Home Grown Rye Bread

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Although this is not a recipe driven blog site, I would be remiss if I left out the story of my latest baking creation: the rye bread.  After all, cooking and baking are among my few and far between hobbies (as is washing dishes, apparently).   My grandmother, on my father's side, was a great old school baker.  And even though my exposure to her was limited, I still remember the cookies and baked goods that came out of any kitchen that she visited.  She is my "gold standard" reference whenever I think about doing anything with flour.

I have to admit that I don't have the skills to bake a rye bread without a recipe.  I found a recipe that looked interesting in our local newspaper.  Being a lover of rye bread, the article spoke to me and I had no choice but to attempt the project.  This is my story, with play by play pictures.

 You've got to start somewhere.  This is my lucky mixing bowl that I use for banana bread, Portuguese sweet bread and this rye.  Don't let anyone tell you that a little luck isn't involved when you cook anything.  I say, "Find something that works and stick with it."  I also have a whisk and wooden rice paddle that I use to mix almost everything.  If I can't find the rice paddle, I've been known to panic. 

Here are the dry ingredients needed to make the "sponge."  The sponge is an important part of the rye bread process.  Without going into great detail, it is an additional fermentation stage prior to the main rising stage of the bread.  There is some chemical and bacterial stuff going on that help create a greater depth of flavor than your ordinary white bread.  Sourdough bread is probably the most common bread that uses a sponge or starter.  I need to make a few more rye breads before I'll feel ready to try a sourdough bread, though.

Here is the sponge, after the wet ingredients were added.  It kind of looks like ranch dressing in the picture, but that's just the rye flour in contrast with the white flour.  You'll have to take my word for it that it really is the sponge.  There was an unusual ingredient, malt barley syrup, required for this step.  It was a little difficult to find in the store and even more difficult to measure and pour it into the batter.  It has to be the gloopiest liquid that I've ever run across. It's very thick, gooey and sticky.  You have to wrestle with it to get it out of the measuring spoon.  The jar of syrup cost about $5.00 and I only needed 1-1/2 teaspoons for the loaf.  Apparently, a little goes a long way.  The jar will probably be in our refrigerator until it expires.  I wonder how many times I'll use it before then.  

This is the second set of dry ingredients for the bread.  Those little dark specs are caraway seeds.  These add a wonderful flavor and texture to the finished loaf.  If you have digestive problems with seeds, they can be omitted.   After mixing this together, it is poured evenly over the sponge.  You don't mix this into the sponge at this point, you just pour it over the sponge.  This is the first step in the sponge-rising process.  It takes about four hours for this action to happen.  I would suggest taking a nap, watching a movie or in my case, taking the girls out for some clothes shopping while you wait.

The photo on the left is the second set of dry ingredients after mixing.  The photo on the right is that second dry ingredient set, after being poured over the sponge.  After this, you cover everything with plastic wrap and wait a for small eternity.

You wait and you look.  Then you wait and you look some more.  A more experienced baker would just leave the room and let nature take it's course.  It's like watching a pot of water come to a boil - only it takes much longer.  As I said before, we all ended up leaving the house to take a break.   If there's one thing that a baker learns over time, it's that you can't rush a bread.  If you're in a big hurry, I would recommend going to the store instead.  But I don't think they make rye bread in those refrigerated, open-on-the-side-of-the-counter cans.

Success at last, at least for the first half of the bread making process.  The sponge is beginning to peek through the top layer of dry ingredients.  At about this time you might think to yourself that you should have made a white bread in a bread machine.  I would ask you to be patient; the finished product will be well worth it.

I finally get to touch the bread for the first time.  This is the fun part where you knead the dough.  You've got to develop a feel for kneading a loaf of bread.  You keep adding a little bit of flour at a time until the sticky feeling just begins to go away.  Suddenly it will just feel right and you'll know that it's time to not only give your hands a rest, but let the loaf rest for a while too.

I think there were about two risings after this.  But at least there was an end in sight.

I'll have to use a sharper knife next time to cut the decorative slits on the top.  The top of the loaf was fighting me a bit.  You also give the loaf a light misting of water before you put it in the oven, because even bread needs to be pampered a bit after all the manhandling during the kneading.  A weird part of the baking process included pouring about a cup of ice cubes in a cast iron pan with the loaf.  This created a lot of steam, and assisted in keeping things moist. 

And here's the beauty shot.  It took 8-1/2 hours from start to finish to make this bread, about 8 hours and 15 minutes longer than it would have if I had gone to the store.  The bread was moist, chewy and had a great flavor.  It tasted great plain and with unsalted butter.  I also made a pastrami sandwich with it and it tasted incredible.

If you are interested in the recipe, I would be happy to forward the newspaper article to you, as well as answer any questions that you might have.

This loaf is now just a fond memory.  It's time to plan production for the next one.


Britton Minor January 20, 2011 at 6:20 AM  

Well done! If I wrangle the recipe from you, do you think you can also send me the 1 1/2 teaspoons of barley syrup?? lol

Ellen January 20, 2011 at 7:43 AM  

Excellent! BTW, if you spray the measuring cup or spoon with PAM before putting in the barley syrup, it will just slide right off.

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