A few days ago the New York Times published an interesting article on rye by food writer Julia Moskin (Rye, a Grain With Ancient Roots, Is Rising Again.) Having been a huge fan of rye bread ever since I first set foot in Denmark ages ago (see Hanne Risgaard’s Real Rye Bread and Chad Robertson’s Danish Rye Bread) I decided to try my hand at the first of the two recipes posted with the article, Nordic Whole-Grain Rye Bread. Long story short: I ended up making it twice because the first try was a flop.
- The first time I made the bread, I used the buttermilk starter called for in the recipe (buttermilk, rye flour, water and yeast) instead of my regular rye starter (which contains only rye flour and water);
- For both Take One and Take Two, I used my KitchenAid mixer to mix the dough (or rather, the batter);
- Having baked for many years, I know hydration is never a precise thing, particularly when whole-grains are involved. Dough consistency is key and the best way to learn is through trial and error. To help the would-be rye baker along, Julia Moskin says: “When a walnut-size piece of dough smeared on the rim of the bowl slides slowly and smoothly down the inside, like a snail leaving a trail, it is wet enough.” Well, I did get a slimy slide (honestly, Julia! I wish you had thought of another image) but following the snail trail didn’t pay off for me.
Compared to the crumb shot posted with the article, the kindest thing that can be said about the crumb I got on my first try (Take One) is that it looked like mush in a crust. It was seriously damp. Edible when toasted. If you like toasted porridge. Which I found out I do. Especially when spread with orange marmalade. But still not the crumb I had been shooting for. I cut up the loaf in small pieces, ran it through the food processor, then the dehydrator and now I have a full bag of very tasty (and very rustic) rye crumbs.
The good news is that the taste was excellent. No trace of sourness and a depth of flavor that feels deeply Nordic indeed even if a bit milder than the rugbrød I remember from those long ago summers spent in Denmark. Thus Take One definitely called for a Take Two. But I needed help figuring out what to do differently.
Having recently bought The Rye Baker, a remarkably informative (and beautifully photographed) book by Stanley Ginsberg (whom I am following on Instagram,) I asked Stan (@theryebaker) for help. He kindly wrote back, recommending lowering the hydration and increasing the baking temperatures.
Normally I wouldn’t post about a work in progress but after seeing the crumb shots on Instagram, friends have written asking for the changes I made to the recipe to get to Take Two. So here they are:
- I switched from a buttermilk sponge to a close to 80%-hydration rye starter consisting of sour culture, water and freshly milled rye flour. If you’d rather stick to the buttermilk sponge, Stan Ginsberg recommends using 200 g of buttermilk (instead of 85 g) for an 80% hydration;
- I used freshly milled whole-grain rye flour throughout (from starter to final dough);
- I went for 85% hydration in the final dough;
- I adjusted the baking as Stan suggested, pre-heating the oven to 450°F, reducing the heat to 360° F after 10 minutes and baking the bread to an internal temperature of 210°F (my oven is on the hot side, Stan had suggested 200°F;)
- Also, as I love a crusty rye bread, once the loaf was done, I took it out of the pan and put it back in the oven (which was off but still hot) for ten minutes (with door held ajar by a wooden spoon) so that it would dry up on all sides.
Take Two turned out much better than Take One. Still there is a residual line of gumminess at the bottom (as you can see on the crumb shot at the top of this post) and I would like to get rid of it. But the crust is stupendous and I love the taste.
Which means there are at least two other Takes for this bread on my baking horizon:
- One where I will go as low as Stan Ginsberg suggested for the hydration: 80% for the starter but only 75% for the final dough (that will be Take Three)
- Another one (Take Four) where I’ll follow the same formula but will do as another SHB Instagram friend (thank you, @flute_reed_ovens) suggested: that is starting the bake in a covered Pullman (or in a pan covered with heavy foil) at 500°F for about 15 min, then dropping the temperature to 400°F for 15 minutes, uncovering the bread and dropping the temperature further to 325°F for about another 45.
It won’t be right away since we still have a fair amount of the bread left. But soon! Stay tuned.
Meanwhile here is the formula for Take Two (amended as I had forgotten the water in the soaker as a friend kindly pointed out):