Nothing Wry about Rye

Somewhere, hidden deep within the keepsakes of my childhood is a small journal that is witness to my first foodie declaration. It reads something like this:

my favorite foods are rye bread and sherbert.

I confess that I still love both (although I am likely to use the more grown-up sherbet or more exotic sorbet and sorbetto).

The problem with my love for rye bread in particular is that I demand, like Goldilocks and her breakfast-of-choice, that it be just right. Too often store-bought varieties taste, well, like store-bought bread. I like rye bread with a rich caraway tang that, served with poached eggs for breakfast, lingers in your memory as the only way to begin the day.

In another life, my rye bread fantasies were easily fulfilled by a quick jaunt to a local bakery for a loaf of fresh caraway-rye.

In Corner Brook, however, I’m left wanting. So, when I came across a recipe for Deli-style rye bread I nearly died and went to bakery heaven. It’s the perfect way to fill your home and your belly with a truly wonder-ful bread.

Although the process takes most of the day (8 hours or so all told), you’re really only in the kitchen for an hour or so, which means you can run errands, work-out, take a walk, or have friends over while the bread does its magic.

And it really is a magical process. You see, these simple ingredients:

somehow lead to this:

And here’s how (recipe loosely adapted from the Smitten Kitchen):

1. Make a sponge:


1 plus 1/8 teaspoon traditional yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons (0.6 ounces, 18.7 grams) sugar
1 1/2 cups (12.5 ounces, 354 grams) water, at room temperature

Let this foam for 5-10 minutes until it looks something like this:

Then combine:

3/4 cup (4 ounces, 117 grams) bread flour (I use whole-wheat)
3/4 cup (3.3 ounces, 95 grams) rye flour (you can find rye flour in Corner Brook at More for Less or Coleman’s)
1/2 tablespoon (10.5grams) barley malt syrup (which you can also find at More for Less, you can also substitute honey)

Add the foaming yeast, and whisk this mixture until smooth. You want to whisk it well to incorporate air and yield a thick batter. Set the mixture aside.

2. Add Some Alchemy: In a separate large bowl, whisk together

2 1/4 cups (12.5 ounces, 351 grams) bread flour
2 tablespoons (0.5 ounces, 14 grams) caraway seeds (if you have a spice mill, you can also grind these to avoid the long seeds. I myself prefer their crunch)
1/2 tablespoon (0.3 ounces, 10.5 grams) coarse salt

Scoop tablespoons of this mixture over the sponge to cover it completely.

Alchemy: Two Bubbling Sponges

This is where the magic happens:  Cover the sponge with plastic wrap and a tea-towel for 1-4 hours so that the sponge can bubble up through the flour mixture.

3. Mix the dough – Getting Down and Dirty

Add 1/2 Tablespoon of olive oil to the new mixture, and, using your hands, stir until the flour is moistened, scraping up the bits on the sides of the bowl as you go. Your fingers  may be covered in the dough’s sticky-sponge-goo at this point, but just work the dough in the bowl until it comes together, and most of the goo will magically come off. If you prefer to keep your hands clean, use a wooden spoon to bring the mixture together.

Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured counter and knead it for about 5 minutes. (My Grandmother’s Hint: if you lose track of the time, just knead it for 5 extra minutes. You can never over-knead dough by hand).

If the dough is still sticky at this point, cover it with an inverted bowl and wait for 20 minutes.Knead the dough for another 5 to 10 minutes or until it is as smooth as a baby’s bottom – or, at least elastic and no longer sticky.

4. Rise and Shine: Using the same bowl, scrape out any remaining bits, and lightly grease the bottom of the bowl with olive oil. Then oil the top of the dough, and cover with plastic wrap and a tea-towel.

Let the dough rise until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Gently turn the dough onto a floured surface, and shape it into a square-ish ball, something like this:

and allow it to rise a second time (again, covered with plastic wrap and a tea-towel) for about 45 minutes.

Turn the dough onto your floured counter again. Gently round it into a ball and set it on a cornmeal sprinkled baking sheet. Let it rise one last time until the dough is doubled in size again, about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Gently press a finger into the dough, if the dough slowly rises back up it’s ready.

5. Preheat for Delicious Eats: Preheat the oven to 450°F as early as possible. The oven needs to very hot so that you can best mimic a baker’s oven. I usually heat the oven after the final rise, so that it heats up for about an hour. Place a baking sheet on the middle rack to heat up as well. (Some suggest placing a cast-iron skillet on the bottom of the oven as the oven pre-heats, and then baking your bread directly on the skillet –moving the skillet to the middle oven rack for baking. I have yet to try it.)

6. The Final Touches: Slash the top of the dough with a really sharp knife or razor blade. Mist the dough with water and gently set the baking sheet on the hot baking sheet in the oven. To get a crispy, deli-like crust, I also place a second pan on the lowest oven rack, and throw in a few ice cubes at this point. The steam creates the perfect crust, just remember to close the oven door quickly after you add the ice cubes.

Bake for 15 minutes at 450°F, then lower the temperature to 400°F for 30 to 40 minutes. The bread is perfect when the crust is golden brown, and when a  thermometer inserted into the center reads 190°F.

Cool the bread on a wire rack. Add poached eggs, marmalade, or some Montreal smoked meat and enjoy!


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