Breads of Europe | Basler Walnussbrot / Gerstel Sauerteig (rye walnut bread with barley leaven)

SWITZERLAND

An open door in a side street off the Barfüsserplatz in central Basel. The unmistakeable smell of baking punctures the pre-dawn air, attracting glances from early morning travellers who stare enviously at those carrying packages home for breakfast.

Sadly this scene is no longer part of Basel’s rich bakery tradition, which is a shame. The breads produced by this old-style bakery contradicted the laws of physics, one bread more than others – a crusty walnut rye bread with a dense texture and a remarkably soft crumb.

The magicians who made these masterpieces every day from a traditional recipe had every right to claim it was the best walnut bread in the land. 

We never managed to get the complete recipe out of them, but we believe they employed a sourdough called gerstel, a secret blend of barley, rye and wheat flours, and a subtle use of ground walnuts. 

Gerstel Sauerteig – barley leaven

Starter
  • 300 g + 150 g rye flour
  • 100 ml water, lukewarm 
  • 50 g barley flour
  • 50 ml water, lukewarm

This leaven has three stages. 

First, mix 50 g barley with 50 ml lukewarm water, leave to ferment covered with a damp cloth for 24 hours. 

Second, mix 150 g rye flour with 100 ml lukewarm water, add to the first mixture and leave to ferment for 12 hours. 

Third, hold back 100 grams of this mixture, and add 300 grams rye flour to make a dry crumbly starter.

It will keep for weeks, and is reconstituted with an equal amount of water, then with rye and water to start the process all over again.

Final Dough
  • 500 g rye flour
  • 400 ml water, warmed
  • 250 g gerstel leaven 
  • 120 g walnuts, halved
  • 100 g white wheat flour, t550
  • 15 g salt
  • 10 g yeast 

In a large bowl dissolve yeast in the water, stir in the flours, sourdough and salt. Form into a dough, knead for five minutes. Cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise overnight.

Divide walnuts into two equal piles.

Cut dough into two equal pieces. Flatten each piece into a 25 cm round. Take one pile of walnuts and place half on the dough, roll and shape into a ball, pushing remaining walnuts into the top of the dough. Repeat, place doughs on greaseproof paper on a baking tray.

Leave to rise covered for six hours.

Desired dough temperature 28°C.

Preheat oven to 140°C top and bottom heat.

Bake for two hours.

Walnussbrot – 2

This is a 50:50 rye-wheat combination.

  • 400 ml water
  • 300 g coarse rye flour
  • 300 g wheat flour
  • 250 g sourdough
  • 120 g walnuts, halved
  • 15 g salt
  • 10 g yeast 

Boil 300 ml water. Sieve rye flour into a small bowl, pour in boiling water and leave for an hour to thicken into a paste.

In a large bowl dissolve yeast in 100 ml water, add wheat flour, rye paste, sourdough and salt. Form into a dough, knead for five minutes. Add the walnuts. Knead until dough is smooth. Cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise for an hour.

Cut into two equal pieces, shape into rounds and place on greaseproof paper on a baking tray. Leave to rise covered for another hour.

Desired dough temperature 28°C.

Preheat oven to 240°C.

Place a tray half filled with boiling water in the bottom of the oven.

Turn heat down to 180°C and bake for 45 minutes.

Walnussbrot – 3

This is walnut bread made with wheat flour.

  • 450 g strong white flour
  • 150 ml milk, lukewarm
  • 150 ml of water, lukewarm
  • 125 g walnuts, chopped
  • 25 ml oil
  • 25 g yeast
  • 15 g salt
  • 10 g sugar

In a large bowl dissolve yeast in the warm water. Add flour, salt, sugar and walnuts. Mix thoroughly, then add the milk and oil, and form into a dough.

Knead on a floured surface for ten minutes. 

Cover and leave to rise for two hours, degas once.

Shape into a round, and place on greaseproof paper on a baking tray.

Leave to rise, covered, for an hour.

Desired dough temperature 26°C.

Preheat oven to 180°C.

Make a deep cross with two sharp cuts almost to the edges and leave to rise, covered, for 30 minutes.

Dust the loaf with flour.

Bake for 40 minutes.