With the largest bread diversity in the world (there are more than 3000 different recipes) the German Bread Culture is legendary. This was honoured by UNESCO in 2014 when the German Bread Culture was added to the Nationwide Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The importance of bread in German culture is also illustrated by words such as “Abendbrot” (literally ‘evening bread’) for supper and “Brotzeit” (literally ‘bread time’) for a snack, and by old traditions such as gifting bread and salt to new neighbours in order to wish them happiness and prosperity.
In fact, one of the major complaints of German expatriates in many parts of the world is their inability to find good bread. And good bread, at least in Germany, means bread made with natural sourdough which you can get from a baker who still bakes his own bread.
A baker calls his sourdough starter "Anstellgut", but it is also a widespread tradition to call it “Mutter” – mother, and in some places of the Ruhrpott area it’s called Herrmann.
I was encouraged to bake my first German bread during Corona lockdown when all the other German expatriates around me started to bake their own bread.
Our friend Bernie, already an experienced bread baker, provided me with the recipe (see below) and my first “Anstellgut”.
I call it “Sophie” to commemorate the first day I used it: May 15th (in Germany this day is called “Kalte Sophie” (cold Sophie), the saint’s day which - according to a farmer’s rule - marks the end of the frost risk period and thus the beginning of the growing period).
Up to now, Sophie has been the mother of all my home-made breads and when she is not producing wonderful bread for me, I keep her safe and happy in a little jar in my fridge.
Sourdough is alive - with regular feeding you can pass the culture on to your grandchildren at some point. At the end of the recipe below, you can learn how to make your own “Anstellgut” and how to take care of it.
It is such a unique experience to bake a real loaf of bread, to feel the texture of the dough, to see how the golden-brown crust rises in the oven, to smell a freshly baked bread… that I feel everyone should have it at least once in a lifetime.
And here comes the recipe:
Recipe for a farmer’s crust bread
For your first attempt, a farmer's crust bread is ideal as it is not difficult and not much work. However, it does take almost an entire day from the first step to the finished bread.
So, if you start on a Friday afternoon, the bread will be ready Saturday lunchtime - good to eat with beer in the garden, as a snack and for Sunday breakfast.
The sourdough determines the taste, but a small amount of yeast ensures that the bread will rise well no matter what. With a little practice and a well-maintained sourdough starter, you can later leave the yeast out.
- 50 g Anstellgut (from a glass in the fridge or from the baker)
- 900 g rye flour
- 450 g wheat flour
- 15 g yeast
- 30 g salt
- 3 tablespoons coarsely ground coriander
To “wake up” the sourdough starter, take the glass out of the fridge, add 1 tbsp. rye flour and 2 tbsp. warm water, mix to a pancake-like consistency and leave in a warm place for six to eight hours, adding small amounts of rye flour and water over and over again.
For the first two to three hours you will see very little, then bubbles will appear until the dough visibly foams after a few hours. The dough then smells mildly fruity and only slightly acidic.
After that, mix 350 ml warm water, 350 g rye flour and 50 g Anstellgut (put the remaining Anstellgut in the fridge). Cover the pre-dough with a lid and let it mature in a warm place.
About 10 hours at 27°C would be ideal, but 12 hours in a switched-off oven with oven light on is also good - then the oven light works like a very weak heater and provides a cosy 24°C.
The next morning, remove a large tablespoon of mature pre-dough, mix with 1 tablespoon of rye flour and 2 tablespoons of cold water in a clean screw-cap jar (400 ml) and put it into the fridge - this will be the new Anstellgut for the next time. It can be kept there for a whole summer holiday if necessary.
Dissolve yeast in 550 ml warm water, knead remaining rye flour (550 g), wheat flour (450 g), salt (30 g) and half of the ground coriander spices with the pre-dough.
If your food processor can do the job, knead for 12 minutes at the lowest setting - otherwise by hand (the dough sticks, this is due to the amount of water and is ok).
Let the dough rest for 30 minutes. Then shape it into a round loaf on a board dusted with rye flour. You need to dust the dough and your hands with plenty of flour as well.
I prefer to bake my bread in a large cast-iron pot with a lid and non-stick surface. This is very easy to handle, as you can use the pot for resting the dough and afterwards for baking.
Line the cast iron pot with a tea towel and dust it with flour. Place the loaf in the pot.
Cover it with the cloth, place a plastic bag loosely over it and let it rise to 1.5 times of its original size at summer room temperature, this takes 1-2 hours.
Then use the lid as a base, cover the bottom with baking paper, turn the pot with the dough upside down and let the dough slip into the lid.
Remove the cloth, moisten the surface of the dough slightly, sprinkle the remaining coriander spices over the dough and dust with rye flour and cut the surface slightly in square patterns.
This gives the crust of the baked bread a nice structure. Cover the dough with the pot and put it into the cold oven. The whole pot sits in the oven upside down.
Using the lid as a base makes it easier to get the dough cleanly into the pot and makes an even better crust. Heat the pot up to 230 °C and bake it for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove the bread from the pot and put it on a rack to let it cool down.
Tip: try the bread with some butter when it is still lukewarm – it is delicious!
How to make a “Anstellgut” and how to take care of it
Take 2 tbsp of wholegrain rye flour and mix it with 2 tbsp of lukewarm water in a clean glass jar. Keep for some hours at 25°C to 28°C. Put it in the fridge.
Repeat this procedure for the next 3 days by always adding the same quantities to the "mother".
At one point it will start making bubbles. That’s good it means that you are doing everything correctly and that your “mother” is alive.
At the end of day 3, the dough should already be sour so that you can use it on day 4 after feeding it one more time.
During the time between making your next bread, you should feed your “Anstellgut” with rye flour once a week. To do this, take it out of the fridge, add the flour and a little water, mix well and keep it between 25°C and 28°C for some hours, check that it is properly foaming and then put it back in the fridge. That’s it.
If you are not sure about making your own “Anstellgut” ask around, you will be surprised how many people have a “mother” in the fridge.