1 October 2011

Swabian Poor Souls – ‘Schwäbische Seelen’

There are several theories regarding the origin of this bread’s strange name: Seelen, translated as poor souls. It appears to be of a religious nature and linked to All Souls’ Day, a commemoration day met on 2nd November in the Catholic Church calendar. In the region of Swabia food, including Seelen bread, was given as a symbolic offering tothe  poor souls in purgatory, because congregations believed that this would bring them a rich harvest in the following year.

However, to be honest it is not the religious connection that interests me, but the taste and specific texture of this lovely bread. Seelen are large, savoury bread rolls sprinkled with caraway seeds and coarse sea salt.  On the inside they are particularly fluffy and moist owing to the use of very soft dough and spelt flour instead of wheat. In the Stuttgart region Seelen are often eaten for breakfast fresh from the bakery. Another popular variation is to eat them as hot sandwiches filled with ham and cheese. Personally, I would describe this bread as the Swabian equivalent to the baguette or ciabatta. I like serving Seelen with vegetable stew or soup especially in the autumn and winter.

This recipe makes about 6 large Seelen

500g white spelt flour
20g fresh yeast (or one sachet dry)
300 ml warm water
2 tsp salt

For sprinkling: caraway seeds and coarse sea salt

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and knead all ingredients for about 10 minutes to get soft and fairly sticky dough. Leave to rise in a warm place for about 60 minutes. After 20 minutes and 40 minutes of rising knead the dough again briefly with wet hands. 

When the dough has risen turn it out onto a lightly floured wooden board. With wet hands shape it into a square of about 20 cm. Use a wet knife to cut the dough into six strips. Wet the hands again and transfer the strips onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Don’t worry if the Seelen at this point look like a sticky mess, this is quite intentional and they will look rustic once baked.  The sticky dough gives the Seelen their distinctive, chewy texture and open crumb. Cover with a clean dish towel and leave to rise for another 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to about 240 degrees and place a bowl of water on the bottom shelf. 

When the Seelen are ready to go into the oven wet them again with your hands and sprinkle with caraway seeds and coarse sea salt. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

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