Of course I had a look at this week’s yeastspotting. And there I spotted this: Barley-Flatbread by Dan Lepard. It looks gorgeous, doesn’t it?

I’ve ever since I lived in Sweden for a year been fond of flatbreads, crackers, crispbread. There, crispbread or as they say, “Knäckebröd”, is a staple food. They’ve got an endless variety and have it with every meal.

Here in Switzerland flatbread exists as well, but only in a limited choice. I prefer to bake my own, so I decided that it’s time again. I didn’t follow Dan Lepard’s formula though, I made up my own!

I am very pleased with the outcome. I wanted that the oat-flavor really comes out, and I achieved this goal. I love the mildness of these crackers! They turned out wonderfully crisp and light. I’m sure that they won’t last long, the next time I’ll make double the recipe. (I always work with small amounts when I’m experimenting because I hate to throw things out.)

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I could withstand the Leader’s “Alpine Baguettes” and decided to give Hamelman’s “five-grain levain” a try. I thought that there can’t be anything wrong with a bread that Hamelman himself describes as “one of the most delectable breads”.

It’s made of whole-wheat flour, bread and high gluten flour, and it includes a soaker (sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, chopped rye and oats.) In my case it includes as well some sesame seeds as I was running low on sunflower seeds and had to substitute some of them trough sesame. The fermentation process is speeded up by a little addition of yeast. I can’t get high-gluten flour here in Switzerland, therefore I added 12 grams of Vital Wheat Gluten to the flour.

While I was letting the dough ferment for the first time, I was thinking about how I should shape this batch of bread. I felt a little bit bored by my “standard shape”, the round loaf baked in the iron pot. I remembered the special Couronne shaping that I discovered a long time ago on wildyeastblog.com and that I had on my to-do-list for a long time. So I gave it a try. Thank you Susan, You’re a great inspiration to me and your directions are clear and easy to follow, thanks for that!

Well, mine doesn’t exactly look as perfect as Susan’s. It’s a little bit out of shape because my “proofing banneton” was probably a little to big, so the balls didn’t form a tight unit and moved around when I slided them into the oven.

That’s the way I constructed my “banneton”, inspired by Susan’s description. I used the lid of my scouting cooking pot and a newspaper-ball. (I’m sorry for the bad image quality, all the good cameras are out today and I had to use my old camera, bought in 2002.) I covered this “banneton” with a well floured towel to prevent dough from sticking.

I had about 1.1 kg of dough alltogether, so I used 750 grams as recommended for the Couronne and made a small boule out of the rest.

To shape a couronne like the one above, divide the 750 grams of dough into six pieces of 100 and one piece of 150 grams.  Shape the pieces into balls and let them rest for about 10 minutes. Roll the 150 gram – ball into a flat disk, about 15 cm wide. Place it over the newspaper ball, then arrange the other six balls seamside up around it. Then you have to cut a “star” into the flat doughpiece in the mittle with a sharp knife (look below or read Susan’s instructions) and fold the “star-edges” over the balls.

Then let it proof as usual (cover it with a towel while proofing) and bake as you’d bake your recipe normally, maybe slightly shorter, because this shape is not as compact as a normal boule or batard.

Von Brote

There you’ve got it: the (somewhat blurry. . .) glimpse into my oven!

I just tried two slices of the small boule – I planned on giving the couronne away, but now the person who was supposed to receive it isn’t at home, therefore I put it into the freeze and I’ll have it another time when more people are around. Right now, I’m not able to eat 750 grams of bread on my ownin a reasonable time.  (as I said, everybody’s gone, like the cameras . . .)  I’m better off with 300 grams . . .

The flavor of the 5-grain levain is very good, as far as I can say right now. The bread is still somewhat warm. Nearly every bread tastes great while it’s still warm. But I’m optimistic that the bread will taste great tomorrow for breakfast, as well.

I’m planning on baking this one again. Not only because it seems to be a tasty bread, but because I’ve got the feeling that I could simply do better. It was a hot  day today, so the fermenting and proofing was difficult to get right, especially because the dough turned out to warm as well.

I’m sure that I’ll shape Couronnes again. But then I’ll probably scale the “banneton” a little bit down. The newspaperball more like 9 and the “pot lid” around 23 cm in diameter.

Switzerland’s flour quality has fallen off in quality. Quantity was more important than quality, do the bakers complain. More resistant species of wheat have replaced the ones with better baking characteristics. That means, that the Swiss flour is generally low in gluten and it’s harder to get high breads with it.

When I decided that I need some Vital Wheat Gluten in order to improve the flour’s quality, I soon found out that it’s not available at any normal store. I called the organic stores, I called the health food shops, I even tried to order it over my dad, who’s a doctor and has his own little pharmacy. (I order my soy for cooking through him as well.) No way. I called the producers, the sellers, the mills, but nobody was willing to sell my less than 50 pounds. What should I do with 50 pounds of Vital Wheat Gluten? And do I have just 75 francs, approximately 65 dollars, on hand to waste?

Well, no.

I knew that the bakeries in my village and in my valley mostly bake with ready made flour blends. There’s actually only one bread which I like and which really seems to be “home made”. There is this one great bakery called “Merz”  in Chur though, which bakes without any preservatives or chemical additives. They both have sourdough and regular breads with doughs that are allowed to ripe during more than 24 hours, if needed. Not surprisingly they bake fantastic breads, for instance the “Segalé” a very aromatic moist rye bread, or the “Müesli Brötli”, the most delicious roll ever. Stuffed with all the good of “Müesli”, hazelnuts, apricots, raisins. . .

The pictures below show quite tasty rolls that I made some time ago, trying to imitate the all-time favourite  “Müesli Brötli”. It just wasn’t the same. I’d do a lot to get the original recipe of this godness.

Well, anyway. To come back to the topic: I was racking my brain in order to come up with a place where I could get Vital Wheat Gluten in reasonable amounts in Switzerland. Actually I was racking my brain while I was walking to work, so I had to pass the “Merz”. That’s when I decided to call the chef baker and ask whether he could help me. He was incredibly friendly, promised me to send a kilo of Vital Wheat Gluten to the store and there it was today, when I passed by there. He made me a real good deal as well, he only asked for 6.80 francs, about six dollars. That’s ain’t cheap for a whole kilo of premium quality wheat gluten. Now I’ll go and search for recipes including either high-gluten flour or pure Vital Wheat Gluten.

So, if anybody’s looking for Vital Wheat Gluten in Switzerland, go and check in with your favorite bakery, and if anybody needs a good bread or roll while staying in Chur, check out the Merz.

When I picked up baking again just about two weeks ago, I made a decision: I’ve got a lovely bread baking book, but in the past I’ve been very often tempted to not bake recipes out of Hamelman’s “bread” but to pick interesting formulas from blogs like this one. Now it’s time to finally bake a couple of Hamelman-breads! Not that I didn’t bake out of it at all before, that’s not true, but I’ve never baked that much to come to the point where you just feel “familiar” with the recipes.

My old sourdough died while I was travelling for half a year in India (I couldn’t get the dried sourdough starting again), so about two weeks ago I decided to start a new one from scratch. Because of that it is clear for me that I’ll mostly bake Sourdough-breads in the next couple weeks. I want my little baby to grow strong.

The first bread I baked was a Sourdough – No – Knead bread (you find the german recipe here) , and then I made the decision to open Hamelman’s book again and I started with the Vermont Sourdough, a simple but very tasty white sourdough bread.

Vermont Sourdough

It tasted great and I was somehow proud of my young starter. Neverthless, it wasn’t perfect. It had to much of an oven spring, so that the bread had some similarities with a Japanese garden house. And I had hoped for bigger holes in the crumb . . .

After this first Hamelman bread I decided to continue with another rather plain formula, and I found the Whole Wheat Levain very tempting. It is actually pretty much the same recipe, just with a higher hydration and 50 % whole wheat.

I let the sourdough ripe during daytime, then mixed the final dough in the evening and folded it twice during a first fermentation time of 2.5 hours. I shaped a boule, placed it in a floured bowl and let it proof over night in the fridge. When I got up, I let it rise somewhat more, slashed it, but then . . .

Whole Wheat Levain

. . . can you guess what happened? I wanted to put the loaf into an preheated iron pot, because I know that the crust turns out the best if I bake it “No Knead – style” (the Vermont Sourdough above is baked in the same way). Well, when I tried to move the dough into the pan, it fell and – kind of – landed upside down in the pot. That’s why the loaf is scored both on the bottom and on top, like you can see on the pictures . . .

It didn’t do any serious harm though. The loaf can’t exactly be called “high”, but it still didn’t loose all its air.

a decent summer dinner

As you can see, the crumb isn’t to bad this time (for my standard it’s actually honestly said very good), even though this bread experienced quite some adventure. It’s got a delicious, slightly sour taste and it was great for dinner. We had it with a tomato-mozzarella salad, a green salad, butter and olive oil.

I haven’t decided yet which bread I’ll bake next. To be honest, I’ve already got another quite tempting recipe, called Alpine baguettes, but unfortunately its not Hamelman’s but Daniel Leader’s recipe .  . . Maybe I’ll try this Hamelman Normandy Apple Bread soon.

I send this to Nick from imafoodblog.com for YeastSpotting (wildyeastblog.com).

I think I’m a geek. Or a nerd. Or simply a little bit crazy. I actually don’t really care about the term used, I think it all comes down to the same: I’m just really really into baking bread and I don’t mind to make any efforts to achieve “the perfect loaf”, completely knowing that “the perfect loaf” doesn’t exist.

I am convinced though, that it’s possible to get closer to “the perfect” loaf. And I do know that I’m still not really close to it. So, what do geeks, a nerds or a crazy bread bakers do then? They read bread bibles, they search through bread communities, they read tons of bread blogs, admire others shots of “close to be perfect – bread”, talk about bread, dream of bread at day and night, and of course: they bake bread, and eat even more of it.

Believe me, I’ve got a vague idea of how many bread blogs already are out there. You’re wondering while I’m still opening a new one? Well, the answer is obvious: Bread-nerds don’t mind tons of bread blogs.

I want to improve. I want to share. I want to get feedbacks. I want to be forced to document my baking better. I want to get better at food photography. That’s why I decided to finally start this blog. Improving in bread baking is, most of all, to have the hands in the dough as often as possible. But it’s not only that. Many times I’ve had “epiphanies” while talking with other bakers about bread. I think, to implement this gained knowledge into my own baking has helped me the most so far.

I’m really looking forward to my next private show on “oven tv”. (Oven tv = watch a loaf change in the oven.) I will start to publish my baking experiences here as soon as possible. I’d love to see people here who think that watching oven tv is one of the most magnificant things to do, too.

Looking at a bread in the oven is better than any TV. Enthusiastic bakers out there - why don't you switch channel and venture a glimpse into mine?