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Brot & Bread - July 3, 2015 - 7:30am

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 shelf after shelf of "Wonderbreads".

Poking one of those proudly-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 right back to their original size when I let go. Even toasted, they retained their squishyness and would not support butter or jam without getting soft and soggy.

Eating two warm meals a day was another thing my stomach refused to accept. German families usually have 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 view this daily cooking as a chore, and bad idea - until my daughter went to Bangor High, and had to eat at the school cafeteria (this experience turned her into a cook, and gave birth to a career as chef!).

Finally, I couldn't take my stomach's growling anymore. I started seeing bread mirages by day, and dreamed of crusty loaves by night. So I went on a quest for German everyday bread, Feinbrot.

Bread selection in a German bakery
The first step was, of course, to find a recipe. That was, in 2001, a big hurdle. No one in Germany baked Feinbrot at home, you could get several varieties in every bakery and supermarket.

My baking books and the internet offered only recipes for specialty breads, but not for the simple loaf I was looking for.

Feinbrot is usually baked with medium rye flour, but I was lucky to find whole rye, if any.

Homemade wheat sourdoughAnd how to make sourdough? I didn't have the slightest idea! But then I found a recipe for Pain au Levain, made with sourdough, in the "French Farmhouse Cookbook".

Full of enthusiasm I mixed my first starter from the scratch, and, also, as backup and for comparison, another starter from a store bought package.

My first two breads, twin loaves from the two different starters, resulted in two almost identical bricks!

Stubbornly, I kept on baking, producing more bricks on the way - my husband suggested having a supply next to our bed in case of a home invasion - and experimented with different amounts of rye, wheat, temperatures and baking times.

After several weeks (and bricks!) my homemade starter was way ahead of the store bought mix, both in flavor and activity. Slowly, by trial and error, I figured out what bread flour/rye ratio worked best, and which temperatures and baking times delivered the best results.

An open house tour with my daughter at the New England Culinary Institute in Burlington, Vermont, 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 "The Bread Baker's Apprentice".

Reading Peter Reinhart's instructions I was struck by an epiphany! I had always (as stated in my recipes) just placed a cup with cold water in the oven. Though my bread had the right taste and the right crumb, the crust was rather chewy and thick. But now I learned how to set up my oven for hearth baking - with baking stone and STEAM!

With the discovery of steam, my humble Feinbrot was transformed! Flavorful, a bit tangy, with a thin, crisp crust, it tastes good with cold cuts, but also with honey or jam.

We especially like it with Fleischsalat, the typical German meat salad, made with ham and pickled cucumbers!

Feinbrot tastes great with Fleischsalat!


192 g/6 3/4 oz whole rye flour
64 g/2 1/4 oz whole wheat flour
4 g/1/8 oz salt (1/2 tsp)
195 g/6 1/2 fl oz water

195 g/7 oz whole wheat mother starter (75%) *)
200 g/7 oz bread flour
120 g/4 fl oz water, lukewarm (1/2 cup)

*) The mother starter can be unfed, from the fridge. If you have a white starter, adapt the flour amounts accordingly. But don't use an unrefreshed rye starter - the bread will be too sour!)

all soaker and starter
56 g/2 oz bread flour
10 g/1/3 oz salt
1 g ground bread spices (anise, caraway, fennel, coriander **)

**) For easier use, put equal amounts of anise, caraway, fennel in a spice mill, and give it a couple of turns. I like to make some breads with coriander only, therefore I use a separate mill for it.

In two separate bowls, mix soaker and starter. Cover, and leave at room temperature overnight.

The starter is ready when it's nice and spongy
Mix together all ingredients for final dough, 1 - 2 minutes at low speed (or by hand), until all flour is hydrated, and a coarse ball forms. Knead 4 minutes at medium-low speed (or by hand). Let dough rest for 5 minutes, then knead for 1 more minute.

 After 4 hours the dough is swollen with plenty of gas
Place dough in an oiled container, cover, and let rise at room temperature, approximately 4 - 5 hours, or until it has grown to about 1 1/2 times its original size.

Place bread, seam side up, in floured rising basket
Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Shape it into a boule, and place in floured banneton, seam side up.

Proof at room temperature for about 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 hours, or until bread has grown about 1 1/2 times its original size, and a dimple, made with your finger, comes back a little bit, but remains visible. (Don't forget to preheat the oven!)

Sufficiently proofed - finger poke test positive!
Preheat oven to 500ºF/260ºC, with steam pan and baking stone.

Turn bread out onto parchment lined baking sheet (or peel to bake directly on the stone). Score.

Place bread in oven, pouring a cup of boiling water into the steam pan. Reduce temperature to 475ºF/246ºC, bake for 10 minutes, then lower oven temperature to 425ºF/218ºC.

After 10 minutes, remove steam pan, rotate loaf 180 degrees for even browning, and continue baking for another 20 minutes, or until crust is deep golden brown, bread sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, and internal temperature registers at least 200ºF/93ºC.

Let bread cool on wire rack

BreadStorm users (also of the free version) can download the formula:
Karin's German Feinbrot VARIATIONS:
Feinbrot with spelt:
Replace rye and whole wheat flours in soaker with 256 g spelt flour, use only coriander instead of spice mix.

Feinbrot with oat:
Replace rye in soaker with oat flour.

Feinbrot with nuts:
Add a handful of toasted nuts to the dough (I like it with whole hazelnuts).

Wholesome - but not holey!
Updated and completely rewritten post (first published 10/31/10)

Submitted to Yeast Spotting

Categories: The Bread Feed

Buckwheat Blast in Brittany

Farine - June 22, 2015 - 8:45am
I guess I could say we went on a buckwheat bender a few weeks ago while visiting family in Brittany. Our niece Anne-Laure - who lives near Quimper in Pays bigouden  - shares my love of blé noir (literally "black wheat") as buckwheat is often called in France and, to our delight, she wove it into almost every meal, be it at local crêperies when we lunched out or at home where she prepared local specialties for us. If that wasn't enough, in between our several buckwheat encounters, she took us sightseeing. I hadn't been back to Brittany since my kids were, well, kids, and I had forgotten about beautiful it is. She led us for long walks along the shore... old seaside villages...
   ...and around the countryside where the fields were abloom with flowers of all kinds (except for buckwheat for which we were too early)...
Originally from Asia but grown in Brittany since the fifteenth century from seeds brought back by returning Crusaders, buckwheat is in the same family as sorrel or rhubarb. While it isn't a cereal and contains no gluten, it is rich in fibers, amino-acids and antioxydants and therefore very much appreciated for its nutritional value. Seeded in late spring (to avoid frost which it doesn't tolerate), it is harvested from mid-September to mid-October.
In the Brittany of yesteryear, it was part of a subsistence diet together with pork or beef fat and whatever meat or fish was occasionally available. Poor local farmers and fishermen often lacking the necessary ingredients and/or fuel to make bread, used to make a sort of buckwheat mush which they boiled inside a linen bag alongside bacon or meat scraps, a recipe known as kig-ha-farz (literally "far in a bag").  In subsequent variations, the buckwheat mush was thickened in a pot over the fire, then poured into a dish and baked in an oven. It then become a far, as in far breton (a popular dessert often made with dried plums). Today far breton is usually made with wheat flour.
To fully understand why buckwheat was so readily adopted back in the old days, one should also remember that, by law, farmers bringing wheat or other grains to the miller had to pay a tax to the local lord for the use of the mill not to mention a percentage to the miller as well as a tithe to the church. Buckwheat, le blé du pauvre (the poor man's wheat) was exempt of such dues and could legally be milled on demand at home in rudimentary wooden mills. Moreover its flowers were extremely attractive to bees, which made for bumper crops of fragrant honey. On the downside, its leaves were toxic to cattle and couldn't be used as straw or hay. Interestingly, popular belief held that blé noir was a creation of Satan while wheat, which produces white flour, was credited to God.
Had our stay in Brittany be longer, we would certainly have seen many more examples of the use of buckwheat in cooking and baking but because of our time constraints, we experienced buckwheat in four of its avatars only: fish and chips, galettes, kouign-amann and farz. We didn't make it to any of the amazing bakers I had heard of in the region (they were either inland or further north) and I saw no trace of buckwheat bread at the regular bakeries we saw along the way. Which means I am already making a list for next time! Meanwhile here is a recap of our buckwheat encounters.

Buckwheat fish and chips
Anne-Laure had suggested we meet in Concarneau's ville close (walled city) where she knew of a little restaurant featuring "fish and chips breizh." Breizh is Bretton for Brittany and in a food context, it is often a strong hint that buckwheat is around. She was curious to find out and once she told me about it, so was I.
   I can't say that I actually tasted the buckwheat but the fish was extremely fresh (any fresher, it would have jumped on the plate by itself) and the outer layer of the fillets was arrestingly crunchy: they had been perfectly deep-fried in a finely textured batter. Anne-Laure asked the owner what percentage of buckwheat she used but she wouldn't say. It had taken her a while to develop the recipe and, understandably, she didn't feel like jumpstarting the process for the competition. Coming from the United States, what struck me the most is how small (three pieces) the serving was compared to what we are used to back home...

Buckwheat kouign-amann
After lunch we made for Le Guilvinec, a major fishing hub where our niece had said we would watch the fishing ships come in and buy fresh seafood for dinner.
But on the way over, we glimpsed a road sign advertising a buckwheat kouign-amann. Since kouign-amann (Bretton for "butter cake") is usually made with wheat flour, we were intrigued enough to stop.
The legend says that the cake was invented in the late nineteenth century by a Bretton baker who found himself one day short on flour but long on butter and sugar. I was amazed to see how different the cake we got was from the leavened laminated pastries generally known as kouign-amann. So was it the local version of the real thing or a tourist trap? As we were leaving, we saw a passel of silver-haired seniors exit a bus and head determinedly towards the store (which offered souvenirs as well as local bakery items), so who knows? In any case, such as it was, our buckwheat kouign-amman had a pleasant nutty flavor and if you could get over the amount of butter and sugar (the Man clearly had no problem with that), it was a lovely dessert, more flavorful (and actually less sweet) than the wheat version (the person behind the counter kindly had kindly let us sample both).

Farz en sac (literally mush in a bag)
In our honor, Anne-Laure decided to make far en sac one night.  Since we were out and about all day, she didn't have time to make a true kig-ha-farz, so she decided to boil the farz on its own in salted water seasoned with seaweed and to serve it alongside fillets of lieu jaune (pollock) gently cooked over a bed of sautéed leeks. She already had the bag (which she had fashioned out of an old linen dish towel), she had buckwheat flour, she had sea salt, she had eggs, she had cream and butter, and she had not one but two identical recipes (from the back of the bags of flour). We were in business!
(Anne-Laure used two different flours because she had some flour leftover from another recipe).
I found a gold mine of information on farz in Fars bretons et Kig-Ha-Farz by Patrick Hervé. While researching his book, he had talked to many elders (some of whom were born in the 1890s) who told him that there was no vegetables in kig-ha-farz until after the French Revolution and that the authentic recipe actually called only for meat and buckwheat. The farz was also sometimes boiled separately in water, with a bit of lard added for taste. When a household had no dedicated bag, the homemaker would either use a dish towel (as Anne-Laure did) or sacrifice an old shirt and use the sleeves, seams on the outside, (one sleeve for wheat and one for buckwheat). After use, the bag was rinsed out, never washed. Fully seasoned, the best ones were kept in the same family for generations. Some seniors recalled that the boiled buckwheat mush sometimes became so compact that it could be sliced and that leftovers were pan-fried the following day. Others said it should crumble when taken out of the bag so that it can be rolled almost as fine as couscous. Differences in texture may be due to cooking times and to the various ingredients used or skipped (poor families sometimes had nothing more than buckwheat and water, sometimes milk, at their disposal). It'd be interesting to experiment. As it was, Anne-Laure's  farz was of the crumbly sort and the perfect foil for the delicate taste of the just caught fish. Merci, Anne-Laure!!! It was a memorable dinner.

Galettes de sarrasin (buckwheat crêpes)
On our last night, our niece took out her billig (crêpe maker) and made galettes.
Since we had been on a steady diet of buckwheat crêpes whenever we lunched out, she first checked with us to make sure we hadn't been over-crêped. We had not. Actually we had heard so much about Anne-Laure's galettes through the family grapevine that we would have been disappointed to leave Brittany without having any. So once again she whipped out her buckwheat flour, took an egg out of the fridge, measured milk and water, and went for it.
I wish I had taken more pictures but the minute Anne-Laure put the first galette on the table,  all thoughts of reporting left my mind. Let us just say that of all our buckwheat encounters during this trip, galettes de blé noir were my absolute favorites. Especially Anne-Laure's... I could practically live on those! And in case you are wondering about the technique involved in using a bilig, here is an informative video from the Krampouz website:

It looks simple but it isn't. As I discovered from experience, working a bilig is a lot like getting into Carnegie Hall, it requires a lot of practice. But then what doesn't?

Categories: Blogs, The Bread Feed


Brot & Bread - June 14, 2015 - 12:25pm
Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts (folgt noch)

When I - driven from a real "Breaking Bad Bread" experience - challenged my baking buddies from The Fresh Loaf, Facebook and several congenial blogs to create a "Bread for the Knight with the Iron Hand", I promised myself to try all 30 loaves over time.

One of those congenial blogs is Britta's Brot vom Niederrhein - Bread from the Lower Rhine.

Britta, 35-year old process engineer and mother of two, named her blog after the lower Rhine region of North Rhine-Westphalia/Germany, where she lives and works.

Britta: "Others knit to relax, I bake!"
"It is pretty here, prettier than many believe. Industrial culture has its charm, the view from a heap to the blast furnaces, chimneys, and the Rhine with its many green meadows and sheep is really pretty."

The Lower Rhine with its industrial culture has its own charm - coal mine Zollern in DortmundIdyllic contrast to heaps and chimneys: sheep grazing on the Rhine meadows                                                                                      
She finds baking and process engineering have a lot in common: a technical process turns the raw materials into products - only her cakes and breads rise much faster than the industrial plants she is building.

Birthday cake for little pirates!With fond childhood memories of baking cakes with her grandmother, Britta wanted her kids to have the same experience.

Soon she progressed from simple everyday cakes to more elaborate ones, like the Pirate Ship Cake for her son's 7th birthday.

And she finally ventured into the realm of home-baked breads. But not without side effects on her married life!

"My husband got used to a fridge and kitchen counter full of (on average) seven pre-doughs on weekends".

He also has to live with the fact that she can't leave the house, because her doughs are just ready for the oven.

"Or, alternatively, listen to detailed instructions, so that HE can put the breads into the oven, at the right moment, the right temperature, with or without steam!".

The bread is made with cooked and raw potatoesBritta started blogging to save her own recipes and show some of her breads and cakes to other enthusiasts. 

She also wants to help people with diverse food intolerances (like herself) to make delicious pastry, since that is "less easy to find in stores than bread".

Britta's Kartoffel-Weizen-Roggen-Brot intrigued me - she didn't only use cooked potatoes, but added raw potatoes, too.

It is made with two preferments:  a salted sourdough (Monheimer Salzsauer, 2% salt) and pâte fermentée, so that very little additional yeast is needed, and the aroma has time to develop overnight.

Medium wheat flour (Typ 1050), very popular in German breads, is not easily available in the US, but you can use a bread flour/whole wheat mixture instead (see my flour "translation").

German potatoes normally have thick skins, and need to be peeled. Thin skinned US potatoes can be used with their skin. Reserve the cooking water - you will need some to add to the dough later.

We liked the Double Potato Loaf a lot, it was very moist and flavorful, with a subtle hint of earthiness from the raw potatoes.

(adapted from Brot vom Niederrhein)

Starter (Monheimer Salzsauer)
90 g medium rye flour
90 g water
18 g rye mother starter (100%)
2 g salt

Pâte Fermentée
52 g bread flour*)
48 g whole wheat flour*)
70 g water
0.5 g instant yeast (or 1.5 g fresh yeast)

Final Dough
200 g starter (all)
170 g pâte fermentée (all)
400 g raw potatoes, grated
220 g cooked potatoes, riced or mashed (reserve cooking water!)
50 g medium rye flour
199 g bread flour*)
181 g whole wheat*)
5 g/1 tsp. molasses
13 g salt
1.5 g instant yeast (or 4.5 g fresh yeast)
more water as needed (I added 40 g potato cooking water)

*) Original recipe: medium wheat flour Typ 1050)

(10:00 - 12:00 am)
Mix all starter ingredients, cover, and leave for 16 - 18 hours at room temperature.

Mix ingredients for pâte fermentée at low speed for until all flour is hydrated, then knead at medium speed for about 6 minutes (DDT: 77-81ºF/25-27ºC). Cover, and leave for 1 hour at room temperature, then place in refrigerator for at least 12 hours (overnight).

You can see the little potato pieces in the dough
Knead all final dough ingredients for 4 minutes at low speed, then 8 minutes at medium-low speed, adding some of the potato cooking water as needed (dough should be very soft and sticky). Let it rest for 40 minutes, with one stretch & fold after 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 482ºF/250ºC, including baking stone and steam pan.

Shape dough into a round and place, seam side up, in a floured rising basket.

Sprinkle with flour, cover, and proof for about 45-60 minutes at room temperature, or until it has grown 1 1/2 times its original size (finger poke test: a dimple should remain visible).

Turn bread out onto a parchment lined baking sheet (or a peel to bake directly on the stone). Score.

Place bread in oven, steaming with a cup of boiling water poured in the steam pan (or whatever steaming method you prefer).

Bake for 15 minutes, remove steam pan, rotate the loaf, reduce heat to 400ºF/200ºC, and bake for another 30 - 40 minutes, until it is dark golden brown and sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom (internal temperature: 200ºF/93ºC).

BreadStorm users (also of the free version) can download the formula:

Götz Challenge: Britta's Double Potato Loaf
Submitted at Yeast Spotting
Categories: The Bread Feed
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