Saturday, February 5, 2011

Back to the Source, sort of...Vienna Bread

It is interesting that when you think of European breads, you invariably think of French or Italian breads and yet, long before either became famous, the best breads in Europe came from Vienna. It is here, in the days of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire (not last week, mind you) that French and Italian bakers came to learn the tricks of the trade. Both went on to greatness, of course but Vienna bread is the source of it all. It is here that bakers learned the advantages of wet pre-ferments and long, overnight, cold fermentations. Mostly the bakers were from Poland, and hence the term poolish (a very wet pre-ferment using equal quantities of water and flour) which was employed by them.

This bread uses the overnight pre-ferment called pate fermentee as well as a long fermentation the next day. The bread goes through two rises. When it finally comes out of the oven, it has a slightly chewy crust and a fairly dense crumb, denser than the open crumb we are used to from French and Italian breads. It can be baked as a loaf, perfect for sandwiches, or rolls, or even, as I have done here, in the more traditional batard shape. Sort of like a torpedo. The slight tanginess in the flavor makes it a perfect bread for both cheese or cold cuts. You won't be sorry, believe me. This recipe is adapted from the recipe for Vienna bread in Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, a truly extraordinary baking book, and a must for anyone serious about baking bread!

Here's What You'll Need:
for the pate fermentee:
1 1/8 cups (140g) AP flour
1 1/8 cups (140g) bread flour  or
2 1/4 cups (280g) AP flour or bread flour
3/4 tsp (5g) salt
1/2 tsp (1.5g) yeast
3/4 cup to 3/4cup + 2 Tbs (170-200ml) warm water

Mix together the flours with the salt and yeast. Then add the water while stirring until you have a rather 'shaggy' dough. You may need to add the extra water to bring it all together.

Remove the dough to a floured surface then knead it for a few minuted until the dough is smooth and slightly, not sticky. Place this dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let it ferment for at least 4 hours at room temperature. At the end of this period, you can proceed directly to making the bread. Or, as I did, you can 'punch down' the dough, place it back in the bowl, covered and place it in the refrigerator overnight. I really believe it makes for better tasting bread.

the next day...
to make the bread:
2 1/3 cups (370g) pate fermentee
2 2/3 cups (340g) AP flour
1 Tbs (14g) sugar
1 tsp (7g) salt
1 tsp (3g) yeast
1 large egg
1 Tbs butter or margarine at room temperature or melted
3/4 cup + 2 Tbs (170-200ml) warm water

Here's What You'll Need to Do:
If you refrigerated the pate fermentee, remove it from the refrigerator, cut it into about 10 pieces then let it come to room temperature, covered, for about an hour before using it. Then...

Stir together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Then add the pate fermentee, egg, butter or margarine and 3/4 cups (170ml) of the water. Add extra water if needed, then continue mixing until you have a smooth dough. Remove the dough to a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is very smooth and supple.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, then cover. Let it rise until doubled in bulk for 2 hours. If it doubles before this, de-gas the dough and let it keep fermenting for the full two hours.

Shape the dough into rolls (about 12) or loaves (2) or as I have done here, into the traditional batard shape. Cover and let it rise for an additional 30 minutes.

Just before placing the bread in the oven, score the loaves and spray them with water. Sprinkle them with flour.

At the end of the 30 minutes, preheat the oven to 450F (220C). Just before placing the bread in the oven, place an empty pan in the oven and pour a cup of boiling water into it closing the door quickly. Then spray the oven walls with water to create a very steamy environment.

Place the bread in the oven, reduce the heat to 400F (200C) then bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, rotate the baking sheet to ensure even baking. Bake an additional 18-20 minutes at this temperature.

Cool on a rack to room temperature.


  1. I truly love your blog. It's so simple, so understanable and clear. The recipes are easy enough for the layman to prepare and the
    results are wonderful.

  2. Thank you thank you thank you!!! It is great to hear that the recipes and explanations are so appreciated. Please pass the word along to anyone you think might be interested. You made my day!

  3. Nicely done!

  4. Thank you. This bread makes a wonderful sandwich bread. It's nice and airy but has strength and structure for holding the goodies you put on it! Yum!

  5. Divided the dough into 8ths before baking, out came beautiful sandwich rolls with lots of oven spring and a wonderful crust.

    1. Glad the rolls came out so well. This bread is perfect for sandwiches and for just covering with butter and jam. Enjoy!

  6. Just ran across this recipe while getting ready to bake. Why divide the dough into 10 pieces then recombine back with flour to make loaves?


    1. You should divide the pate fermentee into about 10 pieces, NOT the finished dough. This serves 2 goals. First it helps it come to room temperature faster, and second when you mix in the rest of the ingredients, you are assured it is mixed thoroughly. The idea of the pate fermentee (literally old or fermented dough) is to give it the distinctive sharp-ish flavor and chewy crust of European breads in general, and in this case the Vienna bread. Enjoy!