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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
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