Rye Bread

Furious baking is going on in my kitchen since I returned from France. It’s my way of putting down roots. When I’ve cleaned the kitchen and baked some bread, I am home again. I made two loaves of rye bread a week ago which were heavy enough to break skulls, yet chewy in the middle. I had used part rye flour and part spelt, using the recipe below. The flavor was wonderful. It made very nice toast. Once it was sliced up.

Here’s the thing, though. Once you start reading about sourdough bread baking, or any bread baking, in fact, things can get complicate. Temperatures, measurements , the capacity of different types of flour to absorb moisture, varying strengths of gluten, etcetera all make a difference. It seems to become chemistry. But each book has a slightly different take on it. So it isn’t really chemistry.

Dan Lepard, in his book, The Handmade Loaf, departs from the classic kneading for 10 minutes, and instead, suggests flopping the dough around for 10 or 12 seconds and then letting it rest for 15 minute. Repeat this a couple of times, then extend the rest to l/2 hour, then longer. Consequently, you are pretty much tied to your kitchen until the final proofing. This technique means you can have a wetter, softer dough, and so the crust is crustier and the holes are bigger than with the simpler method. There seems to be some agreement that “the wetter the better” applies to the dough, and this technique permits handling it.

  • I bought flour when I was in France, spelt and whole wheat, so then I made a loaf with half of each, using a sourdough recipe I’ve often used, as it is so simple: l cup of starter, 3 cups of flour, and 1 cup of water, plus 2 teaspoons of salt. I also roasted some pine nuts and added them. I now understand why weighing the flour is better than using volume measures – the French flour is much lighter, so the dough was very soft. It flattened during proofing because I haven’t yet found a good way to keep a baguette shaped, short of buying a baguette shaped tin, that is. So the dough spread into a long, flat, bent loaf, but the flavor and consistency was superb.
  • I tackled the rye bread again, this time using the JOY of COOKING recipe, which seemed simpler and less time consuming . It calls for l cup of rye starter, 3.5 cups of rye flour, 3.5 cups of white flour, 2.5
    cups of water, and 4 teaspoons of sea salt. The dough was really sticky, so I added a little more flour. Then it was stiffer, but still sticky, and required all my biceps to manipulate it. I let it rise an hour and a half, as recommended, then shaped it into round loaves by folding it, as I do with wheat flours, and let it rise another hour and a half. They went into an oven pre-heated to 450 degrees F, after a squirt of water on the oven walls to create humidity. Forty five minutes later I took them out looking gorgeous. But they not only split along the major slash I made on top, they split along the bottom edges as well. The loaves also break along my folding lines.

So I went to the big UK bread book, BREAD MATTERS, by Andrew Whitley to find out why loaves split where they shouldn’t. This, apparently, is due to insufficient proofing – I should have let them rise longer. Or it could be the top dried out too much and the skin toughened. Or there was too much moisture. And you can’t shape rye dough the way you can wheat, because it doesn’t spread out. So simpler is NOT necessarily better. Oh well.