Opa's Rustic Country Bread

Rev 1.30, last revised:  12-Mar-09

This makes a finely textured and slightly dark bread with a chewy crust.  It is a firm and robust blending of the nutty heartiness of whole wheat, the flavorful tang of rye, and the gentle fragrance of fine sourdough.  It reminds me of a light, German, "Bauerbrot" (farmers bread).

This bread uses sourdough culture, meaning it takes a little longer to make--10-15 minutes of work, spread over 30 hours or so.  This recipe makes one medium/small loaf.**

Making the Sourdough Sponge (the evening before):

Mix the bread flour and all of the water into a thin batter in a suitable bowl.  Stir or whisk the sourdough inoculant into that mixture.  Cover; let sit for 6-12 hours at 85F; longer, if it's cooler.

Making the Dough:

In a large bowl, mix together; the bread flour (reserving the last 1/4 cup--for the table and to "tune" the moisture level of the dough), the whole wheat flour, the rye flour, and the salt, add any optional ingredients; flax seed, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and so on.  Whisk them together dry first, then add ALL of the sponge created previously, to this dry mixture.

Using a spoon, stir the mixture, which will develop into a fairly sticky mass.  Add flour a little at a time and keep scraping the bowl until the dough doesn't want to stick to the bowl any more.  When it becomes too difficult to mix with a spoon, turn it out on a lightly floured table and knead it by hand in the conventional manner.  Work in as much of the remaining flour you can without making it so that when kneaded, the fold won't "seal".

At this point I recommend that you get a cup of coffee, or other beverage of your choice, and take a break.  Let the dough just sit there (rest) and absorb the moisture into the flour and dough components.  After 15 minutes to a half-hour or so, and you'll see and feel how the dough has begun to exhibit a silky, smooth outer covering.  This is what you're looking for.  If it's still too wet and sticky, work in a little more flour.  If too dry, work in a little bit of starter.

Fermenting the dough:

Cover to prevent drying and let it ferment until you see positive signs of growth.  This step can be accelerated by keeping the sponge warm. [change to reflect basket & no first rise]
NB: Take care to NEVER permit temps to exceed 95F!


Once positive activity (growth) is established, turn dough onto a lightly floured surface.  Lightly dust hands and top of dough with the  remainder of the bread flour.  Lightly shape the dough into a disk (or shape as you wish).  Fold the edges under and into the center, overlapping and pinching them shut as you go.  The point being to stretch the outer surface while wrapping the excess being pulled tight, under.  Transfer dough; to a COLD cornmeal dusted, rimless cookie sheet, or baking stone.

Coupe (slash) the dough 2 or 3 times; cover loosely with large sheet of plastic or aluminum foil--I use the inverted bowl from the previous step, lightly oiled to prevent sticking.

Cover and put into COLD OVEN or other protected, draft free place, and let rise.  When ready, the dough should have approximately doubled or more, and should retain an impression--without pushing back--when pressed lightly with a fingertip (NB: Use care here, as this *may* be a test of dubious merit!).  I let it fill my bowl ~ 2 - 2.5 times expanded.  Seems to do it in about 4-5 hours or so at room temp.


Remove covering.  Adjust baking rack to put bread near the middle of the oven, taking care that the rising dough can not touch the top of the oven.  On the lowest oven rack or oven bottom, place a shallow container to hold water--metal is probably your best selection.

Using a separate pan or kettle, bring about 1 1/2 - 2 cups of water to a boil and pour into the pan or skillet.  Let the steam suffuse and permeate the oven and dough for 10-15 min. before you begin baking.

Turn oven, set to 450-475 degrees, to "ON"; baking time should be 40-50 min.  

After about 10 minutes or so, open the door a crack and spray the back, walls, floor, and loaf with water.  Do this twice more at 5 minute intervals or until the crust starts to brown. The steam created by the water treatment is what makes the thick, chewy crust that I and legions of sourdough aficionados crave so much.  Beware the steam--it is hot and will burn you!  
Note: I use the cookie tray method and don't spray water...works for me though (YMMV!)

Bake until crust is very dark brown.  If not browning evenly, turn the bread around after about 25 minutes or so.  Turn oven off, open door, and let bread remain in oven 5 - 15 minutes longer.  Remove from oven, then let cool to room temperature before slicing—about 2 hours.

I love this bread!  I've been looking for this kind of bread; a chewy crust; firm textured and somewhat darker body; the heartiness of whole wheat, a touch of rye, the tang of sourdough; full of “flavor holes”, for...probably all my life!  I've read about it being described as "the kind where the first bite hits you with a heady burst of crackle and chew, with a whiff of yeast and a hint of sourness.”  Much like the original baker that inspired this bread; I didn't want a dainty garden party or bridge club sandwich loaf; I wanted down-to-earth, old-fashioned, country-style peasant cooking.  The kind of bread that, when quartered and stuffed into a basket on a white-tablecloth, looks like Hercules at a tea party!

Goes well with just butter, butter & honey, butter sprinkled with dried garlic chips, my Spicy Lentil Soup, or my Roasted Red Pepper Soup.  Enjoy!

** NB: This recipe is the first in a line of all of my recipes to be altered for both consistency and to make a minimum result.  This was done because too often recipes made large amounts of what turned out to be so-so bread as I experimented with methods and materials.  Eventually all of my recipes will be altered to reflect this new concept.  In order to make a larger amount, simply multiply the ingredients.  Every attempt is made in order to reduce the amount of fractional ingredients.  Simplicity and ease of execution is at the top of the raison d'etre.