic) Rolls from  But I will forever call it Helmut's Deutsche Hefe Brötchen.

Of course, looking at the recipe I immediately want to change it.  For one thing, it uses all-purpose flour and in this blog I am interested mostly in whole grains.  Furthermore, it uses a lot of yeast, and I have discovered through experimentation and book learning that long fermentation with less yeast is actually the better way to develop flavour.  Finally, this recipe is supposed to serve 24, and that is far too many for my immediate household's breakfast.  So I said: what if...

What if you threw together some (mostly) whole wheat ingredients the night before, and then just baked the brötchen when you wake up, just enough so that you could eat them fresh for breakfast?  That way, you could use less yeast and have the longer overnight fermentation.  And, if it is just one or two brötchen, what if you could bake them in the toaster oven, saving energy.  But if you are waking up early to be gone to work before 0630, you really don't want to wait for your brötchen dough to double twice, do you?  What if you had them rise in their own Lahey-like brötchen casserole dish, and didn't even have to form them?

Now, before you bring judgments against me because I have finally found the 'perfect' brötchen recipe but am throwing it out before I am even trying it, consider this: the Quest for the perfect Brötchen recipe is not my quest.  It is my mother-in-law's quest, it was my father-in-law's quest.  I have never tasted that old-country brötchen, and so I do not miss it, nor do I hunger for it endlessly.

My quest is to use more whole grains for health, and to find a recipe that both my wife and I will agree tastes acceptable. My quest is to have a recipe that works for me and my lifestyle.  As fun as this blog experimenting has been, I don't want to spend my entire life trialing recipes.  I want to find a few that I love and that work for me, and use them when I need bread.  Or brötchen.

So I scaled down the original recipe that was submitted by user MARBALET that Helmut uses.  I measured the ingredients and divided by 12 in the hopes that this might make a mere 2 buns.   I am still not entirely convinced that yeast recipes can be scaled down in this way, since yeast is a living organism, and these recipes have times associated with them, as to how long each process should require.  But my hope is that my intended long fermentation period would smooth out any difficulties.  I have rounded the grams to appropriate whole numbers since my scale is not sensitive enough to report partial grams; and then for quick reference, I measured all the ingredients again with kitchen measures. 

Helmut's Deutsche Hefe Brötchen Scaled to 2 buns and a Lahey-like method

  • 95 g ( ~ 3/4 c) all purpose flour (later I will change this to whole wheat entirely)
  • 2 g (1/2 tsp) yeast (for longer fermentation I will reduce this to 1 or even less)
  • 1 g (1/2 tsp) sugar (is this really necessary?)
  • 49 g (50 ml) water (later I might add more water because the whole wheat absorbs more)
  • 2 g  (3/4 tsp) shortening (is this really necessary?)
  • 1 g (1/2 tsp) salt
  • 1 egg white, stiffly beaten (I will use the yolk for the egg wash instead of more egg white)
Original Directions, scaled to 2 buns:
Mix the yeast and sugar and warm water together until frothy.  Mix the shortening, salt and about 25 g of the flour with a spoon for a couple of minutes, then fold in the egg white.  Gradually add the rest of the flour until the dough forms a mass and comes easily away from the edge of the bowl.  Turn it onto a floured surface and knead for 8-10 minutes, adding the rest of the flour as required.  The dough should become smooth and elastic with bubbles.  Place the dough in an oiled bowl and roll it around enough so that the dough is coated.  Cover and let rise in a warm spot until doubled.  Deflate the dough, form into a boule and let it rise again until doubled.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees with a baking stone on a low rack.  Turn out the dough to a floured surface, deflating it again.  Divide the dough into 2 and form oval rolls about 3 1/2" long.  Place on a lightly greased surface, cover and rise until doubled.  Brush the risen dough with egg wash.  Place on the hot stone, and put ice cubes in a tray in the oven for steam.  Bake 20 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.  Remove to a wire rack to cool.
My Directions (what I proposed to do instead):
Separate an egg, placing the yolk in refrigerator covered until needed.  Beat egg white until stiff.  Mix thoroughly all ingredients.  Cover and let sit until doubled, even if it takes 12-18 hours or more.  Divide into 2 and shape each lump of dough in a small ovenproof pot (like an onion soup bowl, or pyrex custard bowl for example).  Cover with foil and let it rise for 1 1/2-2 hours, if you can.  Refrigerate it at this point if necessary.  Just before baking paint the tops of the dough with yolk.  Pop it in the toaster oven, covered again with foil and bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, turning the pot 180 degrees midway through the bake if your toaster oven doesn't bake evenly.  Remove bread from the pot and cool on a rack only for a few minutes, so you don't burn your lips.
What actually happened:

1.  A discussion of various ingredients

The recipe mixes up easily.  But I have a problem with the beating of the egg white.  That requires a beater, and that means extra cleanup.  I'm too lazy to do that on a regular basis, and if this is going to be a brötchen I'm going to make again, I will certainly try another experiment once without beating the egg.  I sincerely hope it isn't necessary.  If you are beating an egg just to denature the proteins to gain some texture, that can probably be accomplished with a long fermentation period -- or it certainly will be accomplished during baking if you get any oven spring at all.  Incidentally, in my scaled recipe there is going to be more egg white: if 7 c flour uses 3 egg whites, then 3/4 c flour would only require about a third of 1 egg.  But I'm too cheap to throw away 2/3 of an egg.  A better idea would be to scale the recipe to a single egg: i.e., to use 2 1/3 c of flour; but that would make 8 buns, still too many for me to use.  Alternatively, I could use 1/3 in the recipe for 2, and 1/3 each for the egg white wash.  I'd only be tossing away the yolk.

I am also not sure that the recipe requires any shortening (there is so little when working with this little volume of ingredients, why bother?).  Maybe the use of potato water would have the same effect of making the dough moist and slippery (if that is why the shortening is being used).

Similarly, does it really need the sugar?  The grain's starch should be sweet enough: the sugar seems to be just to provoke the yeast to work quicker.

Also, this recipe still uses too much yeast.  With the longer fermentation period, I should be able to substantially decrease the amount required, in theory.

2. Thoughts on methodology as I go along

But I made the recipe as I had originally scaled it.  I decided to try the original ap flour recipe, but for comparison purposes, I also made same recipe using whole wheat.  So we have here another bread-off, a side-by-side brötchen competition, as today's everyday bread experiment.

While I measured by grams the all purpose flour bun's ingredients, I translated the measures into kitchen measures, and I used the kitchen measures for the whole wheat bun's ingredients.  I had assumed that I would need to add more water to the whole wheat mixture, but with this amount of egg white, there is no need for extra moisture even if you are using whole wheat flour. 

I began thinking of all that might be involved in making a small amount of buns at breakfast:

First, let's discuss no-knead methodology.  Lahey's method requires a 2 hour proofing after forming, but the 5-min/day folks make do with a 90 minute proofing.  Neither of these no-knead methods degas the dough; in fact, they recommend that you don't overhandle the dough. They want to trap the air inside the gluten strands. But Helmut's original recipe calls for degassing twice plus a final proofing.  That is too much for a dough you just want to toss into the toaster-oven over breakfast when you are half-asleep and in a rush to go to work.  I think that the purpose of degassing is to make sure that the gluten strands are long and firm.  This can also be accomplished by the longer fermentation, so in theory it should be able to be skipped.  The gluten cloak is created by the no-knead bread authors in the forming stage: you stretch the dough and give it a bit of extra surface tension. 

What I'd ultimately like to be able to do is: mix up a small amount of ingredients in the evening, let it ferment overnight, and bake it in the morning.   The question is, how do you get it to proof after shaping and then bake it and eat it if you've only got less than an hour before work?

Perhaps the way to do it is to mix up the ingredients before you leave for work (or for those who don't work 12 hours, maybe you could get away with doing this when you get home from work), then just before bedtime you shape it and put it into your small ovensafe pots.  You leave it in the refrigerator overnight, and then bake it when you get up in the morning.  The problem with this method is that your pot will not be preheated.  It is, in fact, going to be quite cold.  Your brötchen will get stuck unless the pot is extremely well greased.  I had pretty much decided that this was what I was going to try.

3. Observations

In about 2 hours after mixing, the dough had doubled already.  I was tempted to use it at this point, but I held myself back.  I would give it a complete 12 hour fermentation whether it needed it or not.  But I was already thinking that I was right: I could cut back on the yeast next time I made this, to as little as 1/8 of a tsp.  Within 4 hours, the dough tripled.  And there it seemed to stay, until the 12 hour mark when I decided to make the brötchen.  At that point I think it had fallen somewhat.

While I was out today I bought a few oven-proof single-serving bowls at a second hand store, for 50 cents each.  They normally would be used for onion soup, I suppose.  I preheated 2 of them in the toaster oven at 450 degrees F for 15 minutes (that was the hottest and longest that our toaster oven goes).

a) The All Purpose Brötchen Dough Recipe
This is an extremely wet, gooey dough to work with.  There is really no shaping to it, I just tossed it on a lightly floured surface, cut it in half with a pastry cutter and made a half-hearted attempt to fold up the corners and plop it in the hot tiny bowls.  I didn't intend to do any proofing.  They would go right into the toaster oven.  Both would be painted with egg yolk.  One would be uncovered, the other I would cover with some aluminum foil.  I found that the one that was covered required an extra 10 minutes uncovered to cook the crust: in other words, with the egg wash, covering it wasn't at all required.  The buns didn't rise much in the toaster oven, if at all.

b) The Whole Wheat Brötchen Dough Recipe
This dough was less gooey but not by much.  It was slightly easier to work with.  I was able to use the same preheated pots that baked the earlier brötchen.  Again, the covered brötchen required an extra 10 minutes uncovered to cook.  And like the earlier buns, the surface of the crust was a bit gummy when finished: it felt like a coating of warmed fat--which in fact, it was.

4. Results:

I was not particularly impressed with these buns.  The whole wheat brötchen had more taste than the all purpose, but neither was all that interesting.  The crust remained soft and slick, kind of yucky fat.  I found both of the brötchen way too salty for my taste.  The crumb did not develop.  I think that if I had normalized the dough's hydration by reducing the egg white to its proper ratio, it might have worked better; or it might have had a better crumb if I had actually kneaded it a few times.  Still, there is nothing particularly wrong with the crumb of these buns -- except for the lump of material seen in the one ap bun, below (probably a result of not quite enough hand mixing).

There is much that I would change, were I to make these buns again.  I will give them a second chance.  The question is, are they going to fit into my lifestyle?  I usually do wake up at 0500 on days when I have to leave for work before 0630: but do I have the energy and presence of mind to bake my brötchen, eat it, and make up the dough for tomorrow's brötchen too?  I doubt it.  I want something a bit simpler even than this.  Slicing a nice piece of homebaked ryebread is more in keeping with my 5 am mentation.

On the other hand, if you can get to the point where you are using up your sourdough starter little by little by making just enough buns for your daily bread, then you are getting into a rhythm with the wild yeasts and the universe.  That is the ultimate goal.

Notes to Myself: 

  • Perhaps making a 2-bun recipe will never be a good idea.  Is there an optimal number of buns for a recipe, for your household?  Think of how making buns the night before and baking the morning of breakfast might fit into your schedule.  In fact, it would probably take some effort to find the right schedule-recipe for you
  • However, if you do decide to try this again, here is a suggested Organizational Recipe Plan for next time (the ingredients will still be an experiment):

    •    95 g ( ~ 3/4 c) whole wheat flour
    •    <1 g (1/8 tsp) yeast (get to the point where you can use a sourdough starter for this instead)
    •    >49 g (60 ml) water (I tried 40 ml here first, but it was too dry to mix all the ingredients.  It needed about 60ml, or 5 TBSP (1/4c + 1 TBSP).  If you are going to use the entire eggwhite though, use only 3 TBSP or less)
    •    <1 g (1/4 tsp) salt
    •    1 egg white, not beaten: use ~1/3 in the dough, and the rest as today's egg wash
In the morning before work, mix all ingredients together and knead for a few minutes.  Place in a covered container to rise 12 hours or more.  Then when you get home from work, turn out onto a floured surface, divide into two, form into tiny boules, and place into the onion soup bowls.  Cover these (e.g. place inside a bag or box) and put into the fridge overnight.  At breakfast time, pull them out of the fridge and set on the top of the toaster oven while you preheat that toaster oven 15 minutes at 450 degrees F.  Brush on the egg white wash.  Then, bake uncovered for 20 minutes; place on a rack for a few minutes but eat warm. (While they are baking, mix up the ingredients for tomorrow's 2-brötchen breakfast, knead it and set it aside to ferment 12 hours; when you get home from work, shape them and stick them in the fridge, etc.)
Further Note: The next day I tried the above advice to myself and found I was (barely) able to make a brötchen and eat it before leaving for work.  What is worse, there were problems with the approach.  First, the amount of yeast was not enough to get a good rise after 12 hours.  Second, the proofing period of overnight in the fridge did not produce any extra rise.  Third, putting the dough to proof in the ovenproof pots meant they were very cold upon putting them into the toaster oven (even when they sat out on top of the toaster oven for the 15 minutes of toaster oven preheating), and so the buns stuck to the pots -- not terribly, but enough to cause problems with the formation of bottom crust.  So it looks like this overall idea is a bust.

No comments:

Post a Comment