The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

From brick to bread - my German Feinbrot

hanseata's picture

From brick to bread - my German Feinbrot

German Feinbrot

When I moved to Maine in 2001, to get even - with the guy who had sold me a houseful of furniture - but refused to give me a rebate - I knew I would be in big trouble. And I was right, after two days my stomach started complaining and my brain kept sending "gag" signals, when I walked the supermarket aisles and encountered nothing but row after row of "wonderbreads".

Poking so-called rye, multigrain, oat nut or wheat breads with my finger, I found no resistance. I could squeeze them through their plastic bags and they would  spring back to their original size when I let go. Even when toasted they retained their squishyness and would not tolerate butter or jam without getting soft and soggy. 

The only place that sold some good bread in Bangor was (and still is) the "Bagel Factory". This bakery cafe was my oasis in the desert, and still, whenever I go to Bangor I take a bag of poppyseed bagels home. But great as these bagels are, they are white, a bit sweet and soft, and not dark, tangy and crusty, like the everyday rye sourdoughs I craved.

Having two warm meals a day was another thing my stomach refused to adapt to. German families usually eat bread and cold cuts either for lunch or for dinner.  German schools don't offer lunch, and Mother cooks at home. As a working mom I used to see this daily cooking as chore and a bad idea - until my daughter went to Bangor High, and had to eat at the school cafeteria (this experience made her learn how to cook, and gave birth to a career as chef!).

Finally I couldn't take my stomach's growling anymore. I started seeing bread Fata Morganas by day, and dreamt of crusty loaves by night. So I went on the quest to make "Feinbrot". The first step was, of course, a recipe. That was already a big hurdle. Nobody in Germany bakes Feinbrot at home, you can buy several varieties in every bakery and supermarket. There was none in my baking books, and none in the internet, only specialty breads, but not the simple loaf I was looking for.

And then, how to make sourdough? I didn't have the slightest idea. At a gift shop in Bangor, I found the "French Farmhouse Cookbook" and there was a recipe for Pain au Levain, with soudough. Full of enthusiasm I started my first starter, and, also, as backup and comparison, I mixed a starter from a store bought package.

My first breads, two twin loaves from the different starters and the recipe from the book, resulted in two almost identical bricks. Saving always a cup of dough to use as starter for the next bread, I kept on baking, producing more bricks on the way - my husband suggested keeping a supply next to our bed in case of a home invasion - and experimented with different amounts of rye, bread flour, temperatures and baking times, using the original recipe only as initial guideline.

After several weeks - and bricks - my homemade starter was way ahead of the store bought mix, in flavor and activity. Slowly, in trial and error, I figured out what bread flour/rye ratio I liked best, and what temperature settings and baking times gave the best results. Finally my bread had the right taste and right crumb - but the crust was either thick and and hard, or thin but too soft. Nevertheless, that was all I thought I could do - and Richard, the best of husbands, ate it all!

An open house tour with my daughter at the New England Culinary Institute in Burlington, left me green with envy. Valerie was going to learn how to make baguettes - from a real French pastry chef! I went home, and, since I couldn't be one, at least I could buy one "Bread Bakers' Apprentice".

Reading the instructions I was struck by an epiphany! I had always (as stated in my recipes) just placed a cup with cold water together with the bread in the oven. And now I learned how to set up my oven for hearth baking - with stone and STEAM. Finally I was not only able to bake French bread, but my humble everyday Feinbrot was transformed, too!

Feinbrot crumb








Mebake's picture

Great Writup, Karin!

You do have great taste. How is this bread consumed in Germany? Alone, or with any toppings?

AnnaInMD's picture

Fleischsalat, I have to second her choice. Fleischsalat is just about the best; of course it is made with German mayonnaise, for some reason it tastes a touch "fuller" to me, more creamy but still tangy, and then there are the pickles in the salad which are a cross between Clausens and a less salty one. But one of these days, try to make your own. Get some ham slices, cut them in maybe 1/4 inch strips about an inch long, mix with mayonnaise and finely chopped pickles. I personally like a bit of sweet (Vidalia) onion as well in the mix. 

Another good topping would be cream cheese and salmon, or without the cream cheese some of my all time favorite smoked herring but now THAT is definitely an acquired taste, grin....   Pickled tongue another one, or just slather on some liverwurst topped with thinly sliced onion. 

I just recently found a margarine which is partially made with yoghurt. Brummel and Brown in a blue container. Wonderful on this type of bread.

Happy eating !


GSLawson's picture


My wife spent a number of years in Germany after the war and is always talking about the mischbrot she had as a child. I have tried to make a sourdough rye and she says it is close but not quite what she remembers. How would this feinbrot compare to what she remembers? I understand mischbrot just means 'mixed bread' and this recipe is a mix of flours and it is a sourdough so I am guessing this could be a mischbrot as well as a fienbrot? It looks delicious and I am going to give it a try but was just wondering if you could clear up my understanding of the different terminology.

highmtnpam's picture

When we lived in Ottobeuren in southern Germany we bought "brown" bread.  I have tried so many recipes but, although good, they were not the plain brown bread I remember. This looks like the one I remember.  Thank you so much for the recipe.


pmccool's picture

And you have become an accomplished baker along the way.

It's interesting that you became a baker as a result of striving to match a particular memory.  I'm baking in the hopes of achieving breads that I've never experienced first hand.  You, at least, will know when you have gotten there.

Does the feinbrot name relate to the fineness of the crumb, as you have pictured?  Or is a reference to the bread being made with finely ground flour, as opposed to a pumpernickel or vollkornbrot that features coarse meals and/or whole kernels?


hanseata's picture

Mebake: Germans eat this bread with everything, cold cuts and jam or honey. Or with Fleischsalat, one of my favorite cold cuts (meat salad, made with ham, dill pickles and mayonnaise).

GSLawson: This type of bread has different names, depending on the region, either Feinbrot (fine bread), Mischbrot (mixed bread) or Graubrot (gray bread), it's always a mix of wheat and rye flour.

Pam: I'm sure this is it. Important is the subtle flavoring with the typical bread spices, anise, caraway, fennel and coriander, if you put them in a mill, it's about ten twists per bread. In Southern Germany breads are often stronger flavored with coriander than in the north, so experiment with what taste you like best.

Paul: I think "Feinbrot" (fine bread) with its wheat content and fine milled flour was a bread that in the olden days wealthier people could afford. Since wheat was cultivated only in the South, only rich people could afford white bread, whereas poor folks had to be content with cheap, coarse rye bread.

I am a very curious person (my "real" profession was psychoanalyst), so after I achieved my basic goal of re-creating Feinbrot, I went on trying always new breads. When we couldn't keep up with eating - and my freezer with holding - them anymore, I started selling my breads to a local store.

And, please, all of you who try it - let me know how it turned out!


wally's picture

and I will happily steal your recipe. I love the whole wheat component and want to try it out for its flavor with the rye.


zoltan szabo's picture
zoltan szabo

looks stunning! happy baking

hanseata's picture

necessary - I'm glad to share!

Thanks, Larry and Zoltan (from Hungary?).


holds99's picture


I sent you a TFL message just now.  Thanks so much for posting the recipe.  I made it yesterday and it's a real winner.


hanseata's picture


AnnaInMD's picture

I forgot about the dill and a touch of horseradish. Will have to add to mine. I might even try some Boar's Head ring bologna, maybe it will taste just a bit like Fleischwurst.

hullaf's picture

Karin, I have thoroughly enjoyed your blog and the writings here on TFL. Where I'm located in Tennessee the bakeries have few hale and hearty breads, let alone a German one. Thanks so much for showing us your memories in bread. 

I've been making the "leinsamenbrot" and can't wait to try more of your recipes.   

from an Irish/Scottish heritage, Anet 

hanseata's picture

I'm glad you enjoyed the Leinsamenbrot! I will post more recipes and (hopefully entertaining) comments on my blog.

Happy baking from Maine,


nicodvb's picture

Karin, I made it and it came out excellent. It's very very sweet and tasty, one of the best breads I ever made.

I stayed away from wholemeal wheat flour for years because I always found it quite bitter and very sour, but now that my pusher gave me the right stuff I decided to try your recipe and I was rewarded. I didn't imagine that it could smell so fruity and taste so sweet.

Generally I bake bread in tins, but this time around I used my baking stone and ... it went all well :-)

hanseata's picture

Thanks for your feedback, Nico.

I never like whole wheat before I learned about long fermentation. The whole wheat breads I sometimes bought in Germany were all brittle, dry and way too "healthy" tasting. Now, with pre-doughs and cold retardation I like even 100% whole wheat breads.