Spoonfuls of Germany

It’s the flour: the challenges of baking German bread abroad

3 Comments

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This Pumpkin Seed Bread put my patience and persistence to the test. It took me at least three times before I was satisfied with it. The result is an adaptation from a recipe by Lutz Geißler, popular German bread blogger and book author whom I interviewed for a recent blog post.

What makes baking German breads in the United States America so tricky is that you don’t have the same huge variety of flours and grains as in Germany. With German precision and accuracy, flours are given a number according to DIN Standard 10355. That number indicates the amount of ash residue in 100 g flour after incineration at 900 degrees Celsius. The higher the non-combustible minerals, i.e. the ash, the higher the number, and thus the higher the whole grain content. For example, rye flour 1370 is darker and has a higher whole-grain content than rye flour 1150. Whole-grain flours have no number.

Baking German breads in America or anywhere abroad means that you have to improvise with each recipe by concocting substitutes for those special flours yourself and adjusting the amount of water because each flour absorbs water differently.pumpkin-seed-bread-2

This Pumpkin Seed Bread had, in addition to using German rye flour 1370, an added challenge. It calls for pumpkin seed flour (Kürbiskernmehl), which is a residue from pumpkin seed oil production. I had to make do with grinding my own pumpkin seeds, which still contain all the oils and make the dough much stickier.

It took some tinkering and if you had been around, you would have heard my shouts of desperation and exasperation, part of the process each time I made this bread. While my result was eventually satisfactory, there is still plenty of room for improvement. A trained eye might point out the air tunnels, and the flour-encrusted surface. Despite that, I am happy to share the status quo of my results, as Lutz’s recipes are not available in English, or adapted to American ingredients. This bread is definitely a keeper!

My hard-to-impress husband thinks so, too. He declared the Pumpkin Seed Bread his new favorite. Our friends visiting from Hamburg this summer also loved it. You’d think they would be spoiled bread-wise. No, they lamented the closings of so many small bakeries in the past few years.

I already wrote about the disappearance of bakeries in Germany in my earlier blog post. In August, the German Government reported that the number of bakeries in Germany dropped by half between 1998 and 2015.

If you live in Germany and resort to baking your own bread because your neighborhood bakery is no longer there, you certainly have a wide selection of flours to chose from, unlike in the US.

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Pumpkin Seed Bread (Kürbiskernbrot)

Recipe adapted from Lutz Geißler’s Plötzblog

The starter for this bread needs to ferment for 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator.

I am providing the measurements in ounces and grams. Whatever measuring system you use please weigh the ingredients. The amounts must be accurate.

For special equipment, you need a powerful kitchen machine with a dough hook (KitchenAid) and a Dutch oven with lid that is heatproof up to 450 degrees F (250 degrees C).

Starter:

7.5 ounces (210 g) organic whole-grain spelt flour

5 7/8 ounces (165 g) water, at tap temperature

scant 1/2 teaspoon (1.3 g) active dry yeast

1 teaspoon (6 g) salt

Dough:

1/2 cup (70 g) raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds

3 5/8 ounces (105 g) organic cracked rye

16 ounces (455 g) bread flour

1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar

12 ounces (340 g) water, at 113 degrees F/45 degrees C

1.5 teaspoons (9 g) salt

Raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds for sprinkling

1. Mix all the ingredients for the starter in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Cover with the lid and store it in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.

2. Remove the starter from the fridge. Let come to room temperature for 2 hours.

3. Roast the pumpkin seeds in a nonstick pan over medium heat until they are lightly browned and start to smell nutty. Stirring them often so they don’t burn. Let cool and grind them to a very fine meal. I do this is an electric coffee grinder that I use exclusively for spices and grains and clean well after each use. Break up the meal so no lumps remain. Grind the cracked rye to a fine meal. I also do this in the coffee grinder.

4. Place the starter, pumpkin meal, rye meal, bread flour, water, Balsamic vinegar and salt in the bowl of a kitchen machine fitted with a dough hook. Knead for 5 minutes on low, then on 2 minutes on medium speed. If the dough creeps up the dough hook (my KitchenAid tends to do that) stop the machine and push the dough back into the bowl. After kneading, the dough should completely detach from the bowl. Cover with a lid or cling wrap and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

5. Take the dough out of the bowl and transfer it to a clean work surface lightly floured with bread flour. With lightly floured hands, pat the dough to a 12×12-inch (30×30 cm) square. Fold the two sides over like French doors so they meet in the center. Turn the dough 90 degrees and fold the dough the same way in the other direction. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a lid or cling wrap and let rest at room temperature for another 1 hour.

6. On a clean work surface lightly floured with bread flour, shaped the dough into a round loaf. Sprinkle it generously with pumpkin seeds, turn it over and sprinkle the other side with pumpkin seeds.

7. Please the loaf in a bowl or a proofing basket that is about the same size as the Dutch oven in which you will bake the bread. Lightly flour the bowl or the basket with bread flour and place the bread in the bowl. Gently wiggle the bowl to make sure the surface does not stick anywhere; if it does sprinkle it with a bit more flour so it detaches.

8. Cover with a tea towel and let rise at room temperature for 90 minutes.

9. 1 hour into the rise, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F (250 degrees C). Once the oven is hot, place the Dutch oven with the lid on the second oven rack from the bottom.

10. After the dough has risen for 90 minutes remove the Dutch oven from the oven and remove the lid with an oven glove. Carefully transfer the loaf to the Dutch oven. Make 2 to 3 deep diagonal slashes in the loaf with a sharp knife or a dough blade. Cover the Dutch oven with the lid.

11. Place it in the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees F (250 degrees C). After 10 minutes, reduce the temperature to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C) without opening the oven and bake for another 10 minutes. Remove the lid and bake uncovered for another 30 minutes. The total baking time is 50 minutes.

12. When the bread comes out of the oven, unmold it immediately onto a wire rack. Let it cool completely before cutting, at least 2 hours.

Makes 1 large round loaf

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3 thoughts on “It’s the flour: the challenges of baking German bread abroad

  1. And also the water! When I lived in Rome we went to Naples to buy some bread. My relatives told me it was the water that made the bread taste better. True.

    Read enough cookbooks over 55 years about bread and quite a few have said our Eastern states habe better water for bread baking. I agree. Least I have good mountain river water that is used for our water supply. Sure better then LA’s (Colorado river+) when down there.

  2. Haha lovely – It is actually quite crazy how so many of the ingredients have to be the same quality in order to give that classic taste! 🙂

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