This time around the first bread on the agenda is likely to be Hanne Risgaard's Real Rye Bread. There is something profoundly honest and straightforward about this bread. It isn't fancy and some may not consider it elegant (although I would argue the point.) But it does deliver in terms of taste, consistency, shelf life and versatility. Besides I find it deeply comforting as it brings back memories of light-filled summers spent in Denmark with beloved family members.
I have made it several times already, sometimes with my own rye starter, sometimes with the rye yogurt starter indicated in the book. I like both versions. For most people the yogurt starter is probably the easier way to go as you don't have to have a pre-existing starter on hand to try the bread (see below for the starter recipe).
You will find the real rye bread recipe on page 133 of Hanne Risgaard's gorgeous book, Home Baked: Nordic Recipes and Techniques for Organic Bread and Pastry. You will also find it a beautiful rendition of it online (with a list of ingredients and detailed instructions) at My Italian Smörgåsbord.
The ingredients listed make for a huge loaf (or two smaller ones). I don't find it to be a problem: it is a lovely bread to share, it freezes beautifully and, thinly sliced and dried out, either in a dehydrator or in an oven set at a low temperature, it makes lovely crisps which keep for months in an airtight container. Those crisps are the perfect foil for sardines, smoked salmon, pungent cheeses, etc. They are also handy and healthful in case of a snack attack!
Once I knew we both liked the bread and I was going to make it over and over, I started looking for a gallon-size pan (that's where the elegance comes in: I just love the sleek look of the loaf Hanne chose to illustrate her recipe). Thanks to my friend Larry Lowary who is an invaluable source of tips and advice, I found here a pan almost identical to the ones used in Denmark (except that the sides are not straight but slightly slanted). The price was right (I didn't get the lid which I didn't need) and I bought it. I have had no reason to regret it (my only advice would be to slightly grease the pan before placing the dough in it. The first couple of times the bread slid out like a breeze but with each later use the pan became a little bit more reluctant to let go).
Hanne says to leave the dough to ferment at room temperature for 24 hours before baking. I don't know how cold it is in Denmark where she bakes but here in the Pacific Northwest where the temperature inside our house usually hovers around 65°F/18°C, I have found six to ten hours to be enough. I tried letting it go twenty-four hours once just to see what happened and it was not a success. Which reminded me of the golden rule: rye doesn't like to wait!
So instead of following Hanne's proofing time suggestions, I heed her practical advice: bake the loaf when the dough almost reaches the top of the pan.
The photography is gorgeous however and guaranteed to make you want to start baking on the spot (which is maybe the reason why Hanne's real rye bread may be the one to finally pull me out of my baking funk).
The rye yogurt starter is fairly simple to make.
Ingredients (for 400 g mature starter, total)
- 150 g water
- 150 g organic plain yogurt
- 200 g whole rye flour
- 150 g water
- 200 g whole rye flour
- To start: mix all starter ingredients thoroughly and keep, tightly covered, in a warm place for 24 hours (Hanne recommends 86°F/30°C)
- Feeding: After 24 hours, add water and flour, mix thoroughly and keep, tightly covered, in a warm place for another 24 hours