John's Vollkornbrot

(Note from Peter:  John O'Hanlon, a serious home baker and long time correspondent, sent me this story of his recent quest to make a killer vollkornbrot (translation: 100% whole grain, German style rye bread). His passion and determination inspired me to ask his permission to share his story and his recipe with you, so here it is. Let us know if you try making this bread -- we'd love to hear your results.)

Each morning during a recent stay in Salzburg, we enjoyed our hotel’s dazzling displays of fresh breads at the buffet. A special favorite was a whole grain loaf; hearty, moist, dense, seed filled and topped that was baked in long, narrow pans.

On return, we searched in vain for a recipe. Our waitress had called it “Kornspitz,” which we discovered, was a proprietary grain mix sold by an Austrian baker’s supplier that is used in several breads; its brief description mentioned rye and wheat flour, as well as bruised rye, wheat, and soy grain, wheat malt, linseed, and salt. Armed with this information and our observations, we began to reverse engineer a suitable approximation.

The original was clearly a rye-based sourdough, dark in color, and filled with pumpkin, sunflower, and flax seeds, as well as shredded carrots, chopped soybeans, chopped rye and wheat grains, and then topped with pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, and brown flax seeds. This amateur baker (me) asked Peter Reinhart  for advice, since I had never made rye sourdough and was unfamiliar with German and Austrian constructions. Peter directed me to his pineapple juice rye sourdough, as well as some excellent books filled with European whole grain formulas. Off to our local library!

A three-part construction was the starting point: wild yeast rye sourdough, soaker, and wheat dough. We used a firm, or stiff, rye mother starter sourdough; Roggenstursauerteig in German, a commonly used Austrian rye starter.

Soaker ingredients were initially scaled in equal portions, but first the grains must be pulverized. Austrian breads use the term schrot, meaning cut with knives, like steel cut oats, rather than ground like coffee. That is not easily accomplished. Brew suppliers use burr grinders. The oily nature of soybeans makes them an unwelcome guest in a grinder. Since small quantities are required, a blender was used. Briefly pulse, then remove dust with a fine wire strainer, and finally collect chops that pass a coarse (~5/32”) pasta strainer. Two more cycles, for those that did not pass the coarse strainer, yielded uniformly chopped soybeans with little dust loss.  

The final dough contained wheat and white bread flour, grated carrots, wheat malt extract, and yeast.

After several months devoted to myriad failed attempts, we formulated a version that looks and tastes like the original. Peter helped me solve a major problem—loaves were falling during baking. Baking books suggested tightly covered overnight hot water soaking.  Peter explained how hot water can over-activate some enzymes that digest the rye starch structure. His suggestion of cold water solved the problem. Finding a suitable pan proved difficult. The style I remember from my youth is no more. Ultimately, we found the "Lasagna Trio" (Chicago Metallic) made for a different dish! Each pan is 2–3/4”W × 11”L; perfect! If you cannot find such a pan, scale the dough in 125-g portions and make weckerl (small rolls).

While in the brew supply store, we purchased a pound of Black Emmer wheat and had it ground. Why? Curiosity. German and Russian immigrants brought Black Emmer winter wheat to the Dakotas in the late 1800’s from Southern Russia, where it grew well in poor soil. It is now used mainly in brewing. We substituted this for the regular wheat in the soaker as an experiment. The result was coal black soaker water that colored the dough dark brown without the use of molasses, cocoa, or coffee, which add either sugar or caffeine!

The resulting bread is now a favorite that we share with friends. It has over 7% dietary fiber, 11% protein, and a reasonable balance of essential amino acids. The original is not available for comparison, but we think we have nailed it. We are happy campers!

35 g    Rye grain, #2–1/2 grind
35 g    Black Emmer Wheat grain, #2–1/2 grind
35 g    Dry Soybeans, coarsely chopped
35 g    Sunflower Seeds, roasted, unsalted
35 g    Pumpkin Seeds, roasted, unsalted
12 g    Flax Seeds, brown, raw
11 g    Kosher Salt
234 g    Water, room temperature

Soak at room temperature overnight in tightly sealed container.


165 g    Dark Rye Flour
135 g    Water at room temperature
50 g    Mature Sourdough culture

Ferment at room temperature overnight until it crests, but not beyond.

340 g    White bread flour
60 g    Whole Wheat bread flour
23 g    Malted wheat powder
12 g    Instant dry yeast
60 g    Carrots, finely shredded
110 g    Water, room temperature
432 g    Soaker
300 g    Sourdough (all, less 50g returned to culture)

(White-to-whole-wheat ratio can be changed to suit taste as long as total = 400 g. The amount of water may need adjustment to suit your flour hydration and percent whole wheat.)

TOPPING: Pumpkin, Sunflower, Flax and Sesame seeds

Mix the final dough dry ingredients in an electric mixer, and then add shredded carrots, water, soaker, and sourdough. Mix and knead in mixer, or knead on oiled surface until elastic. Divide dough into two 625-g portions; ferment at room temperature in oiled and covered bowl no more than 50–60 min. Don’t over proof.

For Loaves: Stretch and roll each portion into a 10” × 10” sheet and then roll into a ‘log’ the length of the pan. Roll the logs onto a parchment to aid in transferring dough to spray-oiled baking pans. Brush tops with egg white and sprinkle with topping seeds. Using parchment, press the seeds lightly into the dough.

For Rolls: Scale dough into ten (125-g) portions. Shape into elongated rolls, brush tops with egg white and dip topsides in a plate of seeds. Transfer to two parchment covered quarter sheets.

Cover with plastic film and proof loaves and rolls for 50–60 min at room temp. Do not over proof.

Bake at 350°F; rolls ~15 min., loaves ~30 min. or till done (internal temp. should be above 190 degrees F.)

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