Kastenbrot: a German rye-based sourdough bread

If you have never baked bread before, this is a great recipe to start with. It’s easy, healthy and delicious and the best is, you don’t even have to get your hands dirty!

I have lived in the US for close to two decades now, and the one thing that I have missed all this time is German rye bread. My husband always jokes around about us Germans being completely obsessed with bread! In my case, that is absolutely true – I’ve been known to smuggle bread into the country in my suitcase. I even asked my German relatives to send me a loaf through the mail a couple of times!! But a few years ago, much to the relief of my German relatives, I took a bread-baking class and finally worked up the courage to bake my own bread. As it turns out, it is really not as difficult as I once thought…

The German name “Kastenbrot” literally means “box bread”. The process of fermentation, proofing and baking all happens in the same rectangular loaf pan, therefore its shape resembles that of a box.  Its rye-based sourdough gives it a robust flavor. It is deliciously moist on the inside with a crunchy crust around it. In my recipe I am using ingredients like vinegar, spices and honey to further develop the flavors. It is delicious with liverwurst, cheeses or paté – or simply with butter!

You can purchase fresh sourdough starter online (www.Kingarthurflour.com has a great one), or if you’re lucky, you have a friend that is happy to share some with you. Most sourdough starter is made with unbleached all-purpose white flour. This recipe calls for a rye-based sourdough, which you can easily make yourself the day before, using your white sourdough starter. You could also omit the sourdough starter completely if you can’t find any, by substituting it with an extra teaspoon of yeast, but it will not be as moist and the flavor won’t be as complex as the original recipe (just don’t forget to add the extra water and rye flour that is used in making the rye-starter).

Rye sourdough starter

30g (1 oz). white sourdough starter

300g (10.5 oz.) water

300g (10.5 oz.) rye flour

Mix all ingredients together, cover with a moist cloth and let ferment for 24 hours.

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Rye sourdough starter

Main recipe

630g (22 oz.) rye sourdough

300g (10.5 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour

150g (5.3 oz.) water

1 tsp honey

1 1/2 TB apple cider vinegar

1 tsp bread spice (equal parts of ground fennel, anise, caraway and coriander)*

1 tsp dry yeast

2 ½  tsp kosher salt

¼ cup seeds such as sesame, sunflower or flaxseed

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Put starter, water, flour, honey, cider vinegar and bread spice into the mixing bowl of an electric mixer. Let the machine mix everything together with the dough hook for about 5 minutes. After the dough has become more solid and sticky, stop the machine and let the dough sit in the bowl for a good twenty minutes. This process, which is called autolyse, will help develop the gluten in the dough and also gives the sourdough starter a chance to start fermenting. After the twenty minutes are up, start the mixer again and sprinkle in the salt and yeast. Mix for another 2 minutes.

Grease your baking tin and sprinkle it with a light dusting of flour. You can also sprinkle some seeds into the baking tin if you like. Pour the mixed dough into the pan. It is important that the dough comes out of the bowl in one piece – a dough scraper is a great tool for this. Once you have filled the baking tin, smooth it out with a wet spatula. Sprinkle more seeds on top. Let ferment for about 6 hours.

When the dough has puffed up nicely, it’s time to preheat your oven to the highest temperature that it can go. In my case that’s F475, but the higher, the better. Just before baking, slash across the dough with a sharp knife. This will ensure that the gases and some of the excess moisture can exit the dough. It should be about a 1 ½ inch incision.

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Put the baking tin in the oven and bake at this temperature for 10 minutes. After that, turn the oven down to F350 for 40 minutes.

When the timer goes off, take it out of the oven, remove it from the baking tin and place it on a cooling rack. Now comes the hardest part of the bread-baking process: the wait! It needs to cool down completely before cutting into it (about 2 hours)!! Bon appetit!

*The bread spice is optional. The small amount will add complexity to the bread without being too overpowering. I keep bread spice handy in my spice cabinet at all times. 1 TB of each of the spices ground in a spice grinder should be enough to fill a jar (you will only need a small portion of this for the recipe above)

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