Thursday, March 21, 2013

Volkornbrot Recipe

Volkornbrot Recipe

A wide, flat loaf of Volkornbrot baked in a 5 quart dutch oven

I first discovered this delicious and hearty type of german pumpernickel bread some years ago at a Whole Foods supermarket.  According to my friend, John, the name means "the people's (volk) grain (korn) bread (brot)".  This is a very dense whole grain rye sour dough bread that is best cut into very thin slices and toasted.  I had difficulty finding a recipe for Volkornbrot.  Starting with Nancy Silverton's recipe for pumpernickel in her La Brea Bakery recipe book, I have by trial and error developed the following recipe for a sprouted rye volkornbrot that is pretty close to what I was going 

A toasted slice of a Volkornbrot.  Rye berries, pumpkin seeds, amaranth, and cornmeal are visible.

 Volkornbrot is best sliced thin.

This recipe requires using rye sourdough starter.  You can make starter from scratch, but the easiest way is to 'borrow' some starter from a baker who maintains their own culture of sourdough starter.  If you get a wheat starter, as I did, you must convert it into a rye starter.  This is done by repeatedly reducing the starter by half its volume and feeding the starter with rye flour, so that after a few generations, the wheat starter becomes a rye starter.  Once you have your starter you can make the bread, but you also must then take care of your rye starter and keep it alive and going so that you can continue making bread.  I don't want to spend too much time writing about starter, so do your own research if necessary.  

The following is an initial overview of the whole bread making process. 

 Evening 1.  Soak rye berries for 8-12 hours.

Morning 1.  Start feeding rye starter. Drain rye berries and allow to sprout for 8-12 hours.  Feed rye starter again during the day sometime.  

Evening 2.  Coarsely chop rye berries and salt in a food processor and combine with starter to form the sponge.  Allow to ferment for 8-12 hours.  A small amount of starter is reserved and put in the fridge to be used for the next loaf.

Morning 2 . Add dry ingredients to sponge and allow dough to ferment for 8-12 hours.

Evening 3.  Bake loaf.  When done the loaf is immediately wrapped in cloth and allowed to sit for 8-12 hours.

Morning 3.  Ready to eat.  

Ingredients for sponge:

about 2 cups rye starter

2.5 cups whole rye berries

1 tsp sea salt

water as needed

Dry ingredients (added to sponge after it has fermented for about 12 hours)

3 cups of flour.  Many variations are possible but first try 1 cup white flour + 2 cups of whole grain rye flour.

1 3/4 tsp salt.

1/2 - 1 T ground caraway seeds.  Caraway seed is the flavor people generally associate with pumpernickel and rye bread.  The strong flavor that some people object to has nothing to do with rye grain, but comes from the caraway seeds. I think it is a good flavor in this bread, but you can even omit the caraway seeds if desired.  I buy whole caraway seed and then grind them in a heavy duty mill, as I have found these surprisingly tough seeds too difficult to grind with a stone mortar and pestle.  So, I would advise people to buy pre-powdered caraway seed if they don't have a way to grind it or don't want to deal with that.  

Ingredients to be added right before baking:

1/4- 1/2 cup sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, or any other kind of nut or seed.

Step by Step Instructions:

1. Soak rye berries.  On Evening 1, put the rye berries in a large glass or ceramic mixing bowl and cover with enough water to submerge them generously. Let them soak overnight. 

2 A. Sprout rye berries. The next morning drain all the water off the soaked grain.  You can do this by transferring the grain to a large sieve and rinse the berries under the faucet, or by holding a plate against the top of the bowl and pouring the water off and shaking it out thoroughly.  Then leave them for 8-12 hours to sprout in the same bowl, and cover with a plate to help keep them moist. 

 The rye berries are just beginning to sprout                                             

2 B. Start feeding rye starter.  At the same time bring your rye starter out of the fridge and and start feeding it.  You are aiming to make 2 cups of starter plus a little extra to save.  If you start with 1/2 cup of starter, stir in 1/2 cup of rye flour and some water until you have a thick liquid.    

3.  Feed starter again. After about 6 hours you should feed the starter again with another half cup of flour and more water.  To reserve some starter culture for the next loaf, take about a few T of what you make and put it in 8 ounce mason jar, stir in spoonful of rye flour and some water, leave the lid not fully closed and store in the refrigerator. 

Rye starter bubbling after it has been fed a few times

4.  Chop sprouted rye berries. During the evening (Evening 2) check on the rye berries.  They should have just started to sprout minuscule white tails. They don't need to sprout any more than just barely.  If you have a large enough food processor such as a cusineart, put all the berries in it, adding 1 tsp of sea salt.  Chop the rye berries very coarsely, pulsing until it looks like most of the berries have been cut in half or so.  No need to overdo it, as one nice characteristic of volkornbrot is the presence of visibly whole grains in each slice of bread.


Sprouted rye berries and mung beans coarsely chopped with a Cusineart

5.  Combine grain and starter to make the sponge. Combine the salted chopped rye berries and rye starter in a large glass or ceramic mixing bowl.  the sponge should be thicker than just the plain starter, but still of a wet and soupy consistency, so more of a liquid than a dough.  If it seems a bit dry, add more water in small increments as necessary.  

The sponge

6. Allow sponge to ferment for 8-12 hours.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, a plate, or a damp cloth and allow to ferment (overnight in my hypothetical example).  If you use plastic wrap, almost no water will evaporate, so don't make the sponge too wet in this case.  But if you use a cloth or plate, more water will evaporate so it will need a little more water.  

7.  Add dry ingredients to sponge to make a wet dough. (Morning 2) It will become very difficult to stir this sticky dough with a spoon, so feel free to just use your hands.  If you have bread mixer you might want to use it.  I just do it by hand.  I have a very large and shallow ceramic bowl that works well for this step.  It is not really kneading because the dough is too wet, but just combine everything very thoroughly.  The dough's consistency should be extremely sticky, not a kneadable dough, but not a liquid either.  You should be able to gather it up into one big sticky mass.  

Dough just after mixing in the dry ingredients.  It is on the wet side, but it worked out fine.  

8.  Allow dough to ferment for 8-12 hours.  Keep the dough in the bowl covered with plastic wrap, a plate, or wet cloth.

9.  Prepare to bake the bread. (Evening 3) Pre heat the oven to 460-475 F.  The jury is still out on what the best temperature is.  I think 475 might be a bit high for my oven, so I have been trying lowering the temperature.  I now bake the bread in a enameled cast iron dutch oven.  I used to use a regular rectangular bread loaf pan, which make a good shape for slicing, but I think having a lid over the top is better than having the top of the bread exposed to the oven.  Coat thoroughly the inside your bread loaf pan or dutch oven or whatever with a thin layer of olive oil and then put a heaping spoonful of rye flour into it.  Over the sink, shake, tap and rotate the baking pan or dutch oven to evenly dust the oiled surfaces with flour.  

10. Add any last minute ingredients.  Right before baking add the sunflowers seeds, or pumpkin seeds or what have you to your dough and mix them in thoroughly by oiled hands.  Transfer the finished dough to the oiled and floured dutch oven or loaf pan. 

11. Bake the bread for one hour.  I usually check on the bread after an hour to see that it looks pretty brown, and I give it a tap to hear that it sounds kind of hollow. Don't let it get burnt.  At lower temperatures you might need to leave it in for a little more than an hour, but at 475 it will probably be done possibly even before an hour.  

A taller loaf of Volkornbrot baked in a 2 quart Dutch oven

12. Remove bread and wrap it in a cloth.  After removing the bread from the oven, use a thin knife or something to go around the side of the loaf as a precaution against sticking, and then invert the pan/dutch oven so that the loaf is deposited on a cutting board or countertop.  It should come out immediately with no problem.  If not, the loaf may not be done, assuming that you did a good job oiling and flouring the pan/dutch oven.  Immediately wrap the loaf in a clean cloth and then put it into a paper or cloth bag.   

12. Allow moisture to equalize in the loaf.  You are supposed to wait for 12 hours before eating the bread, to allow it to cool and for the moisture to equalize.  That is why in my example is planned so that you bake at night,  so that you just go to sleep and then it is ready the next morning.  You can eat it earlier though, but you should at least let it cool down all the way.  

It takes some practice to get good at slicing this bread thinly.  Try starting making a shallow cut on the top and turning the bread to continue the shallow cut all the way around before cutting through the center, like a carpenter making an accurate saw cut around a piece of wood.  

Possible Variations:

Different Flours.You can experiment with different combinations of flours.  For example, I like using 1 cup white, 1 cup rye, and 1 cup buckwheat.  I am currently making a loaf that has fine cornmeal in it.

Dried fruits. You can add some dried fruit right before baking, but don't add too much, maybe 1/4-1/3 cup.  I have tried adding dried apricots and cherries and I thought that came out pretty good.

Sprouted beans.  I have tried adding sprouted mung beans, lentils, and chickpeas to the bread.  I sprouted 1/4-1/2 cup of dry beans separately at the same time as the rye and ground them up together to make the sponge.  At first the beans added a very beany smell to the sponge, but by the time the dough was ready to be baked there was no bean smell.  I could not really discern the beans in the final bread.  But by adding beans, the bread certainly becomes more nutritious and protein rich.

Sprouting other grains.  I have not tried this yet but I assume one could sprout other grains besides rye to make this bread.  

Final note about the starter.  It is good for the starter to be refreshed and fed often.  It is bad for it to sit for too long in the fridge.  So if you don't make the bread often and use the starer, the starter may decline.  If your starter has been in the fridge for a week without being used, take it out and throw out half, feed it, wait six hours, throw away half, give it another spoonful of flour and put it back in the fridge.  

That is all.  I hope someone finds this useful.  

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