Trouble on the Heath…and a Brioche on the side

…….and not Hampstead Heath you dirty minded boys out there (though you may need to be of a certain age, or George Michael, to understand that reference).  The heath referred to here is Lüneburg Heath in Northern Germany where Heidebrot (Heath Bread) is supposed to come from.  I remember Lüneburgerheide as somewhere the British army used during the Cold War to take their tanks out for a Sunday tootle, not the source of this rather wholesome bread. It is also I have discovered today very beautiful and has a more sinister permanent resident in the form of Heinrich Himmler, the ghastly pig farmer,  who is buried in a secret grave there – now there we certainly do have some trouble in the heath!

The bread is a classic heavy German bread made from white, rye and buckwheat flour which is then knotted in an interesting way.  I chose it for the knotting and because I have never made bread with buckwheat before. Perhaps doing it when I was also doing a cheesecake that was dominating the oven space was not the smartest of ideas, and as I said in an earlier post,  I was also juggling getting a brioche done as well.  I have found over the years multiple bakes never bodes well and the Heidebrot certainly suffered.

Now as I have said earlier, German bread is superb.  My reckoning is that the Germans have more bread types (nearly 300 varieties of bread and 1,200 varieties of rolls according to one website) than any other wheat eating nation and the deeply sad thing is that outside of Germany it really is not that well known. Just take a look at this picture of the shelves of a typical German Bäckerei.  As a bread lover I could weep with envy when you compare it  to the pap we get here in England unless you want to shell out a fast £3-£5 for a decent loaf.

They also take their bread very seriously.  The term “Entsetzliche Brötchen” (“Appalling bread rolls”) is one the husband and I use to describe any despicable food stuff after hearing a German matron spit the phrase with both venom and passion after encountering two rather stale varieties on the breakfast buffet in a hotel in Berlin.

Now the first problem for any English baker trying to bake German bread is getting the ingredients. We have just 2 types of rye flour, they have 5!  They also make extensive use of flours like barley, buckwheat, spelt, millet, and many more seeds.  The next problem is finding the recipes.  Speaking German is a huge advantage here but I still come across ingredients I simply don’t have the foggiest about and the online dictionaries are not much help.

This week’s Heidebrot is a case in point.  It comes from the one German bread making book I own but the ingredient problem has always got in the way of doing much from it. My first problem was Roggenvollkornschrot.  I thought this was rye flour and soon discovered my error.  I merrily ignored all my bread knowledge and ploughed on making a dough which had only 50% water compared to the flour (the bread hydration percentage should be between 60% to 70% unless you are making bagels).  The resulting dough was stiff as a board and obviously  needed water adding to it.

If you have ever tried to add water to a mixed dough, you will know what a nightmare this is. The water does not get incorporated easily and what I had was a brown cement like mixture slopping around the dough in the bowl.  The hands were now so filthy a photo unfortunately did not get taken.

Dough corrected, everything went fine, but I was now a long way away from the recipe.  Having done the normal kneading and proving and folding, I now needed to make the knot.  You basically roll out the dough so it is 90 cm long, form a loop, tuck one end through the loop leaving a hole for the other end to be tucked through and then tidy it all up.  It took 2 or 3 goes to get right and the resulting dough awaiting the final prove looked OK for a first attempt, though I am not sure I got the final stages of the knot quite right.

And now the problems started.  While all of this was going on, I had a cheesecake baking in the oven and was starting a brioche dough off.  Brioche takes a lot of hand kneading using the french method (lift, stretch, fling down, repeat) to get the dough to the right consistency. It takes at least 15 minutes to get the dough right and there is a tendency for bits to splatter all over the kitchen, which the husband delights in hunting for.  At the end of a thorough shoulder work out, a  nice buttery  (yes a whole pack of butter goes into that little ball) pillow of dough was sat on the work surface.

The cheesecake was then demanding my attention and frankly I lost track of the time and the fatal bread error was made – over proving!  This means they rise too much in the final prove and the loaves can’t hold their shape and end up a little flat as you can see, and it is a mistake I make a bit too often.

All that being said, the taste was nice, mostly from the buckwheat but it was not the Heidebrot I set out to make.  So where did I go wrong ? Checking my recipe and after much googling, Roggenvollkornschrot turns out to be Chopped Rye Grains which you can get here from specialist millers.  I also blithely ignored “Grundansatz” which I still can’t find out what it is but I can see in Germany it comes in tins and looks like some sort of short cut to a sourdough starter.

So the next time (and there needs to be a next time) I need to use my sourdough starter in the place of the Grundansatz and make sure I have chopped rye grains in the house.  All of which is called in the baking world , FTBR – FOLLOW THE BLEEDING RECIPE.

And the brioche on the side? Well that was fine though perhaps a little loose in the crumb because there wasn’t time to prove it in the fridge overnight.  But it was delicious under the tasty exotic mushrooms in cream that the beloved cooked, so all was good in the end.

And a last word on the Heidebrot.  Our guest Iain loved it and took a loaf home, which just goes to show every bake has a silver lining.  And now I move on to the next challenge………







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