January 31, 2016

Whole-Grain Sunflower Rye Bread

Being half German with my paternal grandparents being German immigrants, I grew up seeing bread as part of the German culture.  When my grandparents would come out for visits, they would bring boxes full of German breads from specialty bakeries in Chicago.  To this day, my dad and my uncle still bring each other bread whenever they go to a new Euro bakery.  During one of my parents' visits here in Denver, we went to Whole Foods, and my dad became a little obsessed with this Prussian Rye bread there.  When I go out to California to visit my family, my dad occasionally asks me to bring a loaf or two out for him and my uncle.  (On a different note, this Saturday Night Live skit reminds me very much of my family!)

Germany bakes more variety of breads than any other country, with hundreds of dark and white bread along with thousands of different rolls and mini breads.  Bread is the foundation of breakfast and evening meals in Germany.  Growing up, my sisters and I would joke about how my dad always wanted sandwiches for breakfast and dinner!  During trips to Germany, I experienced the huge German breakfast spreads with all the different breads accompanied with eggs, wurst, cheese, and butter (of course).  The Germans tend to eat a big meal mid-day, so German dinners are usually bread slices with deli meats and cheeses.  At German festivals, like Oktoberfest, pretzels are hugely popular, and at holidays, shaped sweeter breads (like stollen) are baked.  The bottom line: Germany is bread country.

I always liked more of the multigrain and seeded German breads.  There was one bread called "schinkenbrot," which was a seeded multi-rye bread.  It didn't have too strong of a rye flavor, and it had a chewy, nutty flavor.

This whole-grain sunflower rye bread reminds me so much of the "schinkenbrot" from my childhood.  It does not have an overpowering rye flavor, and it has the same chewy and nutty flavors that I remember.  The honey adds a natural sweetness that balances out the whole wheat and rye flavors.  The bread is fairly simple to make.  Honestly, I thought that the hardest part was making sure the water wasn't too warm to kill the yeast.  (I generally prefer to use instant yeast because I'm always worried that I'll kill the active-dry yeast when I have to proof it with water.)  The bread does require three rises, so make this on a lazy day. :)

I made mini loaves of this bread, and it freezes quite well and is a great breakfast bread for sweet and savory breakfasts.  One morning, for a more sweet take, I took some slices, brushed them lightly with olive oil and sprinkled cinnamon and stevia (you could use sugar) on both sides, and put the bread slices under the broiler for about 2 minutes.  I then topped them with some homemade ricotta (mixed with orange zest) and some blueberries.  For a savory  breakfast, I made eggs cacio e pepe (scrambled eggs made with greek yogurt, pecorino, and pepper) and put it on top of toasted slices of the bread.  Yum!

German Whole-Grain Sunflower Rye Bread
Yields 1 large loaf or 4 mini loaves

1 1/2 cups (12 oz.) lukewarm water
2 1/4 tsp. active-dry yeast (1 package)
1/4 cup honey, plus 1 tsp. honey
310 grams (2 3/4 cups) whole-wheat flour
103 grams (1 cup) rye flour
2 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup unsalted sunflower seeds, lightly toasted
2 to 3 tsp. butter or oil, to grease the loaf pans

To toast the sunflower seeds:
Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the seeds in a single layer and toast, stirring frequently until they begin to color, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Immediately remove from heat and transfer to a plate to cool.

For the bread:
In a small bowl, combine the warm water, yeast, and 1 tsp of honey and lightly stir until combined.  Wait for about 5 minutes for the yeast mixture to begin to lightly bubble (some tiny holes should appear).  If this does not happen, discard and begin again.  Make sure the water is lukewarm and not hot.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine the flours and salt.  Then, add the yeast mixture and the remaining 1/4 cup honey.  Mix until well incorporated, about 1-3 minutes.  If any flour remains, add 1 more tablespoon of water and mix until combined.

Knead on low speed until the dough is smooth, about 6-8 minutes.  The dough will be thick and dense.  Add sunflower seeds, and continue kneading for 2-3 more minutes, or until sunflower seeds are well distributed.

After the sunflower seeds are incorporated, shape the dough into a round, and return it to the stand mixer bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap, and allow it to rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hour to 2 hours.  Then, punch down the dough and allow it to rise again until nearly doubled, another 1 hour.

After the dough is finished rising, oil the pan or pans (if using mini loaf pans), and shape the dough into a rectangular shape and place it in the pan or pans.  Loosely cover with plastic wrap, and allow it to rise for another hour.

While the dough rises, preheat the oven to 350ºF.  Bake until the loaf is dark golden brown, about 1 hour.  Remove the bread from the oven, place it on a wire rack, and allow it to cool.

Source: Hans Rockenwagner's Das Cookbook 


  1. Ha ha, I had a look at the comedy sketch- I didn't know that Ben Affleck could put on such a good German accent. I think I would get along fine in Germany, since I love bread!

    1. That sketch cracks me up anytime I see it! The Europeans know their bread! ;-)


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