Friday, July 3, 2015


(For an UPDATED VERSION of this post, go to the new home of my blog at WordPress)

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 discount - 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 sourdough
And 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% hydration) *)
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, adjusting with a little more flour or water, if needed. (It should feel tacky, but not really sticky).

 After 4 hours the dough is swollen with plenty of gas

Place dough in an oiled container, cover, and let rise at room temperature, for 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

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


  1. Oh Karin............I felt your 'pain', we have such CRAP for bread here! I have always made my own but my eyes were WAY bigger than my stomach when I was in Bremen, I wanted to buy and try EVERYTHING oink :) Yes, my son and dtr-in-law
    use REAL bread (she is German) . GOOD for you working on this dilemma...Wonderbread! I have this French Farmhouse Cookbook but never looked at that part of it. Will check it out...just because :)
    Hope you aren't sweltering like we more 40C day and I'm going to 'flip-out'. Not really..more beer and water, not together :)

    1. Susan, I made your Country Bread already, it's a very good everyday bread, too. Our bread environment got a bit better in the meantime, fortunately, but I still prefer my own.
      Here temperatures are quite pleasant, not too hot, but my poor mother in Hamburg is sweltering away at over 40ºC, too.

  2. I absolutely sympathise with your experience - I went through the same process here in the UK. We used to called your wonderbread 'camping bread', as you could squash it into your rucksack and it would spring back into shape the moment you took it out ;-)

    1. Haha, I know what you mean! I spent a lovely summer with my pen pal's family, her mother was a wonderful cook, but the bread was just as you described. It had a kind of silvery glimmer, too.
      Nice to meet another bilingual blogging ex-pat - I'll include your blog in my list.

  3. even living in bread-paradise Germany I seldom buy bread, as the home-bakes variety (and varieties!) taste a lot better...

    1. Yes, so much has changed during the 14 years since I moved to Maine. All these stupid bake shops that out-sell from-the-scratch bakeries. People buy according to the motto "Geiz ist geil!" I like my own bread now better than this fast staling stuff, too.

  4. My husband loves German breads, but often they are to soure for me when I buy them in an German store. I 'll make this one and tell him your story. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Please, do, Marion, and if you use a freshly fed starter, instead of a several days old one it will be less tangy. You can also vary by taking a white sourdough, then it will be milder, too.
      Here in the US commercial bakeries often use artificial "sourdough flavor" instead of real sourdough, for an extra sour taste, trying to emulate San Francisco Sourdough.

  5. Ten out of ten for persistence...I gave up after my first "brick"!

    1. ...but then I live in Bavaria surrounded by excellent organic bakeries...

    2. Shere desperation! Lost in the Land of the Squishy Breads :)

  6. Hallo Karin!
    I am first generation in the US, my parents came from Germany, my mother from Uelzen. Have relatives and friends who live in Hamburg. I recently started baking bread with sourdough and want to try the Feinbrot. I do not understand the 75% after the mother starter. Is that the hydration level of the starter?
    Vielen Dank,

    1. Yes, Moni, the 75% means the hydration: 100 g flour : 75 g water. If your starter is either more liquid or stiffer, you need to adjust the flour and water amounts accordingly.
      If you have a 100% hydration starter, you would have to reduce the water amount to 71 g (instead of 120 g) and add 249 g flour (instead of 200 g) to make up for it.
      Hummel, Hummel,

    2. Hallo Karin,
      Your Feinbrot recipe gives a total hydration of 65%, and the measurements you gave for a 100% starter would bring the total down to 49% hydration. The correct adjustments seem to be 107 g water and 213 g flour, which is what I've used. It turned out great! Thank you for sharing a fantastic recipe.
      Mit freundlichen Grüsen,

    3. Hello, Joachim, I'm glad that your bread turned out well. Unfortunately, since my last update the formula (created with "Breadstorm") is not visible anymore, I don't know why.
      The percentages don't equal the exact recipe amounts, but are calculated in "bakers' math", i.e. the amount of flour is always 100%, and the other ingredients are calculated in ratio to that. Algebra was never my strongest suit, but I get to a 55% hydration for the bread.
      But, no matter the exact numbers, flours are different, and kitchen environments, too. You should always go by what the dough looks and feels like, and, if necessary, adjust with a bit more water or flour.
      Grüss dich auch,

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  8. Hello Karin

    Help: disaster
    Karin I have tried twice to make this bread. In both cases the bread tastes fantastic bit they were very dense with a crust that needed a chain saw to cut through it.
    For the flour I am using stronge white bread flour, rye and wholemeal spelt flour. The wholemeal spelt flour was used in the mother starter.
    The soaker was nice and stiff. The starter was a little wet. But when I made the final mixture, the dough was wet and very sticky. Should this be so?
    I kneaded the bread using a Kitchen Chef. After the 4 minutes, the dough had balled around the dough-hook but was still very sticky. So I added, in small doses, the white flour. But then after further kneading, the dough lost structure, became more sticky and stayed to the bottom of the bowl. Have I over kneaded?
    Needless to say, after 4 hours the bread did not rise.
    And suggestions gratefully received.

    1. Hi, Jonathan, I'm glad that the bread tasted good at least. Regarding the consistency you should aim for a dough that is more tacky then too sticky. But it is better to err on the sticky side (though it will be a bit more difficult to handle the dough), the worst that can happen is a messy countertop.
      If your dough lost structure and didn't rise after adding more flour it will have been overkneaded, spelt and rye flour have less gluten and don't respond well to long kneading.
      Have you ever measured your oven temperature? I had to adjust my baking temperatures with every new oven I owned, only rarely it had exactly the temperature I put it on. But, most likely, the hard crust is also a result of the non-rising.
      Flours are different, and can absorb more or less water. When you bake the bread again (don't give up!!) with the same flours, you might hold back a bit of the water for the starter, if you found it rather wet, to add it later to the dough, if needed. And adjust only very sparingly with more flour, with little additional kneading.
      If your dough is still very sticky, when it's time to shape it, handle it like higher hydration dough: empty it out on a floured area on an (otherwise unfloured) work surface. With floured hands, gently fold sides towards the middle to make a round. (The flour “skin” on the underside prevents sticking.) Then flip it gently over, seam side down, onto the unfloured area. With floured hands, pull dough ball towards you, until you have a medium-tight boule. Then place it in a well-floured rising basket. You can see the shaping here:
      Good luck, and let me know it turns out next time.

  9. Friends, I had to move my blog over to WordPress, since Google stopped updating and supporting Blogger.
    You find newer posts now at


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