At first I have to say that the Czech Republic is a country of bread :D It's the basic type of any kind of pastry and you can find it anywhere at any time! Every family eats bread, no exceptions, I swear! I think Czech people can't imagine living without a fresh loaf of bread sitting on their countertop each morning, ready to be sliced and eaten with good creamy butter and tasty ham or cheese. And that's exactly how we feel about bread in my family.
The most popular kind of bread in our country is wheat rye bread spiced with whole cumin and slightly salted but in shops there we can find hundreds of different breads - potato bread, whole wheat bread, white bread, bread for toasts, garlic bread and I could go on and on and on. However, nowadays it's not so common to make your own bread when it's so much easier to buy some in your local store. At least I don't bake my own bread because the process has always seemed to be too complicated. Nevertheless, now I'm really happy I tried it and my parents beg me to bake bread much more often.
Jessica provided us with some bread recipes but to be honest, I had to try to make our Czech wheat rye bread because it's something I've been craving to do since...ever :) My biggest inspiration comes from this site by Cuketka. However, I'm really happy that Jessica gave us so many step by step directions when it comes to making sour dough - that's what the bread is made out of and creates the very typical slightly sour taste. So for the sourdough rye starter I used her recipe and it's a keeper for sure.
By the way bread is "chleba" in Czech (pronunciation here). I have to say I'm quite proud of myself - I truly was so afraid that the bread'd turn out inedible but in fact it tasted exactly the same like from a bakery! I didn't find the making of bread too difficult but of course, there always is plenty of space for improvement. Next time I'd like my bread to be a bit higher and less flat.
One last note from me - for this bread a special type of basket is used to give it the very typical shape. This basket is called "ošatka" in Czech (pronunciation: oh-shat-kah) and it creates nice pattern on the bread's surface (for your imagination - here you can see some). If you don't have it, don't worry, use any basket that is similar to this or any bowl/baking pan with similar shape. Just don't forget to flour it A LOT!
Another mandatory item for this challenge was making a recipe that would showcase the bread. For this part I have decided to make homemade lard. As a little girl I'd spend a lot of time with my granny living in a small village. There in Czech villages almost everyone used to have a pig. It was not a pet but once it grew up enough it was killed by the people (this kinda "ceremony" is called "zabijačka" in Czech) and all of the pig was used - for cooked meet, stew, sausages and homemade lard. It's not like I'd love to eat lard by spoonfuls right from the jar, but I can tell you that a slice of fresh bread with thin layer of homemade lard sprinkled with salt and chive or parsley is absolutely amazing experience! There's nothing more typical for Czech breakfast in the countryside. So by making this, I wanted to return to our national traditions (oh yes, looks like there still is a bit of patriot in me :D).
These tips come from Jessica: Good bread starts with good flour. Beyond trying to find good quality, local (organic if possible) flour, Whitley recommends finding out three things: how was it milled? (stoneground ideally, to retain more nutrients); how much of the original grain is left in the flour (ideally 95-100 % for bread making); and lastly, how much protein is in the flour? (the more protein, the more gluten, leading to a more stretchy dough – ‘strong’ or ‘bread’ flour indicates a higher level of protein).
Once you’ve finished baking, you’ll have some leftover starter. Keep this in a Tupperware container, as this is what you will use to start your next loaf (and so on…)! Some of the best starters are hundreds of years old – and they get better with time. If you bake daily, you can keep your starter at room temperature. If you bake weekly, I’d keep it in the fridge. You can also freeze starter if you bake very infrequently, but I find it does fine in the fridge so long as you feed it at least once a month. Simply refresh your starter according to the recipe – or with equal parts by weight of flour and water – and let it come back to life at room temperature.
You might notice that your starter starts to smell a bit like acetone – this is completely normal. It may develop a grey liquid on top, which you can either pour off or stir back into the starter. When I refresh mine, I discard half of the original starter and add in fresh flour and water for the yeast to feed on.
Sometimes, very rarely, a starter might get moldy. This is often due to being left at room temperature without feeding. If there is a lot of mold throughout the starter, I would discard it. But the odd bit is not always a problem. It is nearly impossible to kill a starter, unless you get salt or chemical products in it – so don’t fret! Often it is just a matter of feeding it over a few days and nursing it back to life.
Sourdough Rye Starter:
120g (1 cup) rye flour
260ml (1 cup + 1 tbsp) tap water
300g (1 1/4 cups) sourdough rye starter
300g (2 1/2 cups) wheat bread flour, sifted
150-200ml (2/3 to 4/5 cup) water
2 tsp salt
1 tsp whole cumin
water for brushing
Sourdough Rye Starter: This process takes 4 days. On DAY 1 in a glass jar, mix 30g rye flour and 60ml water into a paste. Cover the jar with foil. Set somewhere warm (around 86°F/30°C if possible). I put mine on a radiator. It should be a very sloppy, runny dough, which will bubble and grow as it ferments. On DAY 2 stir another 30g rye flour and 60ml water into the mixture from DAY 1, cover, and return to its warm place. On DAY 3 stir another 30g rye flour and 60ml water into the mixture from DAY 2, cover, and return to its warm place. If you notice it has a grey liquid on top, just stir this back in and continue as normal. On DAY 4 stir the last 30g flour and 60ml water into the mixture from DAY 3, cover, and return to its warm place for 24 hours. At this point it should be bubbling and smell yeasty. If not, repeat this process for a further day or so until it is! Your starter is finished now.
Bread: In a large bowl, combine wheat bread flour, cumin and salt. Pour in the starter and 150ml water (I always use only 150ml water). Using a wooden spoon, mix until incorporated. If the mixture appears dry, add another 50ml water until you reach the desired consistention. The dough should be quite runny (but not too much) - more like pancake batter. Now knead the dough for 10-15 minutes using a wooden spoon or for 10 minutes using a kitchen aid/hand mixer with dough hooks. After that, the dough should be thicker and smooth. Transfer the dough onto a heavily floured countertop and slowly knead the dough with floured hands. It will be very sticky but don't panic. Knead until the dough is less sticky, thicker, smooth and silky. Form it into a ball, cover with teatowel and let rise for 30 minutes. Then form the ball into a cylinder and place it into the heavily floured basket. Sprinkle with more flour and let the dough rise in a warm place for about 3-6 hours or until doubled in size. Then carefully transfer the dough onto a lined baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven to 250C for 30-45 minutes or until rubby brown. When you knock on the bread it should sound hollow. Remove from oven, brush with hot water and let cool completely. Now you can slice it and eat :)
- The bread should be doubled in size in the basket. Over risen bread will be very hard and flat after baking (because it won't rise again in the oven). Under risen bread won't bake properly and will be "curdled" in the middle (no air bubbles, but almost raw-like dough).
- For the ultimate experience, spread a lice of the bread with good lard, sprinkle with salt and chopped chive or parsley.
Right now I'm getting ready for making this bread again. This one loaf 's devoured in only one day :D We usually eat the store-bought bread for at least two to three days so I was SO happy the rest of my family loved the bread. It has a slightly sour taste, you can detect cumin flavour but it's not very strong and it has the right level of salt in it. I can see myself making this kind of bread very often in the future :)