Swiss Farmhouse Bread

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Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Complex

  • Dough Yield: About

    27

    loaves at 1.5 lb each

Appears in

Albert Kumin is a Great and Venerable Chef with decades of accomplishments in the world of baking and pastry, not the least of which being that he served as White House pastry chef in the 1970s. His skills are as legendary as his unending generosity. I am happily a sapling in the shadow of this grand tree. I learned this unusual bread-making technique from him in the 1980s, and although I evolved it over the years, the germ method is entirely his. Growing up in the mountains of Switzerland, commercial yeast was either unavailable or too expensive, so the inhabitants of the mountain villages used what they had on hand to leaven their bread. In Chef Kumin’s case, raisins were used. The raisins soaked in water for several days, releasing their latent yeasts, and the water in which they soaked was then used to prepare one or two builds prior to making the final dough. All the leavening in the bread comes from the raisin water. What I have always found most extraordinary is that, of all the naturally leavened breads I have ever eaten, this is the only one that is characterized by having a complete absence of acidity, coupled with extraordinary leavening potential. More than two decades after first making this bread, some of the mysteries were explained: microbiologist and baker Debbie Wink did some sleuthing in the world of deep science and discovered that after about five days, yeast populations are at a peak, and this occurs at the same time that the lactic acid bacteria are at a low point. Other than voilà, what else needs to be said? The bread is quite easy to prepare, and supports numerous variations, such as omitting the walnuts and raisins, adding other fruits and nuts, increasing the whole-wheat portion, and so on. Bakers with an avid curiosity will hopefully try out this method. Not only will you have delicious bread to enjoy, you will also expand your level of skill and accomplishment as you explore some of the less-traveled byways of baking.

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Pre-Fermented Flour: 47.7%

Ingredients

Overall Formula

U.S. Metric Home Baker’s %
Bread Flour 18 lb 9 kg 1 lb, 12.8 oz 90%
Whole-Wheat Flour 2 lb 1 kg 3.2 oz 10%
Raisin Juice 2.1 lb 1.05 kg 3.4 oz 10.5 %
Water 11.9 lb 5.95 kg 1 lb, 3 oz 59.5 %
Salt .4 lb .2 kg .6 oz 2%
Walnuts 4.4 lb 2.2 kg 7 oz 22%
Raisins 3 lb 1.5 kg 4.8 oz 15%
Total Yield 41.8 lb 20.9 kg 4 lb, 2.8 oz 209%

Raisin Soak

Raisins, Washed* 1.58 lb .788 kg 2.5 oz (½ cup) 100%
Water 3.95 lb 1.97 kg 6.3 oz (¾ cup) 250%
Total 5.53 lb 2.758 kg 8.8 oz 350%

First Build

Bread Flour 3.33 lb 1.666 kg 5.3 oz ( cups) 100%
Raisin Liquid, Drained 2.1 lb 1.05 kg 3.4 oz (½ cup Less 1 T) 63%
Total 5.43 lb 2.716 kg 8.7 oz

Second Build

Bread Flour 4.2 lb 2.1 kg 6.7 oz ( cups) 67.7 %
Whole-Wheat Flour 2 lb 1 kg 3.2 oz (¾ cup) 32.3 %
Water 3.91 lb 1.953 kg 6.3 oz (¾ cup) 63%
First Build 5.43 lb 2.716 kg 8.7 oz (all of above) 87.6 %
Total 15.54 lb 7.769 kg 1 lb, 8.9 oz

Final Dough

Bread Flour 10.47 lb 5.234 kg 1 lb, .8 oz ( cups)
Water 7.99 lb 3.997 kg 12.7 oz (1⅝ cups)
Salt .4 lb .2 kg .6 oz (1 T)
Walnuts 4.4 lb 2.2 kg 7 oz ( cups)
Raisins 3 lb 1.5 kg 4.8 oz (1 cup)
Second Build 15.54 lb 7.769 kg 1 lb, 8.9 oz (all of above)
Total 41.8 lb 20.9 kg 4 lb, 2.8 oz

* Note: The raisins that are soaked are not those used in the final formula. Once they have soaked for the proper duration, they are discarded and the juice from the raisins is used as leavener.

Method

  1. Raisin Soak: 5 to 6 days before the bake, soak the raisins in the water. Cover and leave at warm room temperature (75° to 80°F is ideal). White mold normally begins to cover the surface of the raisins, an indication that the liquid is ready. Occasionally, however, no mold is visible. If the juice is bubbly with a sweet and tangy aroma, the natural yeasts are most likely active in the juice and the dough process can begin.
  2. First Build: Drain the raisins, collecting the juice. Discard the spent raisins. Scale the required amount of juice, add the flour, and mix to incorporate. Cover and leave at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours, until well risen.
  3. Second Build: Add the second build water to the first build and lightly break up the contents of the first build. Add the second build flours and mix until incorporated. Cover and leave to ripen for 12 to 14 hours, until fully domed. During warm and humid months, the vigorous yeast population in the second build might ripen things too quickly. In that case, try refrigerating it for an hour or two once mixed, in order to slow down the pace of ripening. Then remove from refrigeration and allow it to mature at room temperature. Alternatively, one can make the second build, leave it out for a few hours, and refrigerate it overnight. Needless to say the next day be sure to take into account the temperature of the cold second build when computing the water temperature for the final dough. As always, the goal is for the preferment to be domed and fully risen at the time of final mixing; make whatever adjustments give that result and all will be well.
  4. Mixing: Add all the ingredients to the mixing bowl except the walnuts and raisins. In a spiral mixer, mix on first speed for 3 minutes in order to incorporate the ingredients. If necessary, correct the hydration by adding water or flour in small amounts. Finish mixing on second speed for 3 minutes, to moderate gluten development. Mix the walnuts and raisins together and add to the dough. Mix on first speed only until they are evenly incorporated. Desired dough temperature: 76°F.
  5. Bulk Fermentation: 2½ to 3 hours.
  6. Folding: Fold the dough halfway through the bulk fermentation.
  7. Dividing and Shaping: Divide the dough into 1.5-pound pieces (or larger, as desired). Preshape into rounds. When sufficiently relaxed, shape into round or oval loaves, or place into loaf pans. Cover the loaves to prevent a crust from forming during the final fermentation.
  8. Final Fermentation: 1½ to 2 hours at 76°F.
  9. Baking: Place the risen loaves on the loading conveyor or peel. Slash as desired. Presteam the oven, load the bread, and steam again. Bake in a 450°F oven. After 15 minutes, lower the oven to 430°F to avoid excess darkening due to the raisins. Loaves scaled at 1.5 pounds will bake in approximately 36 minutes.

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