For as long as I knew my friend George he was an enthusiastic bread maker. Often when I visited his home in Carlisle, Massachusetts, he had a freshly baked loaf of rye bread for us to enjoy.
One time when George came to visit my family in Carmichael, I put him to work, showing me the way he makes his rye bread.
What Is Rye Bread?
Rye bread is simply bread that is made with rye flour. Rye has an earthy flavor, and using more or less of it in combination with other flours a loaf will give it more or less of that flavor. Rye bread is often made with additions like molasses and cocoa powder, which add color and flavor. Caraway seeds can be added as well, for an even more distinctive flavor.
While you can make a loaf that is made 100% rye, those tend to be quite dense and heavy. For a lighter loaf that still has good rye flavor, mix rye flour with bread flour, which helps form a better gluten structure within the dough.
As for this particular bread from George? It was wonderful. Lightly flavored, soft inside, with a crusty crust. My father doesn't like caraway seeds so they were kept out. I love them so the next time I make this bread they're going in.
Best Way to Learn to Bake Bread? Hands on!
I don't think one can easily learn to make bread by reading about it.
It really helps to get your hands in it and learn directly from someone who can say, "See? This is the right consistency for the dough." Bread making is something that you just have to practice. The more bread you make, the better you get at it.
That said, if you are interested in learning more about bread making, here are a few links that you may find useful:
- The Other Side of Atkins - bread making notes from Smitten Kitchen
- For beaming, bewitching breads - more useful tips from Smitten Kitchen
- Bread making Tips and Tricks - from Girl vs Dough
- Tips for Yeast Doughs - from Our Best Bites
- The Fresh Loaf - a forum for "Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts"
Ways to Enjoy Rye Bread
Storing and Freezing Rye Bread
Rye bread will keep for several days at room temperature if kept in a paper bag. To extend its life another few days, wrap it in a plastic bag instead.
Rye bread also freezes very well. Wrap it in plastic wrap and aluminum foil, then store in a freezer bag for up to three months. Thaw at room temperature and reheat in the oven if desired.
Love Baking Bread? Try These Recipes
Homemade Rye Bread
- 2 packages active dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons or 16 grams)
- 2 1/2 cups warm water (just barely warm to the touch)
- 2/3 cup molasses (regular unsulphured; not blackstrap)
- 2 tablespoons caraway seeds (optional)
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)
- 2 cups rye flour
- 5 cups bread flour
Dissolve the yeast:
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water with the molasses. Put yeast mixture into a large metal bowl.
Make the dough:
Add the caraway seeds, salt, vegetable oil, cocoa powder, 2 cups of rye flour and then 2 cups of bread flour, mixing into the yeast mixture after each addition with a wooden spoon.
Add more bread flour, a cup at a time, until the dough is not so sticky and it is too hard to mix it with the wooden spoon. At that point, spread a half cupful of flour onto a large, clean, flat surface and put the dough onto the surface.
Knead the dough:
Knead the dough by pressing down with the heel of your hand, stretching it, turning the dough a quarter-turn, pulling the dough back toward you and then pressing and stretching again. Knead additional bread flour into the dough until it reaches the right consistency. Knead for 5-7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Let the dough rise:
Spread some vegetable oil around a large bowl and place the dough in it, turning it so it gets coated in the oil.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp cloth. Let rise at room temperature until it has doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Divide the dough:
Gently press down on the risen dough so some of its air is released. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, knead the dough a few turns and then divide it by cutting it in half with a sharp knife.
Shape the loaves:
Shape each half into loaf. Place dough loafs into either oiled 8x4-inch bread loaf pans, or onto a flat baking sheet or peel that has been sprinkled with corn meal, depending if you want to cook the loaves in pans or directly on a baking stone. Cover with plastic or a damp cloth.
Let the loaves rise:
Let the bread rise again, this time not doubling in volume, but rising by about half of its volume, about 30 to 45 minutes, half as long as the first rising. The dough should be peeking over the top of the loaf pan if using a loaf pan.
Heat the oven:
If you are using a baking stone, place the stone in the oven. Preheat oven to 350°F for at least half an hour before baking.
Bake the loaves:
If baking on a stone and not in the pan, score the loaves a few times on the top of the dough right before putting it in the oven.
Put loaves in the oven. If you have a mister, mist the dough with a little water the first 10 minutes of baking. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until done. The bread should sound hollow when tapped.