Today, 7 February 2021, sees the start of the Roman festival of Fornacalia, namesake of this website. Curio maximus Farrell Monaco (or should that be Curia maxima?) decreed it so, as is her right. She suggested we bake Bread for the Gods: Mola Salsa; I am not ready for that and so, once again, I baked a very un-Roman bread. I’m sure the Romans knew of rye, but I don’t think they baked with it. Caraway they knew, sunflower seeds absolutely not. Anyway …

This is now the third time I have baked David Kaminer’s 100% rye sourdough. The recipe seems complicated at first glance, but it really isn’t, and I am sharing it here (finally) only because I have successfully reduced the quantities to make two good-sized loaves (about 2.1 kg of dough) and need to have a reference for myself. It takes a while, but very little of that requires any activity. Ideally, if you start to build the leaven on the morning of day one, you will have bread to eat on the morning of day three.

Slices of rye bread with sunflower seeds

It goes roughly like this:

  • Day one, morning, first build of leaven

  • Day one, late afternoon, second build of leaven

  • Day one, late afternoon, make soaker

  • Day two, morning, mix final dough

  • Day two, 3–4 hours later, bake

  • Day two, allow to cool completely and “settle”

  • Day three, you may now eat your bread

Leaven

  • 675 gm at 100% hydration

I build the leaven in two stages. It really does not matter what kind of starter you start with. I generally use my 75% hydration wholemeal starter, but given that it makes up only about 2% of the leaven, it makes no difference.

  • 15 gm starter
  • 30 gm whole rye flour
  • 30 gm water

Mix up the first build of the leaven and leave to double or more in volume. Mine usually takes about 6 hours to do so.

  • 75 gm leaven
  • 300 gm whole rye flour
  • 300 gm water

About 4–5 hours before bed time, build the leaven again. It wants some time at room temperature before you put it into the fridge to continue fermenting overnight.

Soaker

  • 140 gm whole rye flour
  • 140 gm toasted sunflower seeds
  • 9 gm caraway seeds
  • 20 gm salt
  • 145 gm water
  • 70 gm old bread

I usually make the soaker immediately after the second build of the leaven and, as per David Kaminer’s tip, I make it in the final mixing bowl, because cleaning.

The only tricky part is the old bread. If this is your first time, you might not have any. That doesn’t matter, just leave it out, but try to save 3 or 4 slices from this bake for the next time you want to make this recipe, which you will. It adds a lot of depth. David is suitably vague about the amount of old bread, but I have found that 70 gm of dry bread is good for me. At the very start of the process I put it into a jug of water to absorb all the water it can.

Toast the sunflower seeds, either in a big skillet or under a grill, until you get a good whiff of that nutty aroma. Mix with the flour and salt. Add the old bread, squeezed, but not too much, and broken up as best as you can. Then add the water and stir everything to combine well. Cover and leave to stand overnight.

Final dough

Mis en place for final dough mixing

  • 675 gm leaven
  • 525 gm soaker (approx.)
  • 450 gm whole rye flour
  • 470 gm hot water (40°C)
  • Loaf tins

Before you begin, prepare your loaf tins. Mine are quite small in cross-section, and I keep meaning to invest in some larger ones, but thanks to Brexit I can’t get the ones I should have got last year. No matter. Although the tins are supposedly non-stick, a decent coating of oil helps a lot.

Remove the leaven from the fridge and add it to the soaker in the bowl. Add the rye flour and the hot water. (I have a kettle that tells me the temperature of the water, so I set it to boil and remove it when it hits the mark.) Measure the water and pour it into the bowl. Now things get sensuous.

Keeping one hand clean and a scraper handy, squidge the dough through the fingers of your other hand. The video here shows exactly what I mean. You cannot knead this dough, but you do need to ensure that it is very well mixed. It feels somewhat strange at first because the water is hot and the leaven is cold and you move from one to other in unexpected ways. Soon, though, the whole thing is of an even consistency and temperature.

Scrape your hand clean and then persuade the dough into the tins. I like to use a scale to ensure that the tins contain the same amount of dough. With wet fingers, pat the dough down to level it in the tin. Now sift a little rye flour over the top of the dough, aiming for a light and even covering.

Put the tins somewhere warm to rise. They are ready when you can see nice cracks opened up in the rye flour, but in truth in my tins the dough only rises about 1 cm, if that.

Preheat the oven as hot as it will go, starting roughly when you notice the first small cracks in the rye flour. The loaves will be ready to bake 45 minutes or so later.

Bake at about 245°C for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to about 205°C for another 60–70 minutes. Remove the tins from the oven and allow to cool for about five minutes before extracting the loaves and then allowing them to cool on a rack for at least 18 hours. Most bread, and especially rye bread, is a lot tastier after it has been allowed to cool properly, and rye needs a good long while to become soft and moist rather than gummy.

At some point before you finish the loaf, cut three or four slices and allow them to dry before putting them somewhere safe, so that next time you can add the old bread as you should.

Many of the online food events that have sprung up during the pandemic take place at times that are not ideal for me. An honourable exception is the classes from the Colorado Grain Chain, which generally take place on a Wednesday morning, Mountain Time, an excellent early evening for me. In addition to Julie Zavage’s introduction to the role of rye in a mixed farm. the most recent class featured David Kaminer’s Rye Bread. It was, literally, an inspiration.

Continue reading

Earlier this week something about Stanley Ginsberg’s version of a rye from the Lithuanian resort of Palanga seemed to call to me. Maybe it was his summary description:

This is an exceedingly versatile bread that will go with pretty much anything savory: my own preference is for what I call “Baltic sushi” – a slab of lightly buttered rye, topped with herring and sliced red onion.

Or maybe it was because although the process looked complicated, I could see that it would result in a relatively easy-to-handle dough, which would make a nice change. Either way, it seemed worth a shot. My only misgiving was that my rye flour is wholemeal, rather than the light rye that the official recipe wants. ((The flour is Italian and stone-ground, from Viva, and I love it. It has a Falling Number of 220 sec, according to the website, which is pretty good.))

Anyway, I decided to give it a go, ((As usual, when I am strictly following someone else’s recipe I don’t give details here. Better you go to the original and grant the author the traffic.)) starting on Wednesday night, feeding my 100% hydration wheat leaven with rye to create the rye sour that the recipe needs to begin. ((Not sure how sour it is. Not very. I think it’s just a matter of terminology.)) The main lesson here was a vivid demonstration of how much livelier a rye leaven is than a wheat leaven. The rye roughly tripled, while the wheat barely doubled.

As a result, I was ready to begin the recipe proper, on Thursday morning, with the natural rye sponge. Five grams of starter seems far too little, but it did its job, and of course one of the fine side-effects of too much starter is a pancake for lunch.

In the afternoon of the first day, you make the scald. Mixing rye flour with hot, even boiling, water, is a standard technique for releasing some of the sugars. (See Black Pepper Rye.) In Ginsberg’s recipe, the water is at 65°C rather than boiling, and one is supposed to keep the scald at that temperature for three hours. I quickly discovered that even on the lowest setting, my oven was hotter than that, but making use of the thermal capacity of the baking stone and checking every half hour or so I was able to be a human thermostat and keep things at around that level. One more misgiving; only 2 gm of caraway seeds?

As forecast, the scald became quite liquid during that time, and developed a delicious, somewhat sweet, somewhat earthy aroma. After cooling the scald for an hour, I dumped the now well-risen sour onto it and mixed with my strongest spoon. Ginsberg says this is called an opara. Next morning, having been covered and left overnight, it had bulked up quite a bit and now smelled beery (malty?) rather than earthy.

Early on Friday, while the morning cuppa was brewing, I threw together the final component, a yeasted rye sponge, so that it would be ready at about the same time as the opara.

Came the moment to mix the final dough, which now gained 100 gm of bread flour, a fraction over 10% of the total flour. It all came together beautifully and despite being tacky in the way that rye doughs always are was not difficult to knead. In the end I stirred for about three minutes to get the wheat flour in, another three to get the rye in and a final three minutes kneading the whole.

In a clean bowl, it had risen to double within an hour. I pre-heated the oven and shaped a boule, leaving it to rise again on the peel. After a bit more than an hour, I judged it had expanded enough to go into the oven, and discovered that my water sprayer was clogged. Rome water is so hard. I quickly flicked water over the suface as best as I could and slid the loaf onto the stone.

When I opened the oven door half an hour later the most wonderful deep rye aroma filled the kitchen, all sense of beeriness gone, just that nutty, slightly bitter, very grainy smell. Half an hour after that, I pulled out the loaf and brushed the surface with boiling water. This is new to me, though like the scald common with proper rye loaves, and it was fun to see clouds of steam arising from the loaf, which turned a darker, shinier brown. Not quite a horse chestnut, but getting there.

Palanga rye bread, the morning after baking.

Fine-looking slices, ready for their filling.

Next morning we had a trip planned to the thermal baths, and a sandwich lunch was definitely in order. The loaf sliced quite easily and the crumb was even, soft and moist. All we did for the sandwiches was pile on some mortadella, and the general consensus was that this was most definitely a bread to reckon with. It is chewy, but not tough, and even the tiny amount of caraway comes through, suffusing the taste. The sweetness makes itself apparent later and is a good contrast as it mingles with the earlier flavours of the rye. A definite keeper, this.

I thank the steam from the baths for the dreamy look, which perfectly suited the occasion.

This recipe from master rye baker Stanley Ginsberg sounds really delicious and makes me want to try it. Only problem is that I don’t have any rye malt, and I’m not inclined to make or buy some just for this. I wonder whether the malt powder I do have, which I think must be wheat, will do? Only one way to find out …

Dark sour rye

There’s been nothing wrong with my bread lately. Far from it, all has been going swimmingly, which is why I’ve had nothing to share here. Who wants to read “another fantastic loaf” every week? But I have also been looking for a challenge, and an online recipe from a site new to me – aortafood – offered the challenge I was looking for: an almost 100% rye sourdough. ((2019-07-31: The site, alas, seems to have died. But it lives on in the Internet Archive, our own bit of heaven.))

Kasper Fogh, the editor of Aorta, says that this bread:

takes a bit of time and dedication in the beginning, but once you’re hooked, you’re most likely going to keep baking.

Continue reading