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.

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Little loaves sliced to show open crumb structure.

My recipe folder is extremely messy. Scraps of paper of all different sizes, some scribbled, some printed, some ripped from newspapers. Truth is, I don’t go to it that often, but when I do it takes far too long to find things than it ought. The upside of that is that sometimes I unearth interesting things that I am not looking for. So it was a couple of weeks ago, when I surfaced a bread recipe from 2007 that I had apparently printed off in 2011. (So glad to be able to report, it is still there: Rustic Flax Seed-Currant Bread – Wild Yeast). For some reason, last week it called out to me.

The finished product is a lot like a ciabatta, and it uses the same double hydration technique to get there. First, you hold back some of the water and knead the dough to a reasonable state of gluten development, about nine minutes in my case. Then you add the remaining water and patiently work to get it all incorporated into the dough. It’s a very handy technique for any highly hydrated dough.

So, here’s my version of Susan’s Rustic Flax Seed-Currant Bread.

Ingredients

420 gm ripe starter at 100%.

105 gm golden flax seeds
155 gm water

All of the starter
600 gm water
21 gm salt
4 gm instant yeast
730 gm white bread flour
85 gm wholewheat flour
45 gm whole rye flour
All of the flax seeds and their gel
130 gm dried currants

Method

Susan uses yeast in both the starter (a poolish) and the final dough. I wanted to use a leaven so built up my 100% starter with Manitoba flour. I was a bit constrained for time, so I did use yeast for the final dough. When I do this again, which I will, I may try sourdough starter all the way.

Soak the flax seeds at least two hours before you plan to start.

Put the starter in a bowl with 480 gm of the water, all of the flours, the yeast and the salt. Susan used a stand mixer at low speed for 10 minutes. I should be so lucky. I kneaded, hard, for a little more than 9 minutes. Maybe could have done with five minutes more.

The dough then goes back into the bowl and is worked with the remaining 120 gm water, a little at a time, to get all the water into the dough, which will feel very soft and stretchy. This part needs only patience and confidence. It will come together. Once all the water has been absorbed, add the currants and the flax seeds, along with their soaking gel. Mix again, in the bowl, stretching and folding until the additions are evenly distributed through the dough.

Bulk ferment for about 1½ hours, then turn the dough out onto a well-floured counter and do one or two sets of letter folds. Return the dough to the bowl and bulk ferment for another hour.

Dough stretched out on the counter

Again, turn the dough out onto a well-floured counter and stretch it gently into a rectangle about 2 cm tall, trying not to degas it too much. With a dough scraper, cut the dough into manageable pieces, transferring each one to a floured couche, without flipping them over. Gently does it. Cover the whole couche with a damp cloth or plastic, supported so as not to weigh on the little loaves.

Proof for about an hour, during which time the loaves will puff up and bubble.

Loaves after proofing, sprinkled with a little flour

In good time, preheat the oven to 230°C and prepare to steam. A baking stone is a good idea.

When the loaves have risen, prepare a piece of baking parchment the size of your stone, if you have one, or line a baking tray. Lightly sprinkle the loaves with flour and flip them onto the parchment, so the heavily floured side is now uppermost. No need to score.

Slide the parchment onto the stone and bake for 8 minutes with steam. Remove the steam tray and bake another 27 minutes without steam. Crack the oven door open for the final 5 minutes. Susan says to turn the oven off and leave the loaves in, with the door still ajar, for a further five minutes, but I had a second batch to bake so didn’t bother. They seemed fine.

Baked loaves on parchment coming out of the oven

Rest the golden loaves on a wire rack and try to wait until they are properly cool before ripping one open to eat. The sweetish currants make a great foil for the crunch of the flax seeds and the wheatiness of the crumb. A definite winner.

I have not made pizza since moving to Rome a long time ago. Well, why would I? With all the pizza places shut, however, there’s only one way to get a pizza. Make it.

In this I was inspired largely by my friend Dan’s family-friendly pizza, adapted to my own preferences. The first of those is to use one of my standard leavens. I chose the wholemeal one, because it offers an easy way to have one-third of the flour be wholemeal.

Friday evening, 10:00 pm, I fed the starter with 75 g wholemeal and 100 g water.

I reckoned I would need 600g of dough for my tray, which is about 28 x 40 cm, at 70% hydration. So:

  • 355 g flour
  • 245 g water
  • 7g salt, and
  • 20 g olive oil.

Dan uses one third each of strong flour, all-purpose flour and light spelt. My wholemeal is pretty strong, so I went for 100 g each of wholemeal (in the leaven) and strong flour and 155 g of all purpose.

Saturday morning, 11:45 am, I removed some starter for next time and mixed the leaven up with the remaining water (170 g) and 100 g of all purpose flour to make a sponge, which I covered with a plate and left on the counter to do its thing for about 4 hours.

Saturday afternoon, 3:30 pm, with the sponge bubbling a bit, I poured about 20 g of olive oil on top and mixed it in with a spoon.

Pizza dough leaven with swirl of olive oil

Add the rest of the flours and the salt and stir roughly about until you can tip it out onto the counter. I shove it around with the heel of my palm to bring it all together then scoop it up with a scraper and dump it back in the bowl.

At 10 minute intervals, I tip the dough out onto the counter, give it five or six quick kneads and return it to the bowl. Do that three times, after 10, 20 and 30 minutes. Then leave the dough to bulk ferment. I like to do some stretch and folds each hour thereafter, with coil folds to finish the second and third sets.

Saturday evening, 7:15 pm, and it’s almost time to eat, so I fire up the oven to max. I think it reaches 240°C. Who knows? Dan rolls his dough, but he knows what he’s doing. I prefer to stretch by hand, tackling it over three or four sessions to allow the dough to relax a bit between each stretch. Manual stretch also allows me to make the crusts a little bit thicker.

After the first stretch, I start the sauce. Half an onion and a clove of garlic, thinly sliced, sprinkled with a pinch of salt and sweated gently in a little olive oil for about 5 minutes. Then I add a good grinding of hot pepper flakes, a can of peeled tomato bits and a good teaspoon of dried oregano. Bring to the boil and then turn the heat down low.

Time to stretch the dough out again.

While it is relaxing again, and the sauce is simmering, I slice the fresh tomatoes and the mozzarella. Then a final stretch of the dough, this time into the pan. It has a slight lip, which is great because if necessary you can flip a bit of the dough over the edge to stop it stretching back.

The sauce comes off the heat and gets whizzed with an immersion blender. By now the oven has been preheating for about 40 minutes and is plenty hot enough. So I construct the pizza, trying to spread the sauce evenly but not too deeply and then arranging mozzarella and tomato slices on top. Although we had no basil, we did have a bit of fresh marjoram, so a few leaves went on too. Then some black pepper and a quick spurt of oil and into the oven.

Assembled raw pizza with mozzarella and fresh tomato on a tomato sauce base

About to go into the oven

Pizza with mozzarella and fresh tomato on a tomato sauce base

Straight out of the oven

I rotate the pizza through 180° after about 9 minutes, and take it out after 15 minutes. Scissors, I’ve learned, are far and away the easiest way to cut portions, the remainder going back into the oven, now off, to stay warm.

Slice of pizza with mozzarella, fresh tomato and tomato sauce base

Ready to eat

And though I say so as shouldn’t, it was very, very fine.

What would I change? Definitely cook the sauce a little longer on a higher heat to thicken it a bit more. Maybe only 500g of dough, although then stretching it to fit without tearing it might be an issue.

I know I use the words sourdough, starter and leaven sloppily. I know which I mean when, but that doesn’t help people who are just beginning. So, I thought I would clarify with an example.

This week’s big bake will amount to 3 kg of dough, and my formula calls for 33% of that to be pre-fermented leaven. So, I need to build about 950 gm of leaven. For this particular bread, I always use the white flour starter that I keep at 100% hydration. I know that I’ve got about 100 gm of starter in the fridge, because I refreshed it just last week.

first build of sourdough leaven resting on notebook

Here’s the freshly mixed first build, resting on my notebook.

So, I remove 75 gm of the starter and mix it with 150 gm of flour and 150 gm of water. 1:2:2 in ratio terms. That keeps the hydration at 100% and does not give the starter too much to chew on as it becomes the first build of leaven.

At the same time, I now have only 25 gm of starter left. I could leave it at that and stick it back in the fridge, but I refresh that too. That means adding 50 gm of flour and 50 gm of water, exactly the same ratios as the first build.

Starter with fresh flour on a digital scale

The starter, refreshed with 50gm of water and 50 gm of flour.

Both of them will stay out now for about 12 hours; it is getting cold here. Then this evening, the starter will go back in the fridge. The first build, which currently weighs 375gm, will get 290 gm of flour and 290 gm of water, takings the amount of the second build up to 955 gm, which gives me a slight excess to work with.

starter and leaven set aside for the bacteria and yeasts to multiply

The refreshed starter and the first build of the leaven will now rest for about 12 hours.

Tomorrow, I’ll use all the leaven to raise the sourdough, which won’t be at all sour.