As I have been baking bread for a few years now, the theme for this Bread Baking Day,’ancient’, really appealed to me: as a kid at my friend’s house, we helped her granny to prepare the breads for the weekly ‘baking day’, when the communal oven was heated up and the families of the village were bringing round their breads to bake. I still remember the little ‘baking house’ and the smell of the freshly baked bread. We would butter them and put a pinch of sugar on the warm slices – our idea of bliss.
Rather than going for an old-fashioned grain or method, I had a look at my cookbook, the great illustrated Kiehnle-Kochbuch from 1912. Obviously I don’t use the old version, I am in the possession of the updated 1951 anniversary edition:
I was given this book by my mum when I left home, as it is widely considered to be the gold standard of Swabian cookery. It is still printed in the old ‘Fraktur’ font, a font widely used in Germany until the mid-twentieth century. You might recognise it from World War II films and pictures: the Nazis loved it but abandoned it eventually for a more readable font as part of their taking-over-the world-strategy, realising that it helps when the conquered people can read your writing…
The second-hand book bears many traces of its previous owners, who made countless annotations, changed ingredients and – clearly – enjoyed a cup of coffee whilst baking:
I am convinced she worked as a housekeeper for a bourgeois family in Stuttgart – a rather picky one, it seems, as several of the recipes are annotated with a ‘sind nicht erwünscht’, ‘not welcome’:
Anyway, although there are countless recipes for cakes and pastries, there are only a few bread recipes, and one of them a very basic ‘Schwarzbrot’, which I used for this entry. I tried not to mess around with Frau Kiehnle, and to prove that I stuck to her instructions (unlike my predecessor of the ‘not welcome’ annotation) I will reprint them here in the original:
Some of the ingredients, such as the flour ‘no. 4’, I am not too sure about, so I replaced it with a mix of white and wholemeal bread flour; I think the wholemeal flour is perhaps more coarse than a German bread flour, making the bread more ‘healthy’ than the original and requiring more water than stated. I’d be grateful for any suggestions for a more ‘in-between’-type of bread flour! I also replaced the fresh yeast (10-15g) with dry active yeast, as fresh yeast is hard to come by here in the UK.
Schwarzbrot, or ‘black bread’
- 3 lb white bread flour
- 2 lb wholemeal bread flour
- 1 lb rye flour
- 60g sourdough starter
- 2-3 tsp dried active yeast
- 1.5 l water
- 25g salt
- 1-2 tsp caraway seeds (optional)
Frau Kiehnle mixes the yeast with 1/8l water and about 50g flour to make a thin liquid, which you leave covered overnight. With the dry yeast, I decided to cut this short and left it for an hour.
The next day you mix in all the other ingredients to create a firm dough. I needed to add quite a substantial amount of water to make the dough kneadable, a result of the flour I used. Frau Kiehnle specifies a ‘firm’ dough, so feel free to add water as required. You need to knead this bread rather vigorously, for at least ten minutes, to get a nice consistency.
Cover and leave to rest for 4 hours in a warm place. If – like me – you have a day job, start the bread in the afternoon and let it prove in the fridge overnight.
The next day, preheat the oven to an unspecified ‘high’ heat (Frau Kiehnle was using a wood-burning stove it seems). I used a baking stone and heated the oven to 250C, placing a bowl of water at the bottom of the oven to create a nice crust.
Split the dough into 2 or three pieces and form loaves, which you leave to rest for 20-30 minutes. Frau Kiehnle uses an oiled bread tin, but I went for a banneton and a bowl with a piece of cloth.
Turn out your breads on your baking stone and reduce the heat to 220C. Bake for an hour. Unless you are using the communal baking house with its open fire, you will need to bake the bread in at least two batches. I made three loaves altogether, and will probably only ever use half the recipe to suit my oven.
The bread turned out beautifully and just in time for Abendbrot, the typical German evening meal of bread, sliced hams, cheese and sausage, salad and beer.
But was it really as dark and sour as I had imagined? Or would I’ve been better off using a rye-flour starter instead? Only time – and many more breads – will tell. If you’re looking for something darker, check out my Pumpernickel.