Bread Week


My favorite!  My paternal grandmother (Dad’s mom) was apparently a bread-baker.  I wouldn’t know–I met the woman a few times but never really got to know her, never went to her house in Florida, never spent Easters and Christmases with her…or any of her four husbands (of whom, I met 2 of the 4).  But that’s another long story.

So, this week the bakers are making rye bread.  I’ve never made rye bread–I’ve had it a few times and I really love the dark bread they have at steakhouses–just give me a few loaves of that and some butter and I’m a happy camper!  Well, as long as you also bring me a steak.

What’s the first thing you need to make rye bread?  Well, RYE FLOUR, of course!  I go to my usual neighborhood shopping spot…Safeway.  No rye.  Not a big surprise…it’s quite a small store, but it’s the closest to me and has the usual stuff I need for feeding the family, and the quality is good.  When it comes to specialty items, they usually don’t have it (although it is where I found the demerara sugar…).  So, over to the Fred Meyer.  Nope.  Not even in the “organic” section where most of the Bob’s Red Mill stuff is.  Weird.  OK, Winco!  Not there, either.  Not even in the bulk section.  OK, this is annoying.  Trader Joe’s?  It’s the tiny store with the tiny parking lot.  They have rye bread, but no rye flour.  Heck, they barely have a baking section!  Frustrating.  Then I get a text from the middle kid–she’s done with her exams, so it’s time to pick her up.  I bribe her with donuts to let me stop at one more store.  She’s cool with that.  The BIG Safeway!  FINALLY….after five different stores, they have rye flour!  I later get suggestions that I could have checked Central Market ($$), Whole Foods or PCC, which are a little further away, but something to keep in the back of my mind for these kinds of unusual ingredients.

I get home and check a few recipes.  They all call for caraway seed.

I don’t have any.

Well, the boy has karate, so on the way back, we stop for caraway seed, fennel and sweatpants.  (The sweatpants are not for the bread.)

OK, so now that I have all the ingredients, I check out the recipes for more detail.  First lesson, stop looking at certain web sites (they-who-shall-not-be-named) for reader-submitted recipes because so many of them are fraught with shortcuts.  Cans of pre-made sauces, highly salted mixes, bread machines and Instant Pots…stuff I don’t have or don’t want to use.  I found ones that sounded intriguing:  “Steakhouse Black Bread”, “New York Rye Bread”, and “Dark Rye Bread” but all of them start with “Place ingredients in the bread machine….”  Sigh.  I printed them out and I’ll come back to those after experimenting with the basics.  Two more jumped out at me that looked really interesting:  Danish Spiced Rye Bread (Sigtebrod) and Authentic German Bread (Bauernbrot).  The medievalist in me has perked-up ears!  They are a bit more complex (but no bread machine!) so I’ll definitely come back to those after making a couple of basic loafs.

Now wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I announced that I was making rye bread, my beloved husband says, “Yrch!  I hate rye!”  Good.  None for you!  He’s on a low-carb diet anyway, so there.  I’ll feed it to the skinny boy.  He’d adventurous!

A bit more Googling and I came across the web site called  She has a basic rye bread recipe that I’m excited to try.  It’s pretty straightforward, has the basic ingredients, and does not require a bread machine.  She uses an upright mixer with a dough hook, but if you don’t have one of those, you can always mix by hand–in fact, she has a video on the recipe page that shows you exactly how to do that!  I wouldn’t recommend using an old-school mixer like your grandma used to use (probably my grandma as well, but as I mentioned, I wouldn’t know).

So here’s the ingredients:

(the big tub is all-purpose flour, which appears to be getting a little low.  Another trip to the store…)

Rye is a rather nondescript grain, really.  It smells a little more “earthy” (like dirt), I suppose, than wheat flour, but otherwise, doesn’t seem to have a lot of character.  It is a bit more…chunky…than the super fine wheat that we’re all used to.  Coarse.  There’s a good word!  Adds character.  Just like lessons hard-learned.  And it’s not dark–that is added in later in the form of unsweetened chocolate powder, molasses, or coffee!  WHO KNEW?  OK, some of you smart-alecs did.

The caraway seed, on the other hand, has that distinct “rye bread” smell.  So if you don’t like the smell of rye, maybe just omit the caraway?  I’ll have to try that on the next batch, omitting both the caraway and the darkening ingredients and see if the hubby notices the difference. 😉  I’m betting he’ll be perfectly content to eat rye bread that doesn’t smell or look like rye.

So I put the rye flour and the yeast in the mixing bowl first, then added the warm water (just warm tap water is what I used–not hot, but a comfortable temperature to wash your hands), and started the mixer, then added the other ingredients.  One of the tips that Paul Hollywood gives on bread making is that salt can retard the growth of the yeast, so put them on opposite sides of the bowl when you add them.  I dunno…you turn on the mixer and it’s all mixed together an instant later, so I don’t see how that helps.  I waited a couple minutes before adding the salt to give the yeast a chance to activate a bit.  I have no idea if that works better or not.  It says to add 3+ cups of the wheat flour–I ended up adding about an extra half cup so it wouldn’t be stuck to the mixer bowl.  That seemed to be the right amount.

Since it’s winter and the house is only 68 degrees, and I was concerned that the dough wouldn’t rise well, I heated up the oven a little bit (set it to 180 and let it start heating up, putting the metal transfer bowl on the door to warm up a little) then turned the oven off.  I scraped out the dough and dumped it into the bowl, then covered it with a clean tea towel and let it rise.  It was warm, but not hot–I could still easily pick up the bowl without hurting myself.

Here it is, a lump of unrisen dough.

And here is the RISEN dough!  WOOOT!

The next step says to dump it onto a “pizza peel” dusted with cornmeal.  By gosh and by golly, I happened to have one…THIS is a pizza peel!

I had no idea what it was called!  (West coast girl problem?)  I just called it the pizza paddle and I had it hanging on my wall, mostly as decor.  I did use it occasionally to get take and bake pizzas out of the oven.  Mine isn’t nearly this nice…

I don’t think I have any cornmeal.  I probably do, but corn and I have issues getting along, so I pulled out the coarse semolina, which I bought to make Paul’s ciabatta…the next challenge.  I dusted the pizza peel, turned the dough out and shaped it into a loaf.  I probably should have pulled a few more times, but I thought I’d just let it stay full of air…look at the bubbles! (Just don’t look at all the cracks in the peel…it’s been…abused.)

Now wait another 45 minutes….

And it went flat.  🙁

I baked it, hoping it would rise, only to realize later that I should have sliced it to help it rise.  I will have to see if there were other tricks to getting it to rise, like maybe working it a lot more?  I’ll have to watch the episode again.

Took it out, cut it–it’s a smidge under-done.  Buttered it, tasted it…the caraway seeds are really strong.  I think I’d go with 1/4 of that measurement.  If at all.  Maybe I should put in a pinch of rosemary instead?  More experimentation coming soon…

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