(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.

Yellow Gazanias

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!

Rye Sourdough Loaf

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.

Sourdough Rye Sliced

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!

12 thoughts on “Bread of the Day: Dwarf bread…

  1. Wow, it does have great structure and low gluten is good. Love your photo of what I think is gazania? Very beautiful interlude. As are the bread. I just might have to bake some today as this time of the year is when I always have the need -no pun intended. You have a fabulous weekend!

    1. Happy Bread Baking Tina – hope it is more successful than this lot was! I currently have some crusty white awaiting the oven, and am looking forward to that first still-warm slice…

  2. Ho hum, you’ll just have to put that one down to experience. When you put your dough to rise, do you leave it in “ambient” conditions”? Jane usually puts hers in the airing-cupboard, where the warmth seems to help things along famously. Maybe the Dwarf Bread should become bird food; or be made into a sort of panzanella to soften it?

    1. Hi Mark. I used to use the airing cupboard too, but on Dan Steven’s recommendation switched to just leaving dough to prove in the kitchen, which has been working really well. Also with sourdough you get a better taste if you give it a long slow prove rather than putting it somewhere warm to rise quickly. Some people even put it in the fridge! There’s never room in mine…

  3. hi Janet, funny you should talk about bread, I am about to start a sourdough starter. We love sourdough. The farmer’s bread in Germany was a rye sourdough, also wonderful.
    Wanted to comment back to you about the worm bin– I had mine in the laundry room when we lived in Virginia. When I had a lot of fluid in the bottom I used a ladle and got it out. Most additions of food I also added more shredded paper, so the liquid wasn’t too much.

    1. Ah, that makes sense – about the worm bin that is! Good luck with your sourdough – I’ve just fed mine to perk it up so that I can have another go at Rye bread. Reading up a bit more apparently the thing to do is only use around 30% rye flour and the rest strong white. We’ll see…

  4. My German lodger loved this type of bread – dwarf or otherwise! Lovely that you’ve memories of a distant place – I like it when food recreates it for you – BBQ’d sweetcorn does it for me (among many other foods) – it reminds me of being little when my Dad was posted to Cyprus for two years – amazing how food can just take you back….

    1. I like the sound of BBQ sweetcorn! And living in Cyprus… Could I post the bread to your German lodger, do you think?!

  5. I usually mix about half rye with whatever. That is why bakeries proudly label loaves 100% rye. It makes denser bread than most people are used to. Commercial ‘rye’ bread is mixed with wheat to give the lighter loaves people expect. Yours looks right, and you say it tasted good.

    I leave mine to rise in a switched off and closed oven. With a mug of boiling water so it doesn’t form a ‘crust’ and CAN rise. Try again. Let us know.

    1. I’ve heard about people using the oven to get dough to rise – thank you reminding me! When I get around to trying again I’m going to go for a lower percentage Rye flour. Watch this space…

  6. The title drew me in.
    I guess you could use the other two loaves as doorstops . . . or as wedges to keep the drafts out?

    1. Actually, I am rather in need of a couple of book ends… Could work – unless the density fails to put the mould off… You’ve got me thinking now…

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