Of all the breads in regular rotation here at Journeyman, our Vollkornbrot - a dense and seedy German rye - has perhaps the most fanatic following. Its devotees, a small but mighty contingent, ask us weekly when it will return. And when it does, they eagerly place orders for two or three loaves. One German couple drives 45 minutes up from Scarsdale just for this bread.
That said, Vollkornbrot - in name and appearance - is also the bread which evokes the most confusion among the uninitiated. Customers, shocked when they heft the small brick-like loaf, ask incredulously, "what is this?" And, more importantly, "how do you eat it?"
What is Vollkornbrot?
From stalk to slice, Vollkornbrot has deep roots in northern Europe, and particularly in Germany and Scandinavia where rye thrived in the cold climes and clay soil that make producing wheat difficult. Translating literally to "whole kernel bread," Vollkornbrot belongs to a family of 100-percent rye breads which use un-processed whole-rye, including the bran and germ. This results in a nutritionally dense and filling loaf packed with flavor.
To accentuate the complexity of the rye, our Vollkornbrot uses both sourdough and a soaker (rye chops soaked overnight in water), which bring out the breadth of rye's flavor, from sweet and grassy to deep and earthy (that it's 100-percent rye and fermented means this bread may be an option if you're looking for something low in gluten - though it's not gluten-free). In the dough's final mix, we add additional whole-rye and sunflower seeds which give this bread it's distinctive chew and occasional crunch.
How Do You Eat It?
So, now that we know what it is, how should you eat Vollkornbrot? Because it's so dense, this bread is best sliced as thinly as possible – no thicker than 1/8-inch – and served by the slice (you'll get a lot of slices per loaf, but not to worry: the multiple fermentations contribute to the bread's staying power and our Vollkornbrot will keep for a few weeks in the fridge, loosely wrapped in plastic).
To serve, spread with butter or preserves or present slices as an accompaniment to charcuterie. It's dark intensity pairs nicely with other assertive flavors such as smoked meats, pickles, and aged cheese.
Or, as I prefer, spread with sour cream, top with gravlax (make your own using the recipe below), and sprinkle with dill. Four bites of Nordic heaven.
40 hors d'oeuvres
I first learned how to make Gravlax, a Scandanavian cured salmon, while working with Ian Knauer and Shelley Wiseman at The Farm Cooking School in New Jersey. Their version, perfumed with juniper and peppercorns, was always a favorite when served as a pre-class snack or cocktail hour hors d'oeuvre. Though it may seem involved, I promise once you've seen how easy it is to make at home it will transform this once a year treat into a more frequent affair. And when paired with Journeyman Vollkornbrot and dill sauce, it's absolutely ethereal. (Just remember to prepare a few days in advance!)
1 1/2 tablespoons Juniper Berries
1 1/2 tablespoons Pink Peppercorns (or Mixed Peppercorns)
1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Kosher Salt
2 tablespoons Gin
2 lb skin-on Salmon Fillet, pin bones removed (ask your fish monger)
1 cup Sour Cream or Yogurt
1/4 cup Chopped Fresh Dill
2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard
1 teaspoon sugar or honey, or to taste
Salt and fresh ground Pink or Black Pepper
Additional Dill Sprigs (optional)
For the Sauce
At least 48 hours in advance, Make Gravlax: Coarsely grind the juniper berries and peppercorns in a mortar and pestle, or put in a sealable plastic bag, push air out, seal, and crush with a heavy rolling pin. In a small bowl, mix the sugar, salt, and gin.
Line a dish that will fit the salmon with a piece of plastic wrap large enough to wrap the salmon. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of the sugar mixture on the bottom and place the salmon, skin side down, on top. Press the crushed berries and peppercorns on the flesh side of the salmon and then cover with the remaining sugar mixture. Cover generously with the dill sprigs. Wrap in the plastic and refrigerate, 48 hours.
Make the Sauce: Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
Serve: Wipe off the sugar mixture and some of the berries, and peppercorns from the salmon and discard. Thinly slice with a long sharp knife and separate from skin. Serve on a square of thinly sliced Vollkornbrot with the sauce and dill sprigs.
Make ahead: The cured gravlax will keep, wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated, 1 to 2 weeks. The sauce will keep, covered and refrigerated, 1 week.