When my mom was in high school, her family hosted a foreign exchange student from Sweden. They’ve stayed in touch for a good 40 years, and in the summer of 2009 the former exchange student, Katie, invited me and my mom to come visit. She said if we came in July we could “pick berries and mushrooms and have lovely sunshine,” and who’s going to turn that down, huh? Not us. So we went and stayed a week, and there was indeed berry-picking and lovely sunshine, as well as boats, Stockholm sites, good food, and great company.
Being serious breakfast people, we were particularly enamored with the toasting bread Katie’s husband Bob baked, and asked about the recipe. He slaved away for a good hour at his computer, switching the measurements from metric, and I’m eternally grateful to him for this. Store-bought bread has all but disappeared from my life because I love this stuff so much. So how about a little step-by-step bread-baking action, complete with dorky how-to photos? Baking yeast bread is a little intimidating, but it’s really just a matter of time and temperature. Plus, if you screw it up, you can just tell yourself that flour is cheap and chalk it up to the mysteries of science. Here goes!
Bob’s Wholemeal and Rye Bread (yields 1 loaf and about 16 rolls when we make it, or 3 loaves if you’d rather)
STAGE 1: Make the starter for the dough either the night before or the morning of baking.
- 1 1/4 c. rye flour
- 1 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
- 4 c. boiling water
Mix the ingredients and then cover for at least 4 hours at room temperature. The starter will resemble Oliver Twist-style gruel, like so:
STAGE 2: Mix 1 3/4 c. lukewarm water (about 95 degrees) with 3 (.25 oz) packages of active dry yeast. Whisk the yeast into the warm water, and then add it, along with the following ingredients, to the starter:
- 1 1/2 c. rye flour (plus, reserve an additional 1/2 c. in a separate bowl to use for kneading)
- 1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour (again, reserve 1/2 c. for kneading)
- 2 1/2 c. bread flour (same–reserve 1/2 c. of this as well)
- 1/2 c. honey
- 1 tablespoon salt
I would suggest working in the water + yeast and honey before you start adding flour. Try a potato masher if a spoon isn’t working out for you. Then add flour gradually. I’m not gonna lie to you–this is challenging. The dough will be pretty stiff, so you should choose a sturdy utensil (I learned this the hard way some time ago when I broke a sort-of flimsy wooden spoon clean in half while stirring.)
Sometimes I have to sit down. I resolved to do more push-ups in the new year, though, so it can only get easier, right? Anyway, once you have the dough as well-mixed as possible in the bowl, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. It will be somewhat sticky to begin with, but gradually incorporate most of the flour you reserved above and it should become fairly smooth.
(That’s my mom–I usually make her do the hard parts of a recipe and then steal all the glory.) After kneading, cover the dough with a damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm place for about 3 hours. Tip: preheat your oven to 200, then turn it off, open the door, and set the dough nearby. This will help the yeast do its thing.
STAGE 3 (LAST STAGE!): Punch down the dough and knead for 5 more minutes on a floured surface. (Use flour left over from the bowl you reserved it in earlier. You can add more if necessary, but you probably won’t have to.) Then, place about 1/3 of the dough in a greased loaf pan, form the rest into rolls, and place the rolls on a greased baking sheet. To make the rolls even, just cut the remaining dough in half, then in fourths, eighths, etc., until you think the pieces look roll-sized. (Remember they will rise a little bit.)
Place the loaf pan and the sheet of rolls in the same warm place as before, covered with a damp towel, and allow to rise again (1-2 hours). After the dough has risen for the second time, bake at 400 degrees. The rolls will take 30-35 minutes, and the loaf will take about an hour. To test for doneness, hold the bread (with an oven mitt, please) and give it a thump on the bottom. It should sound hollow.
Flour, water, yeast, honey, salt, and some time–that’s all you need to make yourself some honest, healthy bread that will last you quite awhile! (Well, it’ll last you quite awhile if you store it in the fridge. No preservatives, you know.) It’s a wonderful little taste of Scandinavia fresh from the toaster every morning, and although it’s tricky the first few times, it’s a lot of fun to mess around with the recipe. Farewell for now, folks–I hope the first few days of 2011 have been treating you well!