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Practicing the basics: Rye bread

The first time you make rye bread, you discover something mind-blowing: the distinctive aroma and flavor of the bread doesn’t come from rye flour. Instead, it comes from caraway seeds. Open a jar of caraway seeds and take a good sniff; it won’t take more than that to convince you. And in fact the darker color of rye bread doesn’t real come from the rye flour either: it comes from a bit of molasses.

Rye bread is actually a pretty generic kind of bread loaf (and rye flour is less than half of the flour in the recipe). Since rye flour doesn’t generate gluten threads, this dough takes a little extra time and effort to get it to rise correctly. But even that is straightforward.

Since rye bread is supposed to be very flavorful, we want to give it some extra time to rise. We do that in two rises: the first one about 20-30 minutes, and the second one about an hour. We punch down the dough in between so that it doesn’t get over-inflated.

Makes 1 loaf, about 15 slices. Preparation time: two and a half hours.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 cups rye flour (dark or light)
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 2/3 cups water, heated to 110 degrees F
  • 2 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 2 tsp. unsulphured molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg (optional for egg wash)

Mix together the bread flour, rye flour, caraway seeds and salt in a large mixing bowl. Classic baking technique: mix the dry ingredients together, and the wet ingredients together, and then bring the wet and dry together.

Mix together the water, yeast, and molasses until the yeast and molasses are fully dissolved, about 1 minute. Let stand 2-3 minutes to allow the yeast to proof. Stir in the vegetable oil.

By hand: Add the yeast mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until it comes together into a ball of dough. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead until the dough springs back when poked, about 10 minutes. Return the dough to the mixing bowl.

Or using a mixer with a dough hook: Add the yeast mixture to the dry ingredients. Mix on low until it comes together into a ball of dough. Knead on medium-low until the dough springs back when poked, about 10 minutes.

Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough sit for 20-30 minutes. This is the first rise for the dough. More time rising means more flavor development, but we don’t want to over-rise the bread because it won’t be able to sustain its shape if it grows more than approximately double. So we buy extra time by doing a first rise, punching it down, and then doing a second rise up to the appropriate size.

Remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a floured surface. Roll it out into a rectangle about 12 inches wide and 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick. Roll up the dough into a 12″ long cylinder. Pinch the seam closed, and pinch and shape the two ends. This step is how we deal with the fact that the dough has less gluten because we are using rye flour. Rolling out the dough flat then rolling it up into a cylinder gives it extra strength to maintain its shape as it rises. Otherwise it will tend to grow sideways, not up, and you will end up with a wide, flat loaf. This is a general technique you can use with any loaf of bread, particularly if you’re having trouble with the way it rises.

Place the dough on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, seam down. Spray the top of the dough with nonstick spray and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise until doubled in size, about 60-90 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Remove plastic wrap.

(Optional) Crack egg into a small bowl and beat for 1 minute. Lightly brush top of dough with egg. This is called an “egg wash.” It makes the crust darker and shiny. It’s completely optional.

Make diagonal slashes across the top of the dough, 2 inches apart. This helps the dough expand in the oven as it heats.

Place sheet pan with dough in oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until a thermometer reads 200 degrees F in the center.

Remove from oven and allow bread to cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.