Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Gabi's bread.

   Bread, one knows, is a natural carrier for man's history .This one has its own which,  however little and unconsequential it might be, regards me directly.
    An unspecified number of years ago, I used to share a house in Tooting Broadway, in deep south-west London. The place was just what you might expect as the home of a group - 6 of us - of young graduates, students and what nots, with different backgrounds and nationalities. Pretty much of a tip, with constant comings and goings, a fair ammount of squallor albeit fiercely fought off, but - hey - a lot of fun.
    Amongst us there a was a German girl, Gabriele Martin, known as Gabi. Gabi certainly had - has -  many merits, first of all that of being one of the kindest people I have ever met. However, even after all these years, I am sure that if you ask any of us, the single thing we remember best about her will be the wonderful bread she used to bake.
   Time has gone by, that group of former youngsters is now scattered around the world. Some have remained in more or less close touch, of others we have no more than vague news. Of someone, just as it happens in life, we have lost all traces. Unfortunatelly, amongst the latter is Gabi. Nontheless, she (and her bread!) has kept a place in my heart.
    Since then, my partner and I have also spent four years in southern Germany.  Gabi, I knew, had returned to her home town near Stuttgart. We were no more than 100ks from each other but I still could not find her. Nor could I find a bread quite like hers! Plenty of gorgeous ones around there, but none that exactly matched the marvel Gabi had introduced us to. It was a Bauernbrot, that much was clear, but try doing a research and you'll come across so many different recipes that will make your head spin.
   Then, recently I came across a version - posted on an American foodblog by a German lady who now lives over there - that looked really promising. Her recipe had at least a couple of key features that seemed right: it was a ryebread, and it required a 48 hours standing sourdough starter! Just what I remembered Gaby doing: starting three days ahead of baking...
   So, a few personal touches added to the recipe, and - presto! - off I go: at lunch time on thursday I launched myself into this latest adventure, ready to bring my new Gabi's bread to the table for dinner on saturday evening. Some effort indeed, but you have no idea of the satisfaction I felt! Try it yourself.


for the sourdough starter:
20g fresh yeast
500ml warm water
1 tbs sugar
250g plain flour

for the dough:
500g rye flour
250g wholemeal flour
1 tbs salt
1 / 2 tsp sugar
150ml warm water
70g linseed
120g sunflower seeds
70g sesame seeds

   Plan well in advance! At least 2 and a half days ahead of when you might want the bread, make the sourdough starter: dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water and pour into a large bowl. Gradually whisk in the flour to make a smooth batter. Cover and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.
    Again mIx well and allow to rest for a further 24 hours. The result will be a fragrant, quite liquid, yeasty batter.

   At least 7-8 hours before the starter is ready prepare the 'soaker', ie: soak the linseed in a cup of water.

    48 hours gone by and you are almost at the crunch! The hard work starts here...
   In a new bowl, mix all the dry ingredients: the 2 flours, sugar, salt, sunflower and sesame seeds. Add the starter, the soaker and the remaining warm water and start mixing and kneading. If you have a heavy duty mixer with a dough hook you can use it for the first couple of minutes. After that, I recommend you carry on kneading by hand onto a lightly floured surface. This is the only way to rightly gauge the dough consistency and the need, perhaps, to add a little more water. Keep going for a good 15 minutes. It is pretty hard work but ever so rewarding. I much rather be doing this than going to the gym!
   Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover and let rise for 2 hours, after which, return it to the floured surface and knead again for a further 5 minutes. Shape the dough into 2 oblong loaves placed on top of a baking tray or into 2 loaf tins (i have tried both and I think the second solution works best although the final result might have less visual impact). Cover with oiled clingfilm and let it rise for 1 more hour.
   Meanwhile preheat the oven to 220C°. Sprinkle some flour on top of the loaves and score them lengthwise. Bake for 45 minutes. Do not worry if the crust turns dark: it is in the nature of this bread. Allow to cool before slicing (if you manage!!!).
   If wrapped inside a cloth, this bread will last for up to a week.

Gabi, who left me some great memories;
Petra, who posted  on the recipe that inspired me.

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