08 January 2011

Frisian Whole Grain Spice Bread


Amongst the many wonderful pieces of equipment in my father's kitchen was a massive terracotta bowl, I estimate it must have had a volume of 20 liters or more. It was used for one purpose only, namely to bake bread. And just one particular type of bread, namely the tastiest whole grain loaf one could imagine. A spicy bread, it delights with a grain-to-grain texture and a solid crust. This recipe has been in my family for three generations, its origins lost some where in the dim and distant past but I believe it comes from one of the small Frisian islands off the North Sea coast. 

 By the way, did you know that Germany is supposed to have the largest variety of bread worldwide with more than 300-500 basic types of bread? I am on a mission to try as many as possible but to date this still remains my absolute favourite. 

The crust is very hard, you need a strong, serrated knife to cut through it, and a good set of teeth to chew it. These are potential advantages, as such bread might even help you keep your own teeth longer. At least that what my dentist claims. He recollects that gum disease rarely existed before people started eating softer breads - and chucking out bread as it  begins to stale rather than chewing harder. The texture of the crumb is similar to most fresh breads yet the grains add considerable bite. It stays fresh for at least a week wrapped in paper. The question is whether you can make it last that long.

You need a lot of ingredients for this bread, many of which are only available in health food stores. Purchasing them is getting increasingly easier these days but you can easily substitute a few grains or flour types. Keep in mind that a larger variety of ingredients equals a greater depth of flavour. The main trick for producing a loaf with a grain-to-grain crumb is that you must boil the grains beforehand. This is a far cry from purely flour based doughs with a few grains thrown in for appearance. Personally, I have always loved the gruel on its own and would beg a bowl-full of my father every time, and I'm still known to taste it - once, twice, and a few more times, just to make sure... My biggest mixing bowl can just about handle the amounts given below. It fits a loaf tin of 13 x 31 cm. 

Note: cups in the following are ordinary European coffee cups, how they equate to American cup measures, I have no idea (let me know?).  For my German readers, I will provide the relevant German terms in brackets.

Boil the following in salted water (like rice):

1 cup wheat grains (Weizenkörner)
1/2 cup green wheat grain (Grünkorn)
1/2 cup barley groats (Gerstengrütze)
1/2 cup millet (Hirse)
1/2 cup linseed (Leinsamen)

Leave until cold enough to handle with your bare hands. The grains should be moist but not swimming in water. They should look like this:

In a large bowl, mix 30 g fresh yeast with 1 tablespoon sugar. Within a short time, the yeast will liquidify. Now add

500 g wholemeal rye flour (Roggenschrot, idealerweise Typ 1700)
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp stinging nettle powder (Brennesselpulver) - can be replaced with 1/2 tbsp ground white pepper
1 tbsp caraway seeds
1/2 cup corn flour (Maismehl)
1/2 cup wheatgerms (Weizenkeime)

Knead thoroughly, then add the gruel and knead again until you have a moist, sticky dough. Add 250 g wheat flour and knead again until all the flour has been absorbed. The dough should be firm and pliable.I will be honest, kneading this dough is very hard work in comparison to most bread doughs - think of it as a work out for your finger muscles!

Cover and rest for 30 minutes. This dough won't rise much, it's too heavy. Bake at 180 C for ca. 2 hours until a cake tester comes out clean.

Promise me to eat a slice straight away,
still warm, plain butter melting into it: Manna from heaven!

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