By noon on the day before Christmas, in Bonn, West Germany, the bakeries had nearly sold out of bread as they prepared to close for the 2 1/2-day holiday celebration.
We arrived just in time to find a few choice loaves, including a crusty Bavarian beer bread, a crunchy, healthy six-grain loaf and a festive cheese- and seed-studded bread composed of dough balls that had been fashioned into the shape of a sunflower.
This last loaf, called blumenbrot , or flower bread, was particularly intriguing since the center of the loaf was baked with cheese on top--to resemble the center of a sunflower--and the side petals were balls of dough that had been rolled in sesame, caraway and poppy seeds. My friend and I quickly decided that the bread would go very nicely with our Christmas duck dinner.
The sunflower bread also contained onion and was made with rye flour. It was so good and so pretty that it seemed only natural to try my hand at re-creating it. The result is a very lovely, festive bread that looks great and conveniently pulls apart into 15 individual servings.
Dough Ready to Rise
This dough is made in one step with all ingredients (including granulated yeast) added to the food processor container and moistened with a can of room temperature beer. Thirty seconds later, the dough is thoroughly kneaded and ready to be set aside to rise.
This rapid-mix method for bread dough calls for adding yeast granules directly to the flour mixture, eliminating the step of dissolving, or proofing, the yeast. Always take special care to check the expiration date on the package of yeast to be sure it will be active.
Additional processing time is required to ensure that this dough is thoroughly and evenly kneaded and warmed slightly by processing, since warm liquid is not called for in the dough. Count on 30 to 40 seconds of processing (the equivalent of nine to 12 minutes of hand kneading) after the beer is added for the gluten to develop a ball of sticky dough.
Medium rye flour is available in many supermarkets and health food stores.
1 ounce (2-inch chunks) Swiss or Gruyere cheese, chilled
1 cup medium rye flour
2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups bread or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 packages dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons dried minced onion
1 (12-ounce) can light beer, room temperature
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
Insert medium shredding disc in processor container. Shred cheese with firm push. Wrap and refrigerate. Change to metal blade. Add rye flour, bread flour, salt, yeast, sugar and onion. With machine running, add beer in thin stream within 20 seconds and continue processing 30 to 40 seconds until mixture forms moist, sticky ball. Add additional bread flour as needed if dough is too soft.
Rinse large bowl with hot water but do not dry. Transfer dough to bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and set aside until dough triples in volume, about 2 1/2 hours, depending on room temperature.
Turn out dough onto generously floured surface. Without kneading, cut dough into 3 even pieces. Cut each piece into 5 equal pieces to make total of 15 small pieces dough.
To shape flower loaf, sprinkle 1 tablespoon sesame seeds evenly over center of baking sheet. With floured hands, shape each piece dough into smooth ball. Place 1 ball dough on center of baking sheet. Place 5 balls dough just touching first in circle around center piece.
For outer ring, roll remaining 9 pieces dough into balls. With moist hands, moisten 3 balls and dip both sides in sesame seeds. Repeat, dipping next 3 balls into caraway seeds, then poppy seeds. Arrange dough balls in ring, alternating seed coatings, close enough to barely touch dough balls on sheet so bread will hold together when risen and baked. Cover dough with dry towel. Set aside until dough doubles, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Adjust oven rack to lowest position. Sprinkle cheese over center dough ball and inner ring. Bake at 350 degrees 30 minutes, until golden. Cool to room temperature. Serve by pulling bread apart. Makes 8 to 15 servings.