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It was when I was doing a bit of research into the category of breads-named-after-animals that I came across another giraffe bread: tijgerbrood or tijgerbol (if you're in the Netherlands) a.k.a tiger bread a.k.a. Dutch Crunch.
(Things are confusing when it comes to giraffes and tigers: Sainsbury's supermarket in the U.K. renamed their tiger bread giraffe bread back in 2012. To which I say: Sure, it doesn't look like a tiger, but can we choose another animal, like a tortoise. Stateside, Wegman's sells a version called, somewhat mysteriously, "Marco Polo" bread.)
That characteristic split-spotted top, which looks like the cracked ground of a desert (petition to rename the bread Desert Crunch, please?) is made by painting bread dough with a thick coating of rice flour, yeast, water, and sugar right before it goes into the oven. As the dough rises, the topping shatters into a crisp top with fissures of doughy softness.
If you live outside the San Francisco Bay Area, you may not be familiar with Dutch Crunch: When I told my coworkers at Food52 what I was making, most gave me blank stares. And if you have heard (or better, eaten) the bread, you might be unaware of its origins, which are, indeed, somewhat cloudy.
Carey Jones reported over at Serious Eats that some trace the bread—"virtually unknown outside of the Bay Area"—back to 1909, at Galli's Sanitary Bakery (others say it was introduced to the U.S. as late as the 1960s and 70s). The history of the bread in the Netherlands is also uncertain: "Some speculate that Dutch traders were inspired by their trips to Southeast Asia explaining the use of rice flour," according to American Food Roots, but "others suggest that the bread has only been sold in the Netherlands since the 1970s, simply because there is little concrete evidence of any earlier existence."
I was most intrigued by the suggestion on the website of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, that "pretty much any dough will work." Dutch Crunch "can be added to any type of bread," American Food Roots reiterates, "but it typically tops soft, slightly sweet French rolls, creating an intriguing contrast in taste and texture."
So I tried to Dutch Crunch-ify some challah. I made Joan Nathan's recipe. Once I had shaped the two loaves, I mixed together:
- 1 tablespoon yeast
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup rice flour
I let this mixture puff and bubble as the loaves rose. Once the challot were oven-ready, I painted one with the beige mixture and put them in the oven.
Sure enough, the rice flour paste cracked and split in the oven, creating a delicious crispy top. Both loaves were very good, but hands eagerly grabbed at that crackly topping.
If there's any way to improve an excellent challah (or brioche or sandwich bread) recipe, Dutch Crunch is it! Do be forewarned, however, that your beautiful braid will be overtaken. (It's worth it, I say.)
And think of how you can play! Many Dutch Crunch toppings include sesame oil, which will give the topping—otherwise pretty tasteless, though with a slight floury-bitter edge from the rice flour—a flavor and fragrance. I imagine you could experiment with adding cocoa powder, or matcha, or almond extract.
Someone please make a chocolate loaf with a matcha crackle—I promise you'll get a million likes on Instagram!
What loaf should we Dutch Crunch-ify next? Share your ideas in the comments!