(With apologies to Terry Pratchett)
For non Terry Practhett addicts out there, dwarf bread is a Disc World phenomena, a bread which is forged rather than baked, can be used as a deadly weapon, and that even Dwarfs devour with their eyes “because even dwarfs have trouble devouring it any other way”.
I did not set out to bake dwarf bread. I was fuelled by memories of perfect sandwiches consumed in Northern California, back in the days when I used to go there on regular business trips. Pastrami on rye, an iconic American sandwich – to me, anyway – was a favourite of mine. My sourdough starter was bubbling away vigorously, so I decided to attempt Rye bread.
Rye flour is heavy, almost gritty, and a strange almost cement-like colour. It also has very low gluten levels, which means you can knead it for hours without it becoming all wonderfully silky and elastic. According to my bread hero, Dan Stevens, this means you might as well not bother with lots of kneading, and rather than use the usual “allow to rise until doubled in size, knock back, shape and leave to prove” method, you are better off just shaping the loaves straight after a light knead and leaving them for just one really long rise before baking in the usual way.
So, I followed the same method I used when I made my first sourdough, using 100% rye flour for both sponge and loaf, but just gave it one long prove. I probably should have realised that something was very wrong when I came down to look at the sponge in the morning and rather than being a still sloppy bubbling glop it was a fairly solid grayish lump with only a few bubbles. I put it down to the strangeness of rye flour and soldiered on. I don’t have photos of the “dough”, suffice to say that attempting to knead it felt a little like I imagine attempting to knead a really stiff mortar mix would be, should anyone be that foolish. Not feeling very hopeful, I shaped it into three round loaves and I left it. All day. Waiting for it to rise. It didn’t.
I nearly gave up at this stage, but I’m stubborn, and I reasoned that if – as seemed certain – I was going to have to throw all three “loaves” away anyway, I might as well bake them and see what happened. After all, bread rises lots in those first few minutes in the oven…
I was faintly encouraged when I slashed the tops and on one loaf at least there was an attempt to “spring apart”, which indicates there is still live yeast active. I was less encouraged when they came out of the oven. For comparison, here is a loaf of my first sourdough experiment, defrosted, and one of my rye loaves – you know, the ones that were going to allow me to re-create the perfect sandwich. Spot the difference!
Some time ago I was baking some of my standard 5-seeded wholemeal bread and forgot to turn the oven down after the first 10 minutes. I remembered just before it started to burn, but the bread came out with a very thick and chewy crust. We christened that batch Dwarf Bread – it was not worthy of the name in comparison. The Rye bread required VERY careful slicing, as it was so tough that our wonderfully sharp but slightly flexible bread knife had a sad tendency to skitter over the surface, endangering fingers.
The one saving grace was that once sliced, carefully, and toasted, it tasted pretty good with marmite. Somehow I doubt even we will get around to eating the other two loaves. They are currently languishing in the garage freezer, where I imagine they will remain until I suddenly need more freezer space for some more deserving foodstuff. So why did it fail so badly? I suspect it was because it was really cold the night I put the sourdough sponge together, and most of the yeast died of in the chill of the kitchen. Since the kitchen wasn’t that warm for most of the following day, I suspect this compounded the issue. Hence the near-structural density of the finished “bread”. I put the spurious photo of the Gazanias in because I needed cheering up after documenting this sad cautionary tale for posterity. I’m off to have a mince pie – at least they came out OK!