Bread is the basis of people’s diet and it is of particular importance in agricultural tradition and in European cuisine. It is related to lifestyles and customs that belong to our culture, and for this reason is one of the most consumed food in our daily lives.
In rural areas of Transylvania region, it is common to have a wood-fired oven outside the house in order to bake your own bread. Another tool of the trade is tekno (literal translation is “turtle”), a hand carved wooden dough bowl/trencher, passed down from generation to generation. Mrs Szabó Rozália, who hosted us and revealed us her secrets, has three tekno of different measures. One of them is made from willow wood and was inherited from her mother.
The essential ingredients of Rozália’s bread are two: potato, for a more tasty and soft dough, and yeast, the brewer’s yeast and the sourdough, made with dough remnants. It is important not to waste none of the ingredients, that’s why Rozália scrapes the trencher to collect the dough and then adds to it maize flour and salt.
Making bread is a kind of a ritual celebrated once a week, while kneading Rozália prays. It is a long tradition, especially in a country that has experienced communism. At the time, there were ticket for buying food, based on household members. Every family received a predetermined amount, even for flour.
Homemade bread is an added value, lost when you buy industrial bread. “When you buy it at the supermarket, you don’t perceive the work behind it and that bread is a real treasure”, the lady says.
One rule that Rozália follows is to knead until there are beads of sweat on her forehead, symbols of the energy used. When air bubbles appear on the surface, the dough is ready. Rozália remembers when as a kid she was used to help her mother and had fun putting her fingers in the bubbles to pop them.
Every step requires care and attention. Needless to say, who is experienced as Rozália, can decide not to follow the recipe and to measure roughly all the ingredients.
Here is her recipe:
For 7 kilos of bread
(2/3 loaves of 2,5 kilos each):
4,5 kilos T65 Wheat Flour
300 grams Potatoes
30 grams Brewer’s Yeast + Sourdough (a dollop)
1,7 liters of Water
- Boil, peel and grate the potatoes.
- Sift approximately 5 kg of flour.
- Add potatoes to the flour.
- Heat 700 ml of water in a casserole and dissolve both yeasts in it.
- Stir the water with the yeast with half of the flour-potato mix.
- Cover everything with a tea towel or a tablecloth and let it rest all night.
- In the morning, dissolve 2 teaspoon of salt in one liter of water and add it to the dough.
- Stir all the mix.
- Add the remaining 2 kilos of flour.
- Mix the dough with fists closed and movements from the bottom up until all the lumps are gone. Add water to facilitate the removal of lumps.
- Continue to knead the dough as long as it becomes homogeneous, it has to be elastic. It is ready when “bubbles” appear on it.
- Sprinkle the dough with a bit of flour, cover it with a tea towel and let it rest.
- Prepare the wood-fired oven (or preheat the electric oven to 200 degrees): the fire has to be uniform and it is better to use dry wood.
- Smoke the cabbage leaves for a few moments to reduce the strong flavour.
- Once the wood turns into cinder, move it from the oven (it will be warm enough).
- Dust the bread shovel with flour, put on it a cabbage leaf and then a loaf made from the dough (or on the baking tray if you are using an electric oven).
- Cook the loaves for an hour, then rotate (not upside down) and cook them for another hour.
- When baking is finished, loaves may result burned outside because of high temperatures in the oven, but inside there will be perfect. It will be necessary to scrape off the external surface (in the electric oven just turn the heat down).
The dough remnants can be used to make new sourdough,
adding a bit of salt and maize wheat.
Wait for a week and it will be ready to be used.
Authors: Eleonora Chelazzi and Cristina Vasile