We Swiss are obsessed with fresh, crusty bread. Back in the days when the bread available in the US and UK was mostly the soft bread used for toast, many a Swiss was anxious to travel to the US or UK where they had to survive without their daily share of crusty bread. Decent bread can be bought in every Swiss supermarket or bakery (although I find the Migros bread a lot better than the Coop one), but there’s nothing better than baking your own bread, especially in our fast-paced and fast-food-obsessed world today. Mixing the ingredients, kneading the dough with your own muscle power (or your kitchen machine if you have one), the smell of fresh yeast, the wait for it to prove, watching the dough turning into a bread through the oven door and the amazing smell of a freshly baked loaf that fills the entire house – baking a bread is hugely rewarding. In Switzerland, you can easily get fresh yeast in every supermarket (in small cubes, to be found in the fridge where the ready-made dough is), and it’s really not more work with fresh yeast than with dried yeast. But of course you can also use dried yeast if you want, or if you don’t happen to have any fresh yeast at home. This recipe asks for the fresh yeast added straight to the flour, but as a fun activity for your kids (and for yourself too) you can place the crumbled yeast in a small bowl and spread the for the bread needed sugar on top. Then you wait for a few minutes and the sugar will turn the crumbly yeast into liquid. It’s really cool! This liquid can then be added to the dough.
Recipe for a loaf of Swiss brown bread
- 500g brown flour (Ruchmehl)
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cube fresh yeast (about 20 grams), in small pieces, or dried yeast
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 3 1/2 dl water
Put flour and salt into a bowl and mix it together.
Add the yeast, sugar and water, and mix it with a wooden spoon and then place dough onto a flat surface and knead for about 10 minutes. The dough is kneaded enough if, when cutting it with a sharp knife, the dough is full of small air bubbles inside.
Press the dough into a ball, put it back into the bowl, cover with clingfilm and let it prove until doubled in size (this takes about 1.5 hours or maybe more).
Press all the air out of the dough, make it into a ball again and place it onto a baking parchment on a baking tray. Brush it with water and let it rise again for 30 minutes.
Sprinkle with flour and using a sharp knife, cut it several times horizontally and vertically, about 1cm deep. Place an ovenproof small bowl onto the baking tray next to the bread and fill it with water (the water will evaporate and make the crust nice and crusty).
Bake on lowest rack at 240 degrees Celcius for 10 minutes. Then reduce heat to 180 degrees Celsius while leaving the oven door closed, and bake for another 30 minutes or so. To find out whether the bread is fully baked, take the bread out with an oven glove, hold it upside down and using your finger, knock onto the bottom of the bread. If it sounds hollow, the bread is baked – it takes a few attempts to get to know the correct sound of a perfectly baked bread, but once you got it you’ll know it each time. This rule and the sound applies for every kind of bread.
Let it cool down on a wire rack and enjoy your freshly baked bread.
Small bread buns
As an alternative, you could make 10 small buns instead of one large bread and bake it as above, but the second step at 180 degrees then only takes 10-15 minutes.