Any chef will tell you that making bread is a labour of love. And that it is unlike any other cooking process, only vaguely related to baking. As a trained pastry chef, I was guilty of never mustering the patience required for bread making, apart from the occasional quick-bread or focaccia. Starters, sponges, double and triple risings were never my thing. Yet, I adore bread and I constantly bitch that bread in this country is not as good as bread back home. It’s one of the privileges of living the expat life: some things are always better where you come from.
My bread intake has diminished in inverted proportion as I got older.” You have to eat fewer carbs!” my doctor started preaching a few years ago. This to someone who grew up on two pasta centered meals a day and a lot of bread in between. But I did take the advice to heart which resulted in more energy, fewer allergies and less cellulite.
Now bread has become a treat but one I hardly make at home. If you are an experimental cook like me, you will probably have a bunch of ingredients lying around your pantry that you don’t quite remember how they landed there. A bag of rye flour kept popping into my line of vision and I finally decided to make good use of it. Drawing from a recipe by Rose Levy Berenbaum of The Bread Bible fame and published in my favourite food and cooking magazine, Lucky Peach, I set to work.
Bread making is actually a simple process but can be an all day endeavour, even if one mostly left unattended. Only short excursions out of the house are allowed. Somehow, I picked one of the hottest day in Los Angeles to bake bread while I had in mind a foggy, drizzling day, warmed up by a hot oven and a fresh slice of bread. I still got the latter and if you are blessed with cooler weather, go for it.
Ingredients for one loaf
For the Sponge
3/4 C (117 g) Bread Flour
3/4 C (95 g) Rye Flour
1/2 ts (1/6 g) Instant Yeast
1 1/2 T (18.7 g) Sugar
1 1/2 ts (10.5 g) Honey
1 1/2 C (354 g) Water
For the Flour Mix
2 1/4 C (351 g) Bread Flour
1/2 + 1/8 ts (2 g) Instant Yeast
2 T (14 g) Caraway Seeds
2 ts (10.5 g) Salt
1 1/2 ts (6.7 g) Vegetable Oil
2 ts (16 g) Cornmeal for sprinkling
Water in a spray bottle
- In the bowl of your stand mixer ( you can also do this by hand), combine the sponge ingredients and whisk vigorously to incorporate as much air as possible – about 2 mins. The result should be very smooth , with the consistency of a thick pancake. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Set it aside, covered with plastic wrap, while you make the flour mixture.
- Whisk together the flour mixture ingredients (reserving some flour if you are going to be kneading by hand). Sprinkle it over the sponge, blanketing it completely. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let ferment at room temperature for 1 to 4 hours. The sponge will bubble through the flour mixture in places.
- Add the vegetable oil and mix with a dough hook on low speed for about 1 minute, until all the flour is moistened. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 10 minutes. The dough should be very smooth and elastic, and should jump back when pressed. I had to add about 1/4 C more bread flour than the recipe called for to achieve this (but it might have been because of the type or rye flour I used).
- Press the dough down in an oiled bowl and oil the top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size – 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Scrape the dough onto a floured counter and gently press it down into a loose rectangle. Oil the surface of the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and let double in size again, about 45 minutes.
- Flatten the dough then round it into a ball. Set the ball on a cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet. Cover with a large bowl or with oiled plastic wrap and let it double up again, about 1 1/4 hours.
- An hour before baking the bread, place a baking stone or an inverted baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven and pre-heat to 450F (230C). With a sharp knife, cut 1/4” to 1/2” deep slashes on top of the dough, then place it on the stone. Mist the dough and the inside of the oven with water and immediately shut the door. Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 400F (200C) and continue baking for 30 minutes or until the bread is golden brown (if you want to use a thermometer, it should read 190F when inserted in the center). Let the bread cool completely before slicing. Feel free to slather a lot of butter on it. It’s Friday.