American Expat Tries (and Fails) to Make German Bread

bread-loaves-baker-germany
“What was once my dream has now become my nightmare.” — Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture (https://www.flickr.com/photos/usdagov/) — Subject to CC 2.0 License.

So the other day, my German wife and I were watching a four-part Netflix documentary series called Cooked, which explores different cooking traditions from around the world and how the four elements — fire, water, air and earth — transform food and give it a central role in our culture. The series is based on Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, by Michael Pollan. Pollan also wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which I once tried to read on the pooper but both my legs fell asleep and I had to crawl out of the bathroom on my hands and knees. Oh my god, the pins and needles were so bad… and the entire time I just kept thinking: Must eat local foods… “Free range” doesn’t mean shit… Corn is the devil…

Cooked was pretty interesting overall. We both liked it, though my wife did a lot of complaining about the “water” episode, because it basically had nothing to do with water at all. (She’s German, you see; she needs things nicely planned and compartmentalized, lest she feel the unholy sting of disorder.) She was right, of course — the water theme was flimsy at best — but who gives a shit? Call the episode “blanched nutsack” for all I care. Just make with the food porn already.

Anyway, it was the “earth” episode which really captured my attention. It was mostly about bread and yeast, and how fermentation is an essential chemical process used to make more foods than most of us realize. I couldn’t believe how simple the recipe for bread was: flour, water and yeast. Boom! Done. You just made food out of basically nothing — like Jesus. (And if there’s one thing I yearn for in this life, it’s the messianic superpower to drown myself in carbohydrates.)

So I went straight to the store and bought the ingredients, then set about making bread for the first time in my entire life. Here’s how I failed, step-by-step:

  1. Poured half a kilo of dinkel wheat into a big bowl because dinkel wheat is supposed to be healthier than white flour. Also, I had no idea how much half a kilo was.
  2. Filled a glass with hot water, which was basically just hot enough for me to say, “Yeah, that hurts,” when I stuck my finger in it.
  3. Dissolved an entire packet of yeast into the water, which I now know was 7 grams — or just dumb luck it happened to be the exact amount I needed.
  4. Poured the water on top of the wheat, threw some salt at it, plus a handful of random seeds for no real reason.
  5. Chopped up garlic, tomatoes, chili peppers and onions and fried them on the stove. Then tossed them into the mix and congratulated myself for inventing the greatest bread in the universe.
  6. Kneaded the dough, imagining the fat blue ribbon my ingenious recipe would win at the local fair.
  7. Failed to understand why my dough was so incredibly sticky and did not look like it did in Cooked.
  8. Watched one YouTube video and figured I’d either used too much water, or the vegetables I added had too much moisture. Either way, the answer was more flour.
  9. Added more flour. Kneaded. Wondered why it was still sticking to my fingers.
  10. Added more flour. Kneaded. Watched another YouTube video.
  11. Emptied the entire kilo of flour and opened another one. Kneaded. Began to doubt my latent talents as a baker.
  12. Finally got the dough into manageable consistency. Ignored the fact that it was now the size of a soccer ball.
  13. Left the dough in an even bigger bowl, covered it with a towel and let that mother sit for 30 minutes.
  14. Came back to find the bread had not risen at all. Watched another YouTube video and became confused as to the difference between yeast and baking powder.
  15. Added a packet of baking powder to the dough and kneaded it some more. (I am not a smart man.)
  16. Used a pumpkin seed as a high-water mark on the inside of the bowl and left the dough alone for a full hour.
  17. Came back to find the dough had doubled in size — like a basketball.
  18. Beat the dough senseless with both fists, then cut “x” marks into the surface. (This would be my professional signature after landing a franchise bakery deal.)
  19. Oiled a glass casserole dish and crammed the dough inside.
  20. Set the dish in the oven, spun the dial randomly to 200 degrees Celsius and set the timer for 30 minutes.
  21. Came back and saw the dough had puffed up so big it almost spilled over the sides of the casserole dish. Almost. (That’s a win.)
  22. Checked the dough and found it was completely raw inside. Like, 80% raw.
  23. Gave it another 30 minutes. Still raw.
  24. Gave it another 30 minutes. Raw, with rapidly darkening edges around the crust.
  25. The Wife came home and advised me to cover the bread with tin foil to avoid burning it.
  26. Covered the loaf and gave it another 45 minutes.
  27. Still pretty soft inside, so I hacked it up into pieces and gave it another 15 minutes.
  28. Took the bread out of the oven.
  29. The Wife and I tasted it and discovered — by some miracle — it was not completely disgusting.
  30. Proclaimed myself King Chef of Germany, AKA: The Great White Masterbaker.
german-bread-fail-dinkelbrot-spelt-cooking-baking
Meet: Frankenbread. (Notice the unkneaded flour in the upper right. That’s where we removed half the crust to taste it. Now it looks like a scalped pioneer.)

And that’s how I staggered blindly through my first bread making experience. Now we have a shit ton of very weird bread to eat, even though I’m trying to avoid carbs and get my beach body back. I even asked The Wife if she would take it to work with her and let her rabid hippo co-workers go to town on it, but she refused, saying she would rather give it to a friend instead. I didn’t understand this, as I wouldn’t give this shit to my worst enemy, but I guess she wanted to be supportive.

german-bread-slices-fail-dinkelbrot-spelt-cooking-baking
The seeds and tomato bits make it look like holiday fruitcake, and NOBODY likes that garbage. Please stop making it, grandmothers of the world.

I can only award my Frankenbread with one Merkel Diamond, but the balls-out audacity with which I confronted the challenge earns me an additional one, resulting in a total score of two full Merkel Diamonds:

Merkel Diamond from Angela Merkel, Prime Minister of Germany

Do you have any disastrous cooking stories? Let us know in the comments section below! And as always, thank you for reading and have a wonderful day!

— OGM

 

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30 thoughts

  1. Yeast – is a fungus. You cannot pour in water that is “OUCH that hurts”-hot! You have to give it a kind of peewarm water or you kill the yeast!
    And yeast baking takes patience. A lot of that stuff.

    German bread, btw, is SOURDOUGH-bread. You do not use yeast – you use a dough which has gone off (yeah) and feed it.
    http://www.mamas-rezepte.de/rezept_Sauerteig_mit_Roggenmehl-3-1663.html
    There is even a very variable cake made from sourdough – Hermann.
    http://www.chefkoch.de/rs/s0/hermann+kuchen+grundrezept/Rezepte.html

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hilarious! I am also a German who watched Cooked and was thrown off by the water episode having little to do with water. 😂 I guess they really wanted to stick with that “four elements” theme. Congrats on your first bread-making experience not being a total failure!

    Like

    1. This reminded me of when I tried to make a Dutch baby (aka German pancake – is the thing Dutch or German?!?!). That was pretty disastrous. It spilled over the edges of the pan like yours and ended up getting a huge, vagina-shaped split down the center. I like to think of it as my magnum opus, Georgia O’Keeffe style.

      Like

  3. I’ve had numerous baking disasters…exploding butter in the microwave, melting my plastic cutting board on the stove, and taking flaming Backpapier out of the oven after having it too close to the heating element….don’t feel bad about the bread, it was a good first try ;)

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  4. Bread – our national, hallowed food with its great variety? We Germanz can’t take a joke with that! :-) Have you ever watched Germans in the U.S. desperately looking for ‘their’ bread?
    I would offer you a ‘Schuster-bleib-bei-deinen-Leisten’ but my German wife (sic!) just prepared a Key Lime Pie… :-)

    Like

  5. Hello OGMWIG,

    your adveture certainly shows you are a pure testosterone driven male:
    Assembly instructions, what do I need THEM for?
    I just need the parts, the rest will come to me.

    Kind regards,
    MiBigAn

    Like

  6. Hello OGMWIG

    are you still looking for german proverbs?

    “Lieber ein Ende mit Schrecken, als ein Schrecken ohne Ende.”
    = Rather an end in horrors, than a horror without end.

    “Die Worte hör ich wohl, allein, mir fehlt der Glaube”
    = I hear the words well, but I doubt something will come out of it.

    “Schade, dass am Ende des Geldes noch so viel Monat übrig ist.”
    = It is sad, that at the end of the money.so much month is left.

    “Erstaunlich, wie wenig Freude Geld bereitet, wenn es Anderen gehört.”
    = Amazing, how minor the joy about money belonging to others.

    Enjoy,
    MiBigAn

    Like

  7. I’ve been baking with yeast successfully with years and heard about this Michael Pollan wonderbread from Cooked. So I got the book and tried his sourdough bread recipe- by far the hardest bread recipe I’ve ever seen and the bread itself was a disaster. Now I continue to be silently mocked by all the pictures of perfect, Cooked-inspired breads that people post on Twitter.

    Like

  8. I once misread the directions on some microwavable chicken nuggets and nuked them for 11.5 minutes instead of 1.5. Burned them, burned the plate, it was hilarious in hindsight.

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  9. You’re in Germany. Just buy the damn Roggenbrot or Sauerteig mix, add it to the flour and water, and boom. Can’t go wrong. I smuggle it back here in my suitcase after every Germany trip.

    As for cooking disasters, my then preteen daughters have racked up a few. Microwaved a muffin 30 min instead of 30 seconds. Or left out the sugar from chocolate cake recipe, something they are still mocked about by their older brothers – who wouldn’t even know where the sugar WAS in our house. We also frequently mistake the corn starch for the powdered sugar, keeping it in neat bins instead of the messy packaging, Germans that we are, but not German enough to actually LABEL the bins…

    Like

  10. This could have been an episode straight out of “I Love Lucy”! As a new bride, I was going to fix some cream gravy. I didn’t know the difference between regular flour and self-rising flour and had apparently bought self-rising flour. My cream gravy was to be served with fried liver and onions. I ended up asking my husband if he would like a slice of gravy with his liver and onions.

    Like

  11. And I can share my cousin’s cooking experience, when she was a young bride. A relative had fixed a lovely roast and my cousin asked her how to make it. She was told to cover the roast with 2 cups of coffee before she put it in the oven. So she did. But she hadn’t understood that it should have been 2 cups of brewed coffee — she had used 2 cups of coffee grounds.

    Like

  12. I know this is an old post and probably no one will read it anymore, but I just can’t resist and have to mention a few things.

    1) As stated before, yeast dies at ‘ouch’-temperatures, it likes 25°C to 30°C.
    2) Bread is not baked at a constant temperature. Instead it has to be started at a high temperature, like 250°C which is then steadily decreased to around 160°C, this way ensuring a nice crispy crust and a soft crumb.
    3) 7g yeast is actually not enough for that amount of flour. Was it fresh yeast or the dried one?

    If you’d like to give baking another shot, try this recipe for sour dough starter: https://leckersmacker.wordpress.com/2017/03/12/simple-sourdough-starter/. I’m sure a recipe for actually baking a bread using that starter is just around the corner. (No this is not my second blog. :) )

    Other than that, your bread looks actually quite nice for a first try without an actual recipe. :)

    Like

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