Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Of bread and herons

I baked Hanne Risgaard's Real Rye Bread the other day and it seems to have come out fine although it didn't rise as high as it normally does. But it might have been because I had digressed from my baking routine. As usual I had soaked the cracked rye overnight and done all the mise en place (gotten everything scaled and prepped and at room temperature) the night before. I had mixed the dough in the morning around 10 and transfered it to the oiled pan but - and that isn't something we normally do when I start on a bread - we decided on the spur of the moment to go to Ikea on an errand we had been postponing for a while. Ikea isn't exactly next door. What to do? I weighed the pros and cons and projecting that the dough would have risen nicely by the time we came back, I determined that everything should and would be fine.
But just as we were leaving, I got spooked. With my mind's eyes, I saw the neglected dough climb over the edge of the pan, slither under the clear plastic film, crawl down the door of the cabinet to pool on the floor in a puddle that would morph from gooey-sticky to rock-hard by the time we got back. So I put the pan in the garage (where the temperature must have been around 50°F/10°C). That probably scared the dough out of its wits because when we came back five or six hours later (we got stuck in traffic), it hadn't moved at all. Not even a shiver...
It must have been about 5 PM when I brought it inside where the temperature was 65°F/18°C. Five hours or six later it still hadn't moved. At all. It looked petrified. I went to bed with a heavy heart. For a first foray back into baking in more than two months, it didn't look encouraging and I wasn't sure overnight proofing would help since we keep the thermostate on low during the night.
But, lo and behold, in the morning the dough had changed color: no longer grayish, it seemed to glow with the bloom of life and it had started to dome a bit in the middle. This time I watched it like a hawk. And watched. And watched. It took its own sweet time. At about 4 PM, when it looked like it wouldn't rise much further than up to 3/4 inch from the top, I pre-heated the oven and waited some more. Talk about a balancing act between hoping for a higher rise and making sure it didn't overproof.
At the time of this writing, I haven't sliced it open yet (it is best to wait at least 24 hours and preferably 48 to 72 before slicing into a fresh loaf of whole grain bread). Whole grain breads need to settle: they taste better when they dry out a bit. It makes sense, right? Moisture evaporates and flavor concentrates. With a bit of luck, the crumb will be okay... I wish I had taken pictures all along but I wasn't planning to blog this bread and also what's so exciting about a dough that plays dead for hours on end?

Four days after the bake
Not the prettiest crumb ever (see the lower part of the loaf which looks a bit dense and gummy) but not the worst either.
Moral of the story #1: rye dough can and will trick you. This one looked as lifeless as the mummified heron our two-year old golden retriever dragged in from the marshes and dropped proudly at my feet one winter, the very same day she fell through the ice and we thought she was a goner. It was her first visit to our little camp by the St-Lawrence River. We had adopted her a week earlier. She fought her way back onto the ice, shook herself and was as good as new, white teeth flashing in a wide smile and dripping tail wagging. The heron got flung back into the marshes when she wasn't looking.
The dough was so inert that I almost chucked it out too. The only thing that stopped me is the thought that waiting till morning would save me having to wash the pan before going to bed. Also that I really, really craved some naturally leavened whole rye bread. And finally that I knew we would soon be seeing our Danish cousins who live in Vancouver, BC, and that I wanted to bring them a little taste of home, however elusive the similarity of this bread with their native rugbrød.
Moral of the story # 2: any resemblance of unproofed rye dough to a wizened heron is entirely fortuitous and best taken with a grain of salt.

15 comments:

  1. MC I was considering trying my hand at this recipe. I love rye bread, since I have a German mother. Is this something an amateur can try and if so, any tips as to how to approach it? Do I need a starter?

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    1. Hi Graham, I would be tempted to say an amateur can try it because if you follow the author's recipe to the letter, it seems pretty much foolproof and there is no shaping or anything (always tricky with rye as it makes for a very sticky dough) but (there is always a "but", right?) it presupposes the use of a powerful mixer such as a Kitchen Aid (I wouldn't attempt to mix this dough by hand) and depending on the temperature in your house, proofing time is a bit unpredictable to say the least. The best indication is to wait until the dough has risen almost to the top of the pan but if you have to stick it in the fridge overnight to achieve that result, you may also get a loaf that's sourer than you like. I know I tried once and really didn't like the taste that much. So now I always shoot (normally) for a rise that lasts the whole day and an end o the day bake (of course last time I had to leave it at room temp overnight as described in the post but I was lucky it didn't overproof. The reason is probably that my house is cold at night). You may want to try and get the book through your library and read what the author has to say...
      And yes, you do need a starter. But the instructions she gives for the yogurt starter (I posted them in my original post on the bread) are very simple and basically enables anybody with access to rye flour and yogurt to create a rye starter in less than 48 hours. I have tried the bread both with the yogurt rye starter and with my own rye starter and found both to be equally good.
      Please keep me posted as to your rye adventures! If you proceed, I would like to know how it turns out.

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    2. Alternatives for Barley Malt syrup...molasses? Or can I use the powdered dry malt and make up a syrup? Thanks

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    3. Starter is into it's second day. Just realised my wife bought rye flakes instead of grains. Emergency trip in the morning to get some! Hopefully baking by tomorrow night.

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    4. In the oven...wish me luck. Should have the full story and photos in 24 hours!

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    5. Beautiful aromas permeate the kitchen, but I can't slice for 24 hours...

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  2. Love the last picture where you see the open crumb. And loved the story. So comforting too read that I am not the only fool who gets a heavy heart when a dough does not rise. And you described so well the tearing wait of the passionate baker. Hope your cousins will be able to sample this lovely loaf.

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  3. This looks so yummy! But like Mr Graham said any tips? This will be my first time baking rye bread. MC if possible I would love to know the recipe for Croissants my family loves them. Thank you MC hugs from Chicago E.B

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    1. Hello E.B. I just posted my reply to Graham. Maybe you want to take a look? As to croissants, unfortunately I have never made any (we love them too but we have to watch our butter consumption). I am sure you can find plenty of recipes if you google "croissants". Otherwise there is that book How to bake bread by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou that I like to recommend to apprentice bakers because it contains many recipes that are quite manageable and it does have a croissant recipe, pp. 136-139. The end product looks yummy but it seems like a lot of work! Please let me know if you try it...

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  4. Thank you so much MC I will keep you updated at hows my baking going! Hugs! :) EB

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  5. I sent you pictures of my success to your email. I only waited 24 hours after baking to eat my first loaf and it was a bit moist (but oh so delicious), so I will leave my second loaf for another 48 hours. Thank you

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  6. For all you new bakers out there, here is my first attempt at the wonderful Hanna Risgaard's rye that MC posted on just recently. Short of a bread machine I've never hand made bread before. If you love a dark rich rye this is beautiful.

    https://picasaweb.google.com/104728480542043830978/Bread?authkey=Gv1sRgCIrDivS85reu-wE&noredirect=1#

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    1. Wow, Graham! This is one gorgeous loaf. Congratulations and thank you for posting the pictures. I am so glad you are enjoying your first handmade bread. Are you planning to move on to baking with other grains at some point or are you strictly a rye guy? Just asking!

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  7. Thanks MC your words are kind. My family has a preference for something a little less dense and dark, so I will move that way soon. Can I re-use my rye starter as a base for something lighter?

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    1. You probably can. What you could do is take 30 g of your rye starter and start feeding it 100 g unbleached all-purpose flour and 100 g water once a day for a couple of days, keeping it at room temp and see what you get. If you like the taste and smell, you'll be in business. I have never done it from rye to wheat but I did it several times from wheat to rye and it worked just fine. Please keep me informed of your bread adventures! This is exciting...

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