A couple of days ago I decided to try my hand at Jeffrey Hamelman’s Vollkornbrot with flaxseeds. I did this with some trepidation because
a) I’m a western expat living in New Delhi, India and THE key ingredient (rye flour) is not available here, meaning that I have to bring it in from Europe on each trip. This one recipe would blow about 1/7 th of my precious supply.
b) The recipe as per Hamelman requires the use of a sourdough starter, used to create a long fermenting sourdough and two soakers (flaxseeds and rye chops) . To these are added the last fraction of the rye meal and the salt + some water and yeast so it’s not exactly a straight dough setup with minimal rise time.
The original recipe can be found in ‘Bread’ by Jeffrey Hamelman, I’m not going to reproduce it here for the obvious copyright reasons.
Modifications vs the recipe:
a) I didn’t have rye chops and there’s no way for me to acquire those here. So I used pinhead oats (also called steel cut oats) instead. This worked without a hitch.
b) One of the big challenges of baking breads here is dough temperature control. We’re past the peak of summer but still, the temperature in my kitchen is about 35 centgrade. This is an obvious problem when using ‘long’ rise times/preferments etc. What it boils down to is that I shortened the sourdough rise time from the recommended 14-16 hours at around 21 centigrade to 9 hours at 33-35.
The dough (detailed instructions see the recipe in the book):
For the sourdough I used a sourdough starter that had been initiated 3 months ago, it started out as a rye sourdough starter but has been refreshed countless times with normal bread flour so it’s totally white now. This is added to 100% rye flour and water. Hydratation is 100% at this point.
While this is covered and put away to start its long rise, a flaxseed and –in my case- a pinhead oats soaker were prepared. I added all the recipe’s salt to the oats soaker in order to inhibit enzyme activity (long rise at high ambient temperature).
After 5 hours I could definitely see activity in the sourdough, based on the look/consistency and the taste I decided it was ripe after 9 hours of fermentation. Tasting/feeling/looking are imho the only sure ways to determine ripeness. Let it ferment too long and the taste becomes harsh/vinegary.
Everything was brought together with some extra rye flour and mixed at slow speed for 10 minutes. Bulk fermentation took 15 minutes.
After bulk fermentation I had a very slack, sticky dough that proved almost unmanageable and had a very dense texture. This was dumped in a large cake tin (no pullman form available) that had been oiled and covered in rye flour. I used a spoon to flatten the top somewhat.
First 15 minutes in a hot oven (245 centigrade) with steam, followed by 1 hour 15 minutes at 195, dry. Hamelman remarks that a full bake is imperative and I concur, given the high hydratation and the density.
Unpanning and cooling:
15 minutes before the end of the bake time, the loaf is taken out of the baking tin (very easily, no stick at all) and baked off the remaining 15 minutes to remove some extra moisture and firm things up.
After baking I was stuck with what literally seemed to be a very dense brick. This then has to cool/rest between 24 and 48 hours so the internal moisture has time to redistribute. It took an almost superhuman effort but I managed to wait 30 hours. Don’t give in to temptation, I think the bread really requires this long rest before slicing.
Rye sourdough with flaxseeds and pinhead oats after unpanning and cooling for 30 hours at room temperature.
As you can see, the crumb is very, very dense and looks underbaked. However, it looked and tasted exactly like the German whole grain Vollkornbread that’s for sale in (North) Germany. It can be sliced very thin (4 mm is not a problem at all) with a serrated bread knife and the taste is slightly sweet, nutty with a delicate sourdough tang. If you really want an extremely pronounced sourdough taste I guess you’d have to let the sourdough ferment a couple of hours more. The bread goes very well with cured meats, jam, (dark) chocolate spread and cheeses that have a pronounced taste.
Big warning: Only try this and the other Vollkornbrot mentioned by Hamelman if you really like very dense German breads like Pumpernickel (the German version, has nothing in common with what's sold as such in the US). Do not try to make rolls or smaller loaves as the crust is very hard indeed and -in the case of rolls- these would be inedible because this bread can only be enjoyed if you slice it really thin.