I’ve been admonishing myself lately, thinking it’s criminal that I don’t make Bauernbrot every day. It’s tasty, that much is very true. But the meaning of it, that alone should spur me to dive into my stash of rye flour every morning. This is my family’s bread, after all. The loaf my mother would travel miles for in Nürnberg, her hometown. It's the staple in my aunt’s kitchen at the foot of the alps in Bavaria. The stuff I ate with my grandmother and cousins throughout childhood. And I can bake it in my own ovens in Vermont every day to break bread with my family, at least symbolically.
Today I did make rye bread. I thought of my mother, my family and Germany. I remembered summer brotzeits at the foot of the alps, my mother happy, enlivened by being home and sharing with me the things of her childhood: rye bread with fresh slabs of butter and sharp cheese. Icy cold cucumber salad and salty wurst. And then I thought, if I did this every day, where would the memories go? Surely they’d dissipate, the granules of nostalgia melting away with the repetition of baking the same bread every day. In a weeks time, what was once a ritual of recollection would become a mundane chore, void of feeling.
So I’ve decided to savor this loaf and not bake it again until the longing strikes deep to visit with my mother. And perhaps before that time, I’ll find my way back to Germany to store up on more brotzeit memories to conjure when I’m struck with the need to commune with nostalgia.
I use a lovely rye mix from King Arthur Flour. It’s flavorful but not overwhelming. The wheat gluten I also get from King Arthur Flour. When you’re working with heavier flours, like whole wheat or rye, adding vital wheat gluten to the mix is a wonderful way to brighten the texture of your heartier loaves.
Follow the instructions for sourdough bread but substitute rye flour for the white flour and add 1 tablespoon of vital wheat gluten per cup of flour. I’ve found, depending on the conditions, I’ll need more than the 6 cups of flour to create a nice dough. Have a few extra cups handy for the last flour incorporation. It’s ok if the dough is a little sticky, you just don’t want it runny.
And last, I use barley malt syrup instead of sugar or honey. It gives an earthier flavor to the bread. Enjoy!