Note: This article first appeared in the Fall, 2017 issue of Bread Lines, the quarterly newsletter of the Bread Baker’s Guild of America.
When I buy a bag of wheat flour, I pretty much know what I’m getting. We’re a wheat-eating nation, and although there are no formal standards for wheat flour grading, the milling industry has reached a marketing consensus that puts everyone on the same page. So no matter who milled it, I can be confident that my bag of bread flour will contain 12-13% protein and 0.50-0.53%ash, my H&R/AP flour will come in at10.5-12% protein and 0.52-0.53% ash, my soft wheat cake flour will measure at 8.0-9.5 percent protein and 0.42-0.45% ash, and so on down the line for any other flour I might need. There are few, if any, surprises.
During this year’s
Rye Tour to Finland and Latvia, our guide in Helsinki, sourdough baker and
baking book author Eliisa Kuusela, arranged a visit – actually two (of which
more in a bit) – to Leipomo Halme, a 120 year-old bakery in Espoo, about 30
minutes northwest of central Helsinki. Our first visit took place in the
afternoon, so that we could watch them mix their sourdough sponge in a giant
wooden tub, using a concrete mixer to blend the 171% hydration sponge. The
final dough would be mixed in the same tub at 2:00am the following morning.
Our second visit began at 6:00am the following day. Bleary-eyed, we went down into the bowels of the bakery where dough dropped through the ceiling from the floor above directly into a divider that spat it out in uniform rectangles. There, shifts of young bakers shaped rye limppu (boules) and reikäleipä (hole breads), which went onto floured boards and into the proofer for an hour before continuing on into the oven. Following our tour, we repaired to the bakery’s ground-floor cafe for a proper breakfast of Halme rye breads, sweet rolls (pulla) and Finland’s ubiquitous — and delicious — cinnamon rolls (korvapuusti).
Third-generation owner Kai Halme was kind enough to share the formulas for his grandfather’s reikäleipä, which I baked at home using some of Maine Grains’ terrific whole rye flour.
The result was exceptional. The hole bread’s chewy crust surrounded an open, tender crumb. The flavor was mild, showcasing the sweet nuttiness of the Maine rye, followed by a subdued, yet bright, sour finish. This is a bread that Finns eat with anything and everything, from smoked reindeer sausage to ham and cheese, from cured salmon and herring to butter and berry preserves. For me, this Finnish classic is sure to become one of my go-to breads.
Sponge (Day 1, Evening):
Whole rye flour
Rye starter culture
In the mixer
bowl, mix the sponge ingredients by hand, cover and ferment at room temperature
(70°F/21°C) 14-18 hours. The sponge will be very loose and will have more than
doubled in volume.
Final Dough (Day 2, Morning):
Whole rye flour
Salt, 1 Tbs.
Instant yeast, ½ tsp.
Add the final
dough ingredients to the sponge and use the dough hook at low (KA2) speed,
scraping down the bowl as needed, to mix until the dough is fully blended and evenly
hydrated, 7-8 minutes.
Cover the bowl
with plastic wrap and ferment at 85°F/30°C until doubled in volume, 1-1½ hours.
Using a wet
scraper, transfer the dough, which will be soft and very sticky, onto a
well-floured work surface. Divide it into two pieces, each weighing
approximately 26 oz./740 g.
well-floured hands, shape each piece into a boule and roll each piece into a
circle approximately 14 inches/36cm in diameter and ¾ inch/2 cm thick. Place on
a well-floured proofing board or parchment-lined sheet pan and proof at 85°F/30°C
until cracks show on the surface, 45-60 minutes.
Preheat the oven
to 440°F/225°C with the baking surface in the middle and a steam pan on a lower
shelf. Use a biscuit cutter or drinking glass to make a 3–inch/8 cm. hole in
the center of each piece, then use a fork, chopstick or docking wheel to dock
the surface of each loaf thoroughly and evenly to a depth of at least
Bake the breads with
steam for 10 minutes, then remove the steam pan and continue baking until the
loaves reach an internal temperature of at least 203°F/95°C, 30-35 minutes. Remove
the breads from the oven and immediately brush with boiling water, if desired. Transfer
to a rack and cool thoroughly before slicing.
It’s been a couple of weeks since my return from The Rye Baker Baltic Rye Tour 2018 – enough time for the impressions and memories to mellow and integrate and for me to gain some perspective on a whirlwind of sights, sounds, tastes and human interactions. In all, we were 18; most of us dedicated bread nerds, both professionals and home bakers, united in our desire to experience rye on its home turf and hungry to expand our knowledge of the unruly grain. Keep Reading
Sourdough sponge, Scald, Scald-sponge (Opara), Yeast sponge, Final dough
Rye sour culture, Instant yeast
Start to Finish:
One 3¼ lb/1.46 kg loaf
My weakness for Baltic rye breads took over when I found this recipe in a Polish blog. Just to set the scene, Palanga is a coastal resort in western Lithuania, on the shores of the Baltic whose white sand beaches attract tourists from all over Europe, especially Poles and Germans. I suspect that this bread, which is lighter in both color and flavor that the other Baltic ryes I’ve encountered, is intended to appeal to the tastes of the town’s economically important summer visitors. Instead of the wholegrain rye flour that’s commonly used in Baltic breads, this one uses Type 1150, a much lighter blend that can be approximated by mixing 2/3 medium rye and 1/3 white rye. Keep Reading
The Danes are known for their rye breads, of which there are dozens of variations, all of which are called “Rugbrød.” Most are sweet and dense, loaded with seeds and coarse rye meal to provide both richness and a satisfyingly rustic coarse mouth feel.
by John Melngailis – Partner, Black Rooster Food, LLC
NOTE: I first met John Melngailis at Bread Furst, James Beard winner Mark Furstenburg’s Washington DC bakery. Mark had been kind enough to arrange for me to appear at the bakery to publicize The Rye Baker, and invited John, whose love of his native Latvian rye breads prompted him to found Black Rooster Food and start baking them commercially. Needless to say, John and I hit it off immediately, spending a good part of the morning talking about the marvels of Baltic rye. He was also kind enough to bring me a loaf of each of his breads — dense, sweet-sour rupjmaize, and a triangular loaf of his fruit-and-nut holiday bread, both of which were extraordinary. So when John sent me this essay on his relationship with the bread he loves, I simply had to share; it’s a fascinating read.Keep Reading
I’d been meaning to make Vitebsk Rye for some time – ever since I found it in Mike Zhuravel’s magnificent Russian-language bread blog, O Khlebye. The result made me wonder why I’d waited so long: this is a truly splendid Belarusian rye bread.
2-stage rye sponge, Wheat sponge, Soaker, Final dough
Rye sour culture
Start to Finish:
Two 28 oz/800 g loaves
If there’s a rye bread equivalent of the Perfect Storm – that is, when all the ideal conditions come together at the same time – this bread is it. Start with the formula for a classic South Tyrolean Merano Rye from Austrian master baker/blogger Dietmar Kappl, then use it to showcase two spectacular artisan flours – California-grown Abruzzi rye from Grist & Toll and organic heritage emmer from Maine Grains – and you come up with a bread that’s very, very special. Keep Reading
Deli rye – that light, open-crumbed, caraway-fragrant New York classic – is what most Americans think of when they hear “rye bread.” Without getting into the rightness or wrongness of that fact, deli rye is without question the bread to wrap around a thick layer of pastrami, corned beef or pickled tongue – with or without Swiss cheese, cole slaw, sauerkraut, mustard and/or Russian dressing. So when my wife went shopping one morning and came back with a package of heavily peppered, deep pink pastrami, there was no question about how we were going to eat it. Keep Reading