Spoonfuls of Germany

Caraway Breadsticks (Kümmelstangen, “Seelen”)

Breadsticks with butter

Until recently I did not know that these breadsticks that I have always loved have a special name and a tradition. In Swabia they are called Seelen because originally they were only baked for Allerseelen (All Saints Day), a Catholic holiday on November 1. Nowadays bakeries in Germany offer them year-round.

Seelen can be made with different flours. I used an equal mix of bread flour and spelt flour. One thing is a must though: a generous sprinkling of whole caraway seeds, and coarse salt, not too much though, otherwise the breadsticks will turn out too salty.

Breadsticks

Caraway Breadsticks (Kümmelstangen, “Seelen”)

2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast

5 tablespoons + 1 1/3 cups (10½ ounces/300 ml) lukewarm water

1¾ cups (9 ounces/250 g) bread flour

1¾ cups (9 ounces/250 g) spelt flour (whole grain or regular)

1 scant teaspoon salt

Kosher (coarse salt)

Caraway seeds

1. Mix the yeast with 5 tablespoons water in a small bowl and let stand for a few minutes until it starts to foam.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the flours with the salt. Add the yeast mixture and 1 1/3 cups water and knead for 5 minutes on low. The dough should be slightly tacky; if it seems dry, add more water as needed, a tablespoon at a time.

3. Cover and let rise for 1 hour. At this point, you can also transfer the dough to a container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate overnigh, The next morning proceed as described.

4. Briefly knead the dough vigorously on a lightly floured surface to compact it and remove any air bubbles. Divide the dough into six equal pieces for large Seelen, which is the way they are made in Germany. With lightly floured hand shape each piece into a rope about 10 inches (25 cm) long. Or, for small ones, divide the dough into 18 to 20 equal pieces and proceed as described.

5. Line one or (if making small Seelen) two baking sheets with parchment paper. If you only use one sheet the breadsticks will touch after the rise. That’s just fine, you can easily separate them afterwards. But you prefer a perfect look, or if you make smaller ones, use two baking sheets.

6. Place the sticks on the prepared baking sheet/s with ample distance between them. Cover and let rise for 20 minutes.

Breadsticks before baking

7. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C).

8. Brush the sticks with lukewarm water and sprinkle with salt and caraway. Please the baking sheet on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the breadsticks are lightly browned. If baking the breadsticks on two baking sheets, keep the second baking sheet covered while the first sheet is baking, and only brush the breadsticks with water and sprinkle them with caraway and salt immediately before they to into the oven.

9. Transfer the breadsticks to a cake rack and separate if needed. Let them cool slightly. They taste best with still warm or within a few hours.

Makes 6 large or 18 to 20 small breadsticks