When I was a German kid growing up in the wilds of Geelong, we were lucky to have a couple of excellent German delis and bakeries. Geelong had a big German community, and they were never going to cope with what was typically available in the way of bread and smallgoods in a country Victorian town in the 1960s.
Both of those things are true German specialties. What couldn’t be made locally was shipped over.
We had four kinds of bread – black, brown, grey and white. Black was pumpernickel, and it came in small, dense packets of a very black bread made completely of cooked whole grains. This was shipped over. Brown was similar, but a bit lighter, not so dark or dense. Grey was light rye, usually with caraway seed (this was my absolute favourite, topped with loads of butter). White was the white bread rolls made in the steam oven at the German bakery in town, an oven specially shipped in and the only one of its kind anyone knew about.
And then of course, there was the white fluff that came in neat square loaves from the local milk bar. We secretly loved it for an occasional treat. I was known to lie occasionally that the shop had nothing else left, so I had no choice but to buy it.
These days, you can get almost anything you like here. But when I lived in Chicago about 19 years ago, bread was almost uniformly bad. The artisan movement hadn’t really begun. In supermarkets, you weren’t told what day the bread was baked – it had just its use by date. It was sweet and full of preservatives and really vile. It never went mouldy.
That’s no joke. There was a coronavirus experiment online recently about bacteria growth in bread, comparing what happened after it was touched by washed hands, unwashed hands, hands with sanitizer etc. The control sample of an untouched slice of bread looked exactly the same after a month as it did on day 1. Exactly. Try doing that with real bread.
Anyway, I started making bread. I’d made some before – I’ve always loved cooking – but now I made all our supplies. I found a powdered sourdough online, and it was fabulous.
Later in our stay there, I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. Since I didn’t feel I could give up bread, I went on a long campaign of baking to see what I could come up with that was healthier and would have less impact on my blood sugars, but still let me feed my bread habit.
I ended up focused on the brown bread – a cooked whole grain bread. The cooked part is important. Whole grains here in loaves are typically not pre-cooked. The grains end up a bit like seeds – much too hard, and not really adding much to the loaf in terms of either fibre or general health.
I collected whatever whole grains I could find – at times I had up to eight different ones. But whatever you can access will do. It’s good to have at least some variety, if you can manage. I
I haven’t made it in ages. Where I live in North Fitzroy these days, we’re surrounded by great bakers, and I’m mostly too busy.
But now we’re basically in isolation and working from home, I’ve gone back to it. I’ve just renewed my sourdough supply, so will try this bread again with that soon, but this one was made with yeast.
Give it a try – it’s delicious, chewy, and incredibly good for you. It freezes well.
Cooked whole grain loaf
3 cups of mixed whole grains, soaked at least overnight and then cooked very gently.
I used 1 cup of spelt, 1/2 cup farro, 1/2 cup rye, 1/2 cup wheat, 1/2 cup freekah. I would normally use oats as well, but I was out. Barley is also a great inclusion. This was a spur of the moment decision, so I just went with what I had. The soaking is important. Long-soaking wakes the grain up from hibernation, and it takes on a better nutritional/biochemical profile as it gets ready to sprout. Cook gently in lots of water. It’ll be at least an hour, but up to two hours if you do it just under a simmer. Then drain and allow to cool slightly. It’s good if it’s still warm when you mix it in.
About 4 cups of flour – I used 3 of white and 1 of rye
2 tbs yeast (yes, it’s a lot. This is a heavy dough!)
2 tsp EVO oil
1 tsp salt
1-2 tbs caraway seeds (optional, or whatever type of seed you fancy. I think brown mustard seeds would be good too)
1-2 cups very warm water (enough to wet all ingredients)
Mix everything until ingredients are no longer dry. Leave for at least an hour until you get a good rise. I cover the bowl with plastic wrap (or silicone) and leave the bowl in a sink of hot water. It’s unlikely to double, but it should clearly rise. This is a no-knead method, so just mixing it is enough. It is going to be a dense bread regardless.
Turn out onto a heavily floured surface. Split the dough in half, and work in flour from your work surface until the dough can be roughly shaped and placed in an oiled bread tin. It will still be soft. This amount makes two loaves.
Once it’s in the tins, cover and leave to rise somewhere sheltered and warm for at least an hour. It should rise quite well, close to double.
Cook at 230C for 30 mins.