Walliser Brot – 100% Swiss Rye Bread

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Finally, I think I did it!! It only took about 5 or 6 tries, and me eating countless slices of extremely dense or otherwise unsatisfying 100% rye bread. Which, if I were a cat, would most likely be good for keeping my teeth tiptop clean. But anyhow, I think, finally, I can reveal the outcome of this process, and how fitting this would be my 100th blog post!

Can you believe it? I am celebrating the 100th post on Simple Healthy Homemade! I am super exited and would like to thank all my readers and fellow bloggers for their support and interest in what I cook and scribble! Thanks to all of you who have commented and engaged in the conversation! I truly appreciate your feedback 🙂

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But let’s start at the beginning of the story. For before I could get started making ‘Walliser Brot’ I had to tackle a couple of hurdles I did not expect. First, the flour here is different. After consulting with one of my friends from Switzerland who, as a baker, had done an exchange year in the USA, I realized that making Walliser Brot (a traditional rye bread from the canton of Valais/Wallis is Switzerland) would be a tad more involved than expected, but that has never stopped me before, and was surely not going to hold me back now that I was craving that particular bread. So the flour situation I knew was going to be some trial and error, to determine what would work as a substitute. But the second part of the puzzle, (or actually the first, since without it, I could not even start the trial process) involved the bread not being made with yeast, but a traditional rye sourdough as a starter. To read more on that and learn how to make your very own rye sourdough starter, read my previous post.

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A little bit of background on the bread we are talking about here. Walliser Rye Bread is a 100% rye grain bread, it is fairly dark and has a dense crumb. And it tastes nothing like what most of you associate with ‘rye bread’ here in the US. The taste many here think is ‘rye’ actually comes from the caraway seeds added to many rye breads (which I am not a fan of, at all) and to a lesser extend from the molasses. Also this bread has no yeast or added wheat flour to help with the lower gluten content of rye. So I knew it was going to be a sticky situation since gluten in wheat is what makes the dough hold together and be elastic and, uuhm, dough-like. Rye bread dough is often very tacky. But I was feeling a little homesick and nothing can hold you back when you crave something that will make you feel  like home. And we all know, there’s no place like home 😉

Here is a picture once I finally got it to turn out just right.

Traditionally the oven in the village would only be fired up 2-3 times a year (!!!) and each family got their turn in using it. Follows that the bread would have been hard as a rock after a while, but it also must have kept quite well. There are stories of people using an axe to get a piece of bread cut! It would then be soaked in hot milk until soft and could still be eaten. Here a link for the curious (in German) about Walliser Roggenbrot (Rye Bread) and its history.

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Rye was the primary or only grain available since it was the only grain suitable to the high altitude and short growing season. In fact, rye was sometimes referred to as “the poverty grain” since it will grow on soils too poor for other grains. Rye grows more rapidly than wheat, can withstand submersion during floods, and continues to thrive during drought.  Rye therefore became especially popular in colder temperate countries – Russia, Poland, Scandinavia, Canada, Argentina, China, Turkey and elsewhere where it was too cold or wet for wheat to grow dependably, like in the high valleys in Switzerland. Besides being able to grow and mature in adverse conditions, it is also higher in protein, phosphorus, iron and potassium than wheat. It’s high in lysine, low in gluten and a good source of zinc, copper and selenium, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber and Manganese. In the high mountain valleys, rye was harvested with the use of only simple tools, by hand and after dreshing, would be stored in a place like this:

Stadel (Storage Barn for Rye)

Here with view of the Matterhorn

A ‘Stadel’ in this region of Switzerland would be built on stilts, which allowed the people to build on very uneven terrain, and would have a large stone plate (I have often seen them built: stilt, stone, stilt) to prevent mice and other rodents from getting into the grain stored for food. Smart move, given that back in the day, you could not just go and buy more if it went bad and you had to make it through a year before being able to harvest more.

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But let’s get to the recipe!

Ingredients

  • 1 cup rye sourdough starter, active and fed
  • 4 cups whole rye flour* separated, plus additional for dusting
  • (1/4 cups rye flakes, soaked in water for 2 hours) optional
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 to 1 cup warm water

*Either freshly ground rye (you need about 1 3/4 cup whole rye berries/grains) or store bought, make sure it is whole grain, not white or dark rye flour

Directions

  1. In a large bowl mix the sourdough starter with 3/4 cups warm water, add 3 cups of rye flour, salt and mix until incorporated. Depending on the wetness of your sourdough (the one I maintain is 100% hydration and therefore, quite wet) At this point the dough will be fairly moist and sticky so stirring with a spoon is a good option. If it seems dry, add another 1/4 cup water.
  2. Cover and let rest and rise in a warm spot until doubled in size. This will take anywhere from 3-6 hours, depending on how active your sourdough is and the ambient temperature. If you run out of time, place in the fridge overnight, let come to room temperature before the next step.
  3. To your dough, add 1 cup of rye flour, the soaked rye flakes, if using. Knead until incorporated. If your dough is still very tacky, add some additional flour, if it feels stiff and is dry add a little more water. (This step varies depending on the moisture content of the flour you are using. If your flour has been stored for a while, it tends to be drier than freshly ground flour, and you might have to add some extra water.)imageNow it’s time to get down and dusty. Knead the additional flour into the dough before shaping it into a ball and placing on a floured baking sheet to rise…
  4. When everything is incorporated, form into a ball, flatten slightly, dust surface with flour place on a flour dusted baking sheet and let rest in a warm place until cracks show on the surface. (To create a warm place for my bread in the colder months, I turn the oven to warm (160º-170ºF) for 2-3 minutes, then turn the oven off. Cover the ‘bread to be’ with the inverted bowl so it doesn’t dry out and place in the warm oven to rise.)imageAfter its final rest and rise, ready for the oven… (notice the characteristic cracks)
  5. There are two ways of baking this bread: Preheat oven to 380ºF for 10 minutes, placing a large cast iron dutch oven in the middle of the oven. When the oven is hot, remove the dutch oven, dust the inside with some flour and gently slide the bread into the pan, cover with the lid, then set back in the oven. (You can also use a cloche, if you happen to have one) Bake 45 minutes, then turn heat down to 365ºF remove the lid and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes or until the bread is baked through. (Do not lift the lid or peak before the 45 minutes are up, you are trying to create a moist and steamy environment for baking the bread! )
  6. If you do not have a cloche or a dutch oven, you need a metal roasting pan or jelly roll pan. Put that on the bottom shelf of your oven as you preheat. When the oven is preheated, place the bread in the oven (on the baking sheet) and add 2 cups of hot water to the roasting pan on the bottom shelf to create steam and quickly close the door, trapping the steam inside. After 20 minutes, add more water if necessary, be careful not to splatter it on the glass parts of the door or at the light bulb, they could burst or crack. Bake for 45 minutes minutes, turn the heat down to 365ºF, check on your bread an bake an additional 15 minutes, or until done. The bread will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom (careful: HOT!)
  7. Turn off the heat and leave bread in the oven for an additional 20 minutes, then remove from oven, and place on a cooling rack.
  8. Let cool completely and rest for a minimum of 24 hours before cutting into it. It will gunk up your knife and stick together or crumble if you don’t wait (Trust me, I know how hard this is to wait when the house smells like fresh bread)
I like it with cream cheese or other fresh cheese just as much as sweet toppings, my favorite currently (besides butter and prosciutto) is cashew butter and strawberry jam 🙂

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Sourdough Starter

Making your own Sourdough Starter

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My starter when it was still a baby, just getting some little bubbles…

I have been on a mission to recreate one of my favorite breads of all times: Walliser Brot! It’s a dark dense 100% rye bread from Switzerland. Let me finish before you say, I don’t like rye bread: I don’t like any rye bread except this one myself 🙂 What is called Rye bread here is like Arizona compared to, I don’t know, Alaska, yes, that far apart. Most bread labeled rye in this part of the world contains some rye flour, lots of regular wheat flour and the part I think most people don’t appreciate: Carraway seeds. The one I long for does have none of that going on.

Well step number one in the recreation process is to get my hands on a sourdough starter, and not just any sourdough starter, but a Rye Sourdough starter.

Why not just use bakers yeast from the store? Well first, since ‘Walliser’ Bread (from the Swiss Kanton Wallis/Valais), where the river Rhône has its source technically now has an AOC (from controlled origin, kinda like Champagne can only be from the Champagne region in France hence we have Prosecco and terms like Sparkling Wine, Scotch from Scotland, etc) and the technical details advise it has to be 100% Rye, and to be made with Sourdough, and can only be called that if the Rye was grown in Valais (well, total fail on that one, for sure, but I am going to try my best to follow the rest, maybe without actually, officially calling it Walliser Brot, since as we now know, that would not be appropriate 😉

Secondly, Sourdough, is fascinating, and once you have it started much cheaper than buying yeast over and over, keeps the bread fresher and more moist for longer and due to the lactic acid that is produced during fermentation that bread won’t go stale or grow moldy nearly as quickly as yeast bread. It makes a great easy care pet, takes only about as much care as a plant once you got it well fed and going strong.

Below are some quotes I found that give a bit more detail on the health benefits of making bread with your own sourdough starter. You can make one, buy one or you can adopt one from a friend, that has one in the fridge.

“The history of bread making is a good example of the industrialization and standardization of a technique that was formerly empiric….It was simpler to replace natural leaven with brewer’s yeast. There are numerous practical advantages: the fermentation is more regular, more rapid, and the bread rises better. But the fermentation becomes mainly an alcoholic fermentation and the acidification is greatly lessened. The bread is less digestible, less tasty and spoils more easily”         Claude Aubert Les Aliments Fermentes Traditionnels

“Baking with natural leaven is in harmony with nature and maintains the integrity and nutrition of the cereal grains used… The process helps to increase and reinforce our body’s absorption of the cereal’s nutrients. Unlike yeasted bread that diminished, even destroy’s much of the grain’s nutritional value, naturally leavened bread does not stale and, as it ages, maintains its original moisture much longer. A Lot of that information was known pragmatically for centuries; and thus when yeast was first introduced in France at the court of Louis XIV in March 1668, because at that time the scientists already knew that the use of yeast would imperil the people’s health, it was strongly rejected. Today, yeast is used almost universally, without any testing; and the recent scientific evidence and clinical findings are confirming that ancient taboos with biochemical and bioelectronic valid proofs that wholly support that age-old common sense decision”.              Jacques DeLangre

Essentially you are propagating a living organism, bacteria and wild yeast that feed on the sugars found in the flour, giving off gas as they do so, hence the bubbles that leaven the bread. Since it is alive, you have to feed your new pet(s), but the nice thing is, they do everything slower at lower temperatures. So once established, you can keep it in the fridge and take it out to feed once every couple of days, once a week at the minimum.

The King Arthur Flour Website has some great info on how to revive a neglected starter, de-sour one that has gotten too sour (discard most and feed 2 cups flour, 1 1/2 cups water) and I think they also sell one (not rye though)

There are many recipe’s for this out there, and some make it sound like it is super complicated, also a lot of instructions have you discard half of the starter at every ‘feeding’ which I think is just wasteful.  I had a wheat sourdough that I ‘made’ at some point and I remember it took a while to get it going, but the one I made with rye, was up and ready in no time. Apparently rye ferments more readily. But there is luck involved and it might not always work, depending on the organism that lie dormant on the grain or happen to float through the air at the time. Time of year, temperature, all those variables come into play.

So let’s get started:

You will need: Whole grain, unbromated, unbleached Rye flour (you could use pumpernickel flour for some of the feedings), Water, Glass container to keep the starter, something to stir, tape and pen to mark the level so you can check how much it came up

Day 1:

    • 1/2 cup whole grain rye flour (or if you have a grain mill, grind some fresh)
    • 1/2 cup warm filtered water (try to avoid chlorine if you can)
    • Stir the flour and water together in a the glass container, cover loosely with a lid or plastic wrap and set aside (room temp!)

Day 2:

    • add 1/4 cup Rye flour, 1/4 cup luke warm water, place the tape on the outside of the glass, make a line where the ‘dough’ ends so you can check if anything is happening yet (on mine it did start to make bubbles)

Day 3 & after:

    • add another 1/4 cup rye flour, and 1/4 cup water, if nothing much happened (If it got very bubbly and then fell again, add 1/2 cup flour/1/4 cup water, your pet is hungry!) Remove the tape and re-position so the line marks the dough level again.

Your goal is to get the starter to double in size, with my starter, that now takes about 6 hours. So keep feeding once a day until the starter gets really bubbly. If you run out of space, remove half of the starter, discard and then feed flour to the rest. And if after 6 days still nothing happened, you might have to call it quits and try again at a later time, or ask around, someone might have one, they most likely will be able to give you a piece you can feed into your own starter.

imageActive and bubbly!

From the King Arthur Website: on Storing your sourdough starter:

Storing

Refrigerating – Once your sourdough starter is safely in the refrigerator, it will need a little attention, although once it’s cold and relatively dormant, it can survive quite a long time between “feedings.” It is certainly not as demanding as children or more traditional pets, but it won’t just sit for months on end like a packet of commercially dried yeast either.

Freezing – You may be able to ignore your starter for a month or even much longer, but if you know you’re going to be away for a time, you can store it, unlike children or pets, in the freezer. You may want to transfer it to a plastic container first since it will expand as it freezes.

When you are ready to use it again, give it a day to revive, feed it a good meal, give it another day to build up an armada of fresh, new wild siblings and it will be ready to go to work.

Drying – An alternative storage method is to dry your starter by spreading it out on a piece of heavy plastic wrap or waxed paper. Once it’s dry, crumble it up and put it in an airtight container. Store it someplace cool or, to be safe, in the freezer.

To reactivate the culture, place the dried starter in a mixture of flour and water as described in the first section. To help the dried chunks dissolve, you can grind them into smaller particles with a hand cranked grinder, a blender or a food processor before you add them to the flour/water mixture.

Walliser Roggenbrot (in French: Pain au Seigle) with the traditional cracks on the surface. Let’s see how well I will do…

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