Loaf 4: thunder bread from Iceland

A bread named after an Icelandic god, I thought. No, this bread is named after the noise your rear will make after you’ve eaten too much of it.
icelandic thunder bread

With an average July temperature of 10-13 degrees, Iceland is not the best place for arable farming. For certain periods in its history, it hasn’t grown grains at all. The traditional cuisine is big on the animal: lots of fish, lots of lamb. Dried fish with butter has the eat-with-every-meal role of daily bread in the rest of Europe. Bread had luxury status.

Thunder bread used to made by burying the loaf next to some geothermal rocks and coming back the next day. Steaming it like a Christmas pudding is a decent alternative.

Taste test: This is a sweet, almost cake-y bread, with the dense hard nuttiness of rye. Surprisingly dry yet more-ish.

Recipe notes: I halved this recipe, which produced a small round dumpling of a loaf. My 1 litre pudding basin could have taken three times as much bread, but would it have steamed properly? Next time, I’d cook the full amount and split it in two as suggested.

Fusion musings: Stuff it full of interesting seeds, nuts and whole grains, and halve the sugar.

icelandic thunder bread 2

I have upped the milk quantity of the original a little, because I think mine was too dry. You will need two tin cans, or two small ceramic pudding basins.


2.5 cups rye flour
1.5 cups plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
0.5 tsp salt
0.5 cup brown sugar
1 cup scalded milk, cooled until lukewarm
1 tbsp molasses

Let’s make some thunder

1. Mix together the dry ingredients and dissolve the molasses in the warm milk. Stir the milk into the flours and knead until the dough is cohesive.

2. Butter your tins cans or ceramic basins, divide the dough and pop it in. The dough should come two-thirds of the way up the tins, to leave room for rising.

3. Cover the tins with foil and secure them with string, leaving some space at the top for the dough to rise above the edge.

4. Simmer in a slow cooker or a pot for four hours. Don’t let the pot boil dry, don’t burn your house down.

Eat it fresh with smoked fish or pate.


Loaf 3: braided kalács from Hungary

I baked this because I felt like something completely different, and braiding the dough looked fun. And it was.

hungarian kalacs dough

Spot the braiding mistake. It was a long day.

Kalács is a celebration sweet bread especially baked at Easter, and it’s full of rich ingredients: milk, butter, sugar and eggs. It tastes like brioche, but a little less fluffy and fatty and more bread-y.

map europe hungary

Hungary is a big wheat producer, and somewhere I’m definitely going to return to, at least for the langos. According to this cheerily bonkers post, langos is deep-fried dough brushed with garlic-infused water, then topped with sour cream and cheese. Wow. In fact, I want to make that tomorrow.

Meanwhile, for the sweet bread, I used this recipe from Gastronomer’s Guide, which was clear and simple.

hungarian kalacs

hungarian kalacs 2

Bread’s wicked ways: my favourite tips and tricks so far

My bread-making experience is one month older than this (very new) blog. So this is simply a summary of my journey so far. Experienced, I am not. With that caveat, here are my favourite tips.

First, a general principle: paying more attention to what the dough or starter is actually doing than to the timings (or other precise guidelines) given by the recipe. The recipe is a record of what worked for the author with their local temperature, humidiity and favourite brand of flour. Results elsewhere could be very different. That is why simple tricks to measure dough activity are so helpful, and why recipes that describe the state of the dough well are much more useful than those that don’t.

Tips that work for me

  • Make sure starter is happily doubling in size after feedings before baking with it. Poor yeast = poor bread.
  • Bertinet’s method for kneading very sticky dough.
  • The Windowpane Test to see if dough has been kneaded enough.
  • The Poke Test to see if dough has proved long enough.
  • Instead of proving sticky doughs wrapped in floured cloth, use floured clingfilm.
  • You can open the oven door in the second half of the baking time.

Tips that don’t

  • Greasing the bowl to stop the dough sticking to it.
  • Don’t do that thing where you substitute baking paper for plain A4. It’s not even a thing, I know, I know. But I tried it and it totally doesn’t work.

Below: Hungarian braided kalács! It’s come out of the oven, but too late to tuck in, alas.


Loaf 2: Borodinsky bread from Russia

borodinsky 3
Loaf 2 of 100 is this delicious Borodinsky bread. Who could resist the doughy cleavage of Mother Russia? Y’all know where Russia is, so I’m not going to bother with the map this time. (Read: I wasn’t sure where Lithuania was prior to Loaf 1.)

The distinctive element of this loaf is the addition of coriander seed. Gastronomical Me, my source for this recipe, says that the unusual name comes from the village of Borodino, the site of the costly (and somewhat debatable) Russian victory against Napoleon’s forces in 1812. A local woman stayed behind to bake bread for the troops and added some ripening coriander seeds she found nearby.

Taste test: With addition of malt syrup, this has something of the tang and sweetness of the cake-y malt loaves you buy in shops, but is still savoury. It’s chewy and moist, and despite being 100% rye, it doesn’t have the overpowering rye kick of the Lithuanian scalded rye, which only intensified as the bread aged.

Recipe notes: I ended up adding twice as much water to the recipe as directed, in order to obtain the sloppy consistency described. I think this was because my starter was a lot more solid. Other than this piece of off-piste anxiety, it was very quick and easy. Apart from building up the sourdough starter, it’s a one-step process: mix everything together, let it rise, bake it. That’s it, folks.

I’d definitely bake this again. But I’ll try and get hold of a loaf tin first, because I’m getting funny long fingers of bread from my round over-large cake tin. They tend to get wedged in the toaster and no one wants that. My version of this recipe is below.

borodinsky 1

NB: this is a sourdough recipe. Here is a detailed introduction to sourdough, and Gastronomical Me has a brief intro tailored to this recipe.


a little blob of rye starter
370g rye flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground coriander, plus some whole coriander seeds for the top
1.5 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp barley malt syrup
165ml water, plus more for the starter in step 1

How to make it

1. Take your blob of rye starter, and add 140g of rye flour to it, plus enough hand-hot water to make it stir-able but not too liquid. Cover and leave it to ferment for 24 hours.

2. Grease a standard loaf tin and sprinkle the bottom with coriander seeds.

3. Mix the starter with the remaining 230g of rye flour and all the other ingredients in a large bowl. Add the water gradually – the consistency you’re aiming for is a sloppy dough that will spread slowly if you let it.

4. Wet your hands for rye-dough-handling superpowers (it’s magic… but magic that wear off quickly). Pick the dough up out of the bowl and shape it in mid-air into something loaf-like.

5. Pop it in the loaf tin, cover and leave to rise until roughly doubled in size. Gastronomical Me says this can take 2-6 hours. It took mine 3.

6. Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Brush the top of the dough with water and sprinkle with crushed coriander seeds.

7. Bake at 200C for 10 minutes, then turn down to 180C and bake for a further 30-40 minutes.

PS: Londoners, check out Gastronomical Me’s Russian feasts.

PPS: The more I eat this bread, the more I think something wasn’t right with Loaf 1. I don’t think it’s my just uneducated English palate: it’s too dry and solid. I must give scalded rye another go with a different recipe.

Picnic in the park: flavoured black bread and a new sourdough recipe

ImageMy 100 loaves project has thrown up an unexpected challenge: getting hold of recipes is harder than I thought. The internet is, of course, swimming in bread recipes, but they very often commit all sorts of gleeful and glorious acts of fusion. Authentic traditional bread recipes are relatively scarce. I suspect the ones I’m after are not in English. I really need to get hold of this book.

On Saturday, I journeyed to middle-class Mecca, Kensington Wholefoods, for supplies. It was marvellous. I spent over an hour there and came away with grain-based treasures:Image

The malt syrup means I can have a go at Russian Borodinsky bread this week.

In the meantime, I baked this deliciously non-traditional black bread by 101 Cookbooks for a picnic on Sunday. It has cocoa, coffee, molasses, and enough rye flour to give it a kick but not change the consistency too much. There’s the unusual addition of grated carrot, which I substituted for parsnip surprisingly deliciously.


I also tried The Weekend Bakery’s sourdough – a new method for me, with a poolish. Texture was lovely, but I’ll cut the cooking time by a good ten minutes next time. No photos of this one as I was running late and had a paper-based disaster to clear up (no baking paper, used white A4 instead to sticky effect).

At the picnic, we also had a go at hand-churning butter from double cream using jam jars, which is stupidly easy. Who knew? What other secrets is the world hiding?

Loaf 1: scalded rye from Lithuania

litho scalded rye 2

The first of my 100 loaves is this Lithuanian scalded rye bread, so called because you pour boiling water on the flour. It’s meant to keep better and rise more slowly than un-scalded rye. I wanted to make it because I watched this and thought it looked amazing.

First, for those who didn’t spend enough time at uni playing Traveller IQ, here’s Lithuania:

europelarge litho

Lithuanian cuisine is broadly Eastern European, with some Scandinavian similarities and Ashkenazi influences. Gourmantine describes the food as rich and creamy, with lots pork, potato and cabbage. Dark rye bread is a central food, both practicallty and ritually, almost to the point of reverence.

The recipe in the video belongs to Karaway Bakery and they understandably ain’t sharing. So I used this. It reads like it’s been scribbled down by a Lithuanian grandma who’s been making it for so many years that parts of the recipe seem too obvious to state. Quantities are missing. Certain states are not explained. Frankly, recipe turned out to have too many unknowns for even my liking.

First comes a sticky mass of rye flour, puffed up in the scalding-hot water. The grainy, semi-translucent texture is reminiscent of glutinous rice or wallpaper paste.

litho first stage

After a whole day of fermenting, half a day of rising and 2-hour bake, here’s the finished loaf, as heavy as a club.

litho scalded rye

Taste test: As powerful-tasting as you’d expect from a 100% rye loaf, and dense enough to make slicing it feels like sawing through wood. I’m still too much of a rye newbie to judge the taste of this confidently. I’m pretty sure that deep crack across the top is not meant to be there, though, so I’d add a little more water next time.

Observation: rye bread could never play the role in a meal that white bread does; it’s too interesting and attention-seeking.

Here’s the recipe with my tweaks and clarifications.

[EDIT: I’m leaving the recipe up as a record, but I wouldn’t bake this bread again. Something wasn’t right: too dry and crumbly.]


1kg rye flour
800ml water, boiling hot
3tbsp caraway seed
2 tsp salt
a good blob of active rye starter
dried cabbage or maple leaves to line the baking tin (for optional authenticity – I used non-stick tin instead)

Then you do something like this

1. Take a third of the rye flour, pour over the boiling water and mix well. Cover and let it rest in warm place for about half an hour.

2. Dissolve the starter in a little warm water. Add to dough and mix well. Cover it and let it rest in warm place for about 24 hours. During this time, the dough needs to be beaten 4 or 5 times to incorporate more air.

3. When dough has reached full fermentation, add the remaining flour, the caraway seed and the salt. Knead for about ten minutes, by which time the dough should be smoother and a lot less sticky to handle. It started getting more sticky again with me, which I think means I over-kneaded it.

4. Cover and let rise for about six hours.

5. Put in a baking tin and bake in preheated oven at 400F/180C for about 2 hours.

6. Take the bread out of the oven, leave it in the tin and cover it with a damp tea towel until it’s cool.