In all my years of bread baking I’ve never had much luck with rye. The grain has less gluten than wheat, which makes rye flour very dense, without the elasticity that makes breads rise well. Most rye bread recipes call for a lot of yeast, a mixture of white and rye flours, and very long rising. Even so, the rye loaves I’ve made have been either leaden in texture or so mildly rye flavored that they hardly deserve the name. But I keep hoping, because I do like rye bread.
For my latest attempt, I tried a recipe from Baking with Julia called Eastern European Rye. It has the three characteristics mentioned above: a whopping 2¼ teaspoons of yeast for only 3 cups of flour; equal parts rye and regular bread flour; two risings in the bowl and one as a loaf. But it also has some new-to-me features.
First, ¾ tablespoon of finely ground caraway seeds were to be mixed right into the dough. This was a challenge. I had only whole seeds, which were stubbornly reluctant to grind. A mortar and pestle did nothing at all to them. The mini-food processor only broke them up a bit. Finally I dug out my ancient blender and spun the seeds around in its mini-cup for a long time at the “liquefy” speed. I wouldn’t call the result “finely ground,” but it was what I could achieve, so I went with it. Here are the three strugglers.
OK, on with the show. Once mixed, the dough had to be kneaded twice as long as usual in the Kitchen-Aid with the dough hook. Then it had to be transferred to a big bowl that was painted with melted butter – not something I’d ever heard of. Even the plastic wrap to cover the bowl had to be painted with butter. Given the modest size of my ball of dough, I thought that was unnecessary caution, but the dough rose surprisingly high, both times. This was the liveliest rye dough I’ve ever worked with, and I began to have hopes.
Shaping the loaf was promising too. The dough was supple but not sticky and very easy to work with. The shaping instructions were quite elaborate – designed to produce a big cylindrical loaf with well-rounded ends.
Then came the really weird part: the final rise, which was done this way:
That is my loaf, swathed in a linen cloth and hanging from the spit of my countertop rotisserie. The recipe actually urged me to “Punch a hole in the ends of the towel, slip an S-hook through the hole, and suspend the sling from a cupboard or doorknob.” Not in my kitchen, I won’t! (Parenthetically, it allowed for tying the ends together instead.)
In this ridiculous hammock, the loaf was to rise for only 30 minutes. I doubted it would do much in that little time, but when I unwrapped the sling it had grown into a good-sized blimp. Another good sign, and yet more hope. I tilted the loaf onto a pizza peel, gave it three deep horizontal slashes, painted it with an eggwhite glaze, and slid it onto a baking stone in a 425° oven.
That was when nemesis struck. The bread hardly rose at all in the baking – even with ice cubes thrown into the oven to provide steam and keep the surface soft enough to swell. The slashes had grudgingly opened a bit, but no interior dough came up to fill those deep ravines.
My loaf came out of the oven virtually the same size as it had gone in. And there was that cloven hoof at one end, where the dough had broken open in a place that it shouldn’t have. (BTW, those blotchy white areas are where I’d missed applying the glaze. The difference wasn’t so visible when the bread was raw.) The loaf felt heavy enough to use as a club. The crust was extremely hard. Did I do something wrong? If so I can’t think what. I was deeply disappointed.
But, oddly enough, when the bread was sliced . . .
. . . it tasted very good. Pretty it wasn’t: The longish, flat slices were rugged and chewy. But they had robust rye flavor and a little tang of the caraway, which sang on the palate. We could eat this sturdy, homely bread. And Tom reports that it makes good, if minute, sandwiches.
So while it wasn’t the ideal rye bread of my dreams, it’s one of the better ones I’ve made. I’ll probably try the recipe again one day. Maybe if I shape the loaf into a shorter and fatter cylinder, I’ll get a better rise. Maybe if I make the slashes shallower and widen them a bit before putting the loaf in the oven, they’ll get the idea to open in the heat. Maybe more ice cubes for more steam. Hope springs eternal!