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Swiss Rock-Hard Stale Bread Cream

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Swiss mountain peasant dish to turn rock hard stale rye bread into a delicious dessert called sii.

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Valaisian rye bread is one of the most typical and beloved food specialties of the Swiss canton of Valais, home of Zermatt and the Matterhorn. It is made from Alpine rye and wild yeasts and is a compact, slightly sour bread. Nowadays it is very much sought after by gourmets and usually eaten in very thin slices. But back in the days, Valaisian farmers like my grandma made this rye bread because rye was pretty much the only grain that would grow on the poor soil on Alpine fields. My grandma would harvest hers with a sickle, bring the grain to the village baker and have him bake her one month worth of bread. The bread was nice and relatively soft for the first week or so, but after that you had to chop it with an axe - no kidding. Although I had never eaten sii [see-ee] anywhere, not even at my grandma, it is very much a recipe to help make something good out of those beyond-staleness-dry breads. Much like Italian Zuppa, here we soak the bread in wine to soften it, then flavor it with winter-resistant ingredients until we get a hearty dessert to confort us through the cold winter. It is a traditional Valaisian recipe I've been wanting to make for more than 10 years.

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Valaisian rye bread is made from 100% rye flour and contains no gluten. That certainly sounds nice if you are coeliac, but it also means that the bread won't rise and the dough is crumbly and breaks like a cake. Such is the fate of bread made from no-gluten grains. But the natural wild yeast used to somewhat leaven the bread give it a tartness not unlike regular sourdough. It is a very successful food specialty of Valais and I think it is promised to a great future, given its healthy slow-food appeal.

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I confess never to have been faced with the need of using rock-hard rye bread, and bought a fresh bread from a guy who bakes them in fire oven and uses stone-ground flour. Quite the gourmet rye bread in fact. When I first tried this recipe last week somebody threw my bread in the bin after a few days, thinking that nobody in his right mind would have use for stale bread. I had to buy a new one and kept it under key (!) until it was dry, although not dry enough to require an axe to cut it.

Cut the bread in walnut sized pieces.

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Put the bread in flat dish and cover with a strong red wine.

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Cover and let it rest overnight.

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Do the same with a handful of raisins.

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The next day even the hardest bread will be soft.

Crush the soaked bread to a pulp.

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Pour in a generous glass of blackcurrant syrup. My grandma used to have a beautiful blackcurrant tree in her garden and always gave me some syrup. Now I buy it at the farmers' market from somebody else's grandma.

Add the drained raisins.

If you want to make the traditional sii, proceed to the next step. If you want to make gourmet sii, season like you would a gingerbread with ground nutmeg, pepper, cinammon, a hint of clove and dark honey. This dish is halfway between glühwein and gingerbread and can use the same spices.

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Warm a tablespoon unsalted butter in a saucepan...

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...add a laddleful of sii ...

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... and let it bubble and reduce over high heat.

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When the sii starts to thicken like a custard, remove it with a large spoon and serve on an individual plate.

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Add some Chantilly cream and serve. The alcohol will have evaporated but this makes for a hearty winter dessert or could be served with tea. A solid hot wine or liquid gingerbread. The Italians from Aosta have a similar recipe and you can probably do it with your local stale whole grain breads. Have a try, it is a great reminder of how much we have progressed and how people two generations ago had to find ingenious ways of recycling their stale breads in an attractive way!


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  • #1
  • Comment by ariun
Wow, ingenious! I must try this, as I've got lots of rocky bread sitting around.
  • #2
  • Comment by bm
google a traduit pour terreux le rouspéteur
  • #3
  • Comment by Marga
It's so interesting to see how different cultures recycle their old bread. This recipe loosely reminds me of the Spanish 'migas' or crumbs fried in lard with chorizo or tocino, and then served with grapes or a cup of thick hot chocolate Spanish style. Thank you! 8)
  • #4
  • Answered by fx
Marga, thanks for your visit! I checked many recipes for 'migas', this is one astounding dish. In Mexico they make their own version, called chilaquiles, with strips of leftovers tortillas. If you are interested in delicious ways of recycling stale breads, you'll find that nobody can beat the Sicilians. They crumble their hardhweat bread and use it everywhere, in meatballs, roasts, desserts and even sprinkle it on finished pasta!
How cool!  Nothing like a little boozy rye bread to get you through winter.  :)
  • #6
  • Answered by fx
Lauren, I hope you get to try this recipe from my neck of the Alps!
  • #7
  • Comment by anny
Hi, FX--fascinating site and ideas. Just a quick comment from a gluten-intolerant, nearly celiac person, though: Rye flour has the protein gluten in it and cannot be consumed by celiacs or those with gluten intolerance. Very sad for me and others :( . Perhaps this would work with any stale bread.
  • #8
  • Answered by fx
Anny, I am sorry to learn that even rye bread is off-limits for celiacs, it is not hugely common but has a rather unique taste.
  • #9
  • Comment by andrea
FX, I'm loving your blog. This dish sounds interesting (in a good way). Do you have a recipe for the black currant syrup? I just scored a bunch of the little berries and am looking for ways to use them. By the way, after reading your posts, I'm dying to visit Switzerland.
  • #10
  • Answered by fx
Andrea, I am not sure about the blackcurrant syrup and unfortunately my grandmother passed on. But check my last article on Nostradamus´Cherry Jelly, normally you can prepare any syrup just like this, straining the hot fruits through a cloth, but then don´t cook it as long so that it will continue to dissolve in water.
i just found your site while looking for stale bread recipes. i'm also swiss (my family is from canton bern but i was born and raised in new york). i had no idea about sii and am really excited to try it. i'll be visiting CH this summer so i'm looking forward to more food adventures.

btw, i just started a blog (very basic at this point):


Great Article, could I use a picture of the Rye Bread for web map? Thanks.
  • #13
  • Comment by robin
There are quite a few stale bread recipes all over europe..or the world with their equivalent of 'bread'

People in germany used stale rye bread for soups and sauces as thickener or as a gruel in a stand alone meal or as side dish.

Farmers and workers had mostly stale bread gruel as a filling high caloric meal and with the whole grains and the sour dough it was quite nutritious.

Even just 100 years ago most people could not afford milk, eggs or imagine..meat to boost up their dishes and I have to say, the recipes they had were still tasty and filling.

Something you have to try for fun..and to be in awe what people could do with their skills.

It does not take a genius in the kitchen to fry up bacon and eggs but to make bread gruel that is tasty and will be eaten..that takes some skill.

It can either be a tasteless mush, or a filling porridge kind of meal.

The portugese have a savory bread mush as side dish for fish stew...I can not recall the name. It was quite common for sailors because there was always enough stale bread on sea and it was filling, balancing the fish you got all too often while on sea.

And my gran made a rye bread porridge from the very dark, formerly moist and with whole grains studded rye bread that was steam baked for a couple of hours so it got a very malty sweet taste.

It hardly gets moldy, dries out and crumbles easily and you fry it in a dry pan without fat.

The finer you crumble it and fry it evenly the better the taste of the bread porrdige later.

And than you add water or stock..mostly it was what you had on hand and than you let it cook for 15, 30 minutes until the crumbles were gone and you had a smooth paste with only the soft grains that were in the bread before and you salted it to taste and topped it with fried onions and garlic, chives, fresh green herbs..

The roasting is what made this dish good, omit the roasting of the stale bread and the mush just tastes like liquified bread.

Sometimes it was made with a glass of stale beer..it was a good adition with fried onions, not just as garnish. Onions were a vegetable dish so you had a good ammount of them to go on the mush.

The onions were more like an onion soup with nearly no liquid, very intensive.

They were roasted in the wood fired oven that heated the kitchen and the fire heated the stones on which you could also bake bread..smoky flavour because a bit of smoke always went through the cracks.

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