Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Brotbacken im Kochgeschirr, 1941-1945

Bread Baked in Mess Kit, German Army, 1941-1945
(Brotbacken im Kochgeschirr)

     This recipe was produced by the German Army in WW2 for use by units in forward areas when the bread supply was interrupted or when the divisional field bakeries had not yet been set up. Field expedient bread could be produced using the mess kit (Kochgeschirr M31). There were two types of field bread, a sourdough and a baking powder version. Both used the mess kit as a baking vessel, on a bed of hot coals. The recipe was scaled to produce one 750 gram loaf, the daily bread ration for one soldier.
      I used East German mess kits for this recipe, as they are readily available, inexpensive, and can be found in new or undamaged condition. The dimensions of the East German mess kit are nearly identical to those of the M31 Kochgeschirr used in WW2. Dented mess kits should not be used, as dents can make the bread nearly impossible to remove without breaking it up.
NOTE:  If baking several loaves, it is recommended to combine ingredients and mix one large batch of dough.

     German Army field bread in field bakeries was usually made with a high percentage of rye flour, but could also be produced from whatever flour was available: rye, whole wheat or white wheat flour. In the accompanying pictures, an 80/20 percent mix of rye to whole wheat flour was used. The best results for the bread sour are achieved with organic rye flour.

Yield: one loaf of approx.750 grams/26 ounces

The completed bread removed from the Kochgeschirr.
Bread with Sourdough (Sauerteig)
US                               Metric                       Ingredients
18 fl oz                        540 ml                         rye flour, wheat flour, or a mix of the two
9½ -10 fl oz                 280-300 ml                  lukewarm water
½ tsp                           ½ tsp                           salt

On a flat surface or in a bowl, mix together the half of the flour and salt.
Make a well in the center and slowly add two-thirds of the water and mix until you have a medium dough.
The dough should not be sticky; once mixed, the dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl or the work surface.
Knead until smooth and form into a ball.
Sprinkle the surface with additional flour.
Cover with a cloth and maintain at 20°-30°C/68°-86°F for 16-24 hours.
When the sour is ready, it will have expanded so that the flour on its surface will have split, and it will have a pleasantly sour aroma.
Note the cracks on the sour from the expansion during rising.
It is now ready to add the rest of the flour.

Add an additional ½ liter of flour to the sour and additional water to make a medium dough.
Knead until smooth.
Cover and let rise in a warm place (approx. 80°F/27°C) for 1-2 hours.

Bread with Baking Powder

US                               Metric                        Ingredients
18 fl oz                        540 ml                          rye flour, wheat flour, or a mix of the two
9½ -10 fl oz                 280-300 ml                  cold water
½ tsp                           ½ tsp                            salt
1 tbsp                          17 ml                            baking powder

On a flat surface or in a bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt.
Make a well in the center and add enough water until you have a medium dough.
The dough should not be too stiff, but not have any large lumps.
Do not over-knead.

The following procedure is followed for both types of bread once the dough is ready:

Flour or grease the inside of the mess kit.
NOTE: If cooking on an outdoor fire, greasing the outside of the mess kit will make it easier to clean.
Form a loaf which is as wide as the mess tin and ¾ the height of the body of the mess kit.
Dust the loaf with flour.
Lay the mess kit on its side and place the dough inside.
Insure that you keep the mess on its side.
NOTE: If baking in an oven, the mess kit may be left on its side or standing upright, as in the picture.
Either way will achieve good results.
Place the lid on the mess kit and clamp shut.

Finished dough in the Kochgeschirr, ready to be clamped shut and placed in the oven.

Baking Procedure

You will need a wood fire that has burnt down for two hours. The mess kit is made of aluminum, and a fire that is too hot will damage the mess kit.
Scoop out the ash and embers.
Put the mess kit on the hot ground and cover with the embers that you have scooped out. If the fire on the bottom is too hot, cover the mess kit with a layer of sand.
If you are not experienced in campfire cooking, it may require a couple of trial runs to get the technique of cooking with coals correct.
Preheat oven to 350°F

Campfire or oven
Bake for about 1¼ to 1½ hours.
The bread is done when a wooden skewer inserted into the bread comes out clean.
Let the bread cool for a half hour before removing from the mess kit.

                                          A rather dense rye bread, it held up well when sliced.


  1. I made the soda variant of this the other day. Very good. I don't have the German mess kit, so I baked it in a Dutch oven, and it turned out well, although I think I made the dough a litter drier than I was supposed to. Anyhow, quite good, and I'll post the photos I took and link it back here later this week.

    I made mine with 100% rye flour, and it came out a light brown, which is the color I generally find rye bread to be. One of the grocery stores here used to sell a bread called "Russian Soldiers' Bread" that was absolutely black. Are you familiar with that one?

    1. A dark rye flour is closer to what you would find in many European rye breads, especially military breads. The lighter breads are usually a mix of light rye and wheat flours, to cater to US tastes. From accounts that I have read, US soldiers in WW2 generally disliked German Army rye bread, as it was much denser and heavier than what they were accustomed to. A lot of "Russian Black Bread" that is sold in the US, and a lot of the recipes in cookbooks and on the internet, use espresso powder, molasses, and/or cocoa powder to achieve the dark color. I believe that these recipes have their origin in a 1945 newspaper advertisement for the National Biscuit Company's (aka "Nabisco" ) 100% Bran Cereal. If you look at my post on "Shchi and Borscht", the photo shows a piece of rye bread from a loaf I baked according to an 1885 Russian Army recipe. This was also a very dense bread, but like many European breads, consisted only of flour, water, leavening and salt.
      As far as your bread being a bit dry, try baking it in a smaller vessel so that the dough isn't surrounded by so much air space. This may help a bit with the moisture loss. The consistency of your bread in the photo looks good, just a bit crumbly which I assume is from the dryness that you referred to.
      Thanks for your comments! I really appreciate it when readers try out the recipes and send feedback.

  2. Here's what our effort looked like:


  3. I also tried this receipe using half whole wheat and half all-purpose flour. I didn't have a German mess tin either, so I used a commercial aluminium camping outfit, which just happened to be German. It turned out well and was quite moist and of consistent texture. However, the taste was so-so, but it was close to the bannock I've mentioned before, in which I use oil and which produces a strong taste. Without ever having eaten any, I suspect that using rye flour would produce a stronger flavor. My father, who was a prisoner-of-war in Germany for a year, spoke highly of German bread.

    For my next attempt I may try using a British rectangular mess tin. A round loaf is a little awkward to slice a serve.

  4. I found some rye flour and attempted the sourdough method. The overnight part worked fine and the result looked exactly like your photo. But the second part didn't: it didn't rise at all the second time, so I assume I did something wrong or didn't wait long enough. But I'm still on the uphill side of the learning curve with kneading. I may have used too much water and I have achieved the proper consistence yet. Nevertheless, the taste was good and nothing at all like I expected. Not strong at all, very much like whole wheat.

    I used a rectangular Britsh mess tin, covered. I shall try again.

  5. Hi Blue Train,
    Sounds like it may not have been warm enough for rising. Carefully measurement of ingredients and temperature is important in bread baking. A common mistake for beginning bread bakers is insufficient kneading. It just takes practice. I went through my own share of dense breads and "hockey puck" biscuits before I got a proper sense of what the dough should feel like. My best advice is to follow the recipe closely, practice, and don't get frustrated.

  6. I will try again when I work up the nerve. I agree that I probably didn't allow it to rise long enough the second time but there was a lot going on at home over the weekend (we're having the house painted) and I was a little distracted. It is a lot of trouble for a small loaf, however, but I was most surprised at the good taste. In contrast, the white bread I tried a few weeks ago tasted like cake.

    I actually worked as a freshman in college doing some baking of rolls but it was a case of dump all the ingredients into the big mixer and turn it on. There was no kneading, though there was a lot of shaping of rolls, rising and so on. But I don't remember a lot from college.

  7. Hello! I just stumbled upon your blog here a few days ago. As a reenactor I found your work and research to be amazing! I am currently preparing for an event this weekend, I shall be reenacting late WWII German. I decided to make this bread as a "test run" before the event and just finished my first loaf. I must say that it turned out very well and actually doesn't taste too bad at all!

    1. Hi James,
      Thanks for the kind words. It's always good to hear when someone finds this info useful. What other types of recipes do you think would be useful to WWII German reenactors?
      Many thanks,