100 Loaves of Solitude: baking traditional bread from every country in Europe

This has nothing to do with the Gabriel García Márquez classic. (Who knows, though? I only got a few pages in; perhaps bread has a starring role further in.)

100 Loaves of Solitude is my new project. I’m baking a traditional bread recipe from every country* in Europe, more recipes from countries with exciting bread cultures like Germany and Russia.

Some highlights I’m looking forward to:


*Only countries with a population of over one million. Because, San Marino? Get out! The exception is Iceland, despite its palty population of 300,000, because I harbour fantasies of travelling there one day.

New Bohemian Rye

I’m a newcomer to eating rye. The first one I tried, Breadtopia’s sourdough rye recipe, blew my head off with its strong flavour. I thought something had gone horribly wrong with my over-use of caraway seeds until a friend assured me it was supposed to taste like that. After I’d acclimatised, I loved it.

This Sourdough Home recipe, called New Bohemian Rye, is a lot milder. I was attracted to it because it had three-step process with the starter and I’m a sucker for exciting multi-step processes.

The starter takes about 30 hours to develop, and goes from teaspoon-sized to bowl-overflowing-sized. The first step, you keep the starter quite wet to develop the yeast, and the two further steps are to develop different flavours of the sour. The latter steps are drier, but other than that I’m not sure how they work. Here’s an explanation, and someone trying it in detail. Needless to say, I did not keep within the temperature boundaries very closely.

Taste test: nicely-risen, flavoursome without being overly assertive. Just the caraway seeds gives it a simple and satisfying flavour. Texture is solid, not too heavy. I’d like to see what it’s like in 24 hours, and if the sour comes through a bit more. But… I miss the heavy kick of the rye-heavy bread. Maybe it’s time to try a wheat-free rye?

The reason it looks a bit like a cake, by the way, is because I baked it in a cake tin. Yeah, need a bread pan.

new bohemian rye 2 new bohemian rye

My sourdough recipe

sourdough white

When I say ‘my’ sourdough, I mean this is patched together from The Skint Foodie and BBC Good Food. The bad bread pic is 100% mine, though.

Don’t be put off by the fact this takes a total of 6 hours to rise. There is a schedule-friendly alternative, which is putting the dough in the fridge overnight in place of the second rise. This means you can, say, start it off on a Saturday evening ready to bake on the Sunday morning.


50g dormant starter, or 350g active starter
500g strong white bread flour (plus extra for feeding starter if you’re starting with a dormant one)
1dsp salt
1dsp sugar
250-300ml hand-hot water

Other things you’ll need:

a proving basket OR a colander and a tea towel
a bread stone is helpful
so is a dough scraper

Let’s begin

1. Skip to step 3 if you’re starting with the active starter. Otherwise, 24 hours before you want to start, take your starter out of the fridge. Feed it with its own weight of flour and water. So your 50g of starter will need 50g flour and 50ml water.

2. 12 hours before baking, feed it 100g flour, 100ml water.

3. When you’re ready to start, save 50g of the starter in the fridge. Mix the remaining 300g starter with the 500g flour, the salt, the sugar and 250ml of the water together in a large bowl.

4. Add some more water if you need it, which you probably will. You’re going for a consistency which is a little sticky, but not leaving chunks on your fingers. If it’s difficult to make it come together or knead, then it’s too dry.

5. Knead on a surface until the dough is smooth and elastic. A good test is window-paning: can you stretch a small piece of dough until it lets light through? Then it’s ready. This should take you 10 mins, a bit longer if you’re not used to kneading.

6. Cover the dough in plastic and leave to rise until doubled in size. This will take 2.5-3 hours at room temperature. Don’t rush it by putting it somewhere overly hot.

7. Knead the dough briefly. You want to get rid of the oversized air-bubbles, but not knock out the smaller ones.

8. Shape into a ball and place in a well-floured proving basket, seam-side up. You can use a colander lined with a floured tea-towel if you don’t have a proving basket, but flour it very thoroughly. I actually use floured clingflim as well, because it’s easier to peel off.

9. Cover the dough and leave again until doubled in size, about 2-3 hours again. If you prefer, you can put it in the fridge overnight instead. This is generally more schedule-friendly and will make your bread taste sourer. You may need to prove it for a little longer after it comes out. ‘Watch the dough, not the clock,’ as the saying goes.

10. Put an oven-proof dish of boiling water in the bottom of your oven, and pre-heat to 220 degrees C. Turn the dough out of the proofing basket onto a baking tray lined with a sheet of baking parchment.

11. Cut some slashes in the top of the dough and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped underneath.

Tip: I make up for lacking a bread stone by baking it on a very thick baking tray that burns everything else I use it for. But it’s perfect for bread.

We start with starters


Plenty of sources will tell you that when you’re baking your first sourdough loaf, it’s best to begin with a nice, stable starter you’ve acquired from someone else. It’s reasonable advice. However, this is an adventure we’re beginning on, and if someone tells you to hitchhike the first mile, you don’t have to listen to them.

Every source disagrees with every other one on exactly how to make a starter. That’s because the mechanism is mysterious: do the yeast and lactobacilli come from the flour, the air or those halved grapes you added? But take comfort: it’s also a piece of piss.

This is the method I used. It’s a thorough but not too prissy explanation. I haven’t much to add, except that you need to be patient. How fast your starter stabilises will depend on your local conditions. Mine took a week to get stable in British winter. Also, you eventually need to be feeding the starter in the ratio 1:1:1 of weight of starter:flour:water every 12-24 hours. It seems excessive, but this is bacteria we’re talking about: eating things is its super-power.

At the top: a picture of my starter in full bubbling flow.