Bohemian bread is one of the pillars of Czech culinary identity.
Like all breads that have ever prepared by man since ancient times, it is a clever mix of simple products. Flour, water, heat and as often with baking, patience and love. The word for “bread”, chleb or chleba is similar in all Slavic languages, although from one country to another, the recipes vary. The word is actually not of Czech origin, as it comes from the Germanic word hlaiba found in Estonian or Finnish. It is nevertheless already present in old Slavic.
The principle of fermentation, i.e. to add gas to the dough before baking, is universal. This process helps to aerate the bread in order to make it lighter and easier to chew. Bread has long been the main ingredient of peasant food all over Europe. It can be used to complement different porridges or seasonal soups, such as krajic chleba. Czechs particularly like rye flour. It is often mixed with wheat flour and it is the proportions that vary to obtain a more or less dark bread. In Western Europe, we often focus on “white” bread. Indeed, for a long time, it was also the color of bread that marked the social divide. Toward the east, on the contrary, whole wheat bread is preferred. It is tastier and above all, better for health. Fortunately, today, flours are less expensive and you can enjoy all sorts of breads. There are nevertheless chlebs that go from dark to lighter, as well as other types of Czech breads (pečivo) like rohlik, which is generally used to make sandwiches.
Bread is the most convivial food par excellence. There are countless paintings depicting the family man breaking or cutting the bread before offering a slice to all the guests. It is a good indicator of the personality of those who enjoy it. Some like it hot, others a little stale. Very crisp or soaked in soup or milk. As a toast or a sandwich. It is the same in the Czech Republic. The multitude of exceptional meat specialties or delicious fresh cheeses with marinated pickles is an excellent excuse to enjoy a good slice of bread, as in obložené chlebíčky for example.
There are many varieties of bread available under the term chleb. The crescent-shaped rohlik is perhaps the most consumed, though not everyone considers it bread. It looks a little like an Italian cornetto, an Austrian kipfel or a French croissant. In Czechia, it is enjoyed either with savory ingredients or sweet toppings such as honey, butter and jam, or Nutella.
The breads are regularly sprinkled with poppy seeds, caraway, sesame or grains of salt. Children and workers often bring a piece of them in their school or lunch bags with some ham, butter or cheese to prepare their lunch. The Czechs are like the French: far from their domov, that is to say their homeland or their house, it seems impossible for them to find a bread worthy of the name! It is therefore imperative for many expatriates to know how to prepare it properly. To obtain the taste of their childhood memory means to be home again.
One type of Czech bread is called sumava, like a mountain range in South Bohemia. This comes from Prague bakeries, where bread loaves are stacked on top of each other like a crisp and delicious mountain range!
We remember delicious sandwiches prepared with excellent rolls that we found on Staré Mesto in Prague. They were served with a fantastic pastrami and lots of sweet and sour pickles. A real treat!
This recipe is validated by our culinary expert in Czech cuisine, Kristyna Montano. You can find Kristyna on her food blog CzechCookbook.com.
- 2-½ cups whole rye flour
- 1-¾ cups warm spring water , at 95 F
- 1-¾ cup bread flour
- 2 tablespoons caster sugar
- 4 cups bread flour (+ 1 cup for the work surface and decor)
- 9 cups whole rye flour
- Prepared leaven
- 2-½ teaspoons salt
- About 2-½ cups spring water , at 95 F (adjust based on flours)
- 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
- Leaven is prepared over 3 days.
- In a large glass bowl, whisk together ¼ cup lukewarm water with ½ cup whole rye flour.
- Cover the bowl and let it ferment for 24 hours at room temperature (about 70 F).
- In another bowl, whisk together ½ cup spring water, 1 cup whole rye flour and the sugar.
Add this mixture to the preparation obtained in the first day and mix well.
- Cover and let sit again for 24 hours at room temperature (about 70 F).
- In a first bowl, whisk together 1 cup bread flour and ½ cup water.
- In a second bowl, whisk together 1 cup whole rye flour and ½ cup water.
- Add these two preparations to the preparation of the day before and mix.
- Cover and let ferment for 10 hours at room temperature (about 70 F).
- Leaven is ready to use.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached, pour all the bread ingredients except the salt and water.
- Knead at medium speed by gradually adding the water.
- Adjust the amount of water, the dough should be slightly sticky.
- Add the salt, and knead on medium speed for 10 minutes.
- Transfer the dough to a floured work surface, and cut it in 3 equal pieces.
- Place these three pieces on the work surface and space them well. Cover them with a cloth and let them rise at room temperature for 3 hours.
- At the end of this first rise, generously flour the work surface. For 3 dough balls quickly without working the dough too much.
- Place each ball of dough in a large separate floured bowl. The seam should be facing upward, so that when it is placed on the baking tray, it will be at the bottom of the bread.
- Flour the top of each ball of dough and cover the 3 bowls with a slightly damp cloth. Refrigerate for 12 hours.
- After 12 hours, preheat the oven to 460 F for about 15 minutes with a baking sheet filled with water.
- Carefully place the 3 balls of dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper by turning each bowl over. Space them well.
Cut each ball of dough quickly with a blade.
- Bake for 30 to 40 minutes.
- Let sit on a cooling rack as the bread loaves come out of the oven.