Down the Memory Lane
I believe that the best flavours in life are real and honest. They might not aspire to acquire a Michelin star or be in a need of expensive ingredients. They sing praises of modesty and natural, local ingredients and those are flavours which soothe body and soul because they evoke the care it took to produce them.
Let's take a taste of home cooked soup served with a slice of fresh bread, bread which is still warm, slathered thickly with butter. That butter melts and trickles downs your fingers and that image transports me back to my childhood, when I was lucky to have such treats as everyday fare.
Traditional Polish Rye Bread
Nothing is more homely and appeasing than a home baked bread. The whole house is filled with bread's devine smell and that mouth watering scent brings everyone to a kitchen, where they hoover around while waiting for it to cool down enough to start slicing it. I usually need to bake two loaves so that I could save some for later. A fresh rye sourdough bread, with a thick crunchy crust and firm moist texture, disappears quickly in my home. The bread recipe I share today is one of my favourite ones, because it is old school, traditional, prepared simply with flour, water, salt and time. This bread is as good as the one my Mom used to buy in the best bakery in my town. Sadly, the bakery does not exist anymore but I mastered myself this recipe and I can treat my family and self to a real polish sourdough rye bread whenever I fancy. So coud you, go on give it a go.
Like Grandma Used to Make It
In this recipe you will need a home made sourdough rye starter, no instant or bakers yeasts involved. I have written before how to make own starter; mind that you will need to give it at last a week to establish a starter well before you can begin using it in baking. Those of you who already have a starter or have a kind starter donor, can move straight away to a bread preparation.
I follow here the traditional Polish way of preparing a leaven a day before. It gives wild yeasts sufficient time to do their work. My mom told me that grandma used to bake breads once a week, starting with a preparation of leaven day before. In the morning, grandma was adding more flour, a bit of water, kneading and wrapping ready loaves in sorrel or cabbage leaves and letting them rise for a few hours before baking.
I am doing it similar, however I will give you a hand with quantities and tips to make it more manageable. I strongly believe that baking everyday bread is not a highly convoluted science: it is simple and fits well around your busy day.
Make a Leaven
Let's not beat around a bush anymore and go straight to it. A night before baking, you will need to prepare a leaven, it takes literally a few minutes and you leave it to rest overnight. I will repeat quantities of ingredients at the end of the article to make it easy to follow.
For a leaven, you weight 200g rye starter and mix it with a 250g of white rye flower (type 720) and 250 ml of filtered water. You need to combine everything with a wooden spoon until it is mixed enough, but do not overwork it. Cover a bowl with a cloth towel and leave to rise overnight, for at least 12 hours.
In the morning, your leaven should be nicely risen, like the one on the photo below. You may dissolve one and a half a teaspoon of salt in 75ml of water to distribute it well, especially if you have coarse sea salt, like the Guerande sel gris I use. Measure 250g of white rye flour. Add all those ingredients to the leaven and combine them with a wooden spoon to begin with, then knead it by hand for about 5 minutes.
If you have never before made a rye only bread you may find it odd that dough is very very sticky and heavy. That is the way it is, do not be tempted to add more flour. Rye flour contains much less gluten than wheat and therefore rye breads do not rise as much as the ones with wheat flour. You will find that rye only bread feels more substantial, it is more moist inside and it keeps fresh for longer.
Baking at Last
After kneading, transfer the dough into a bread pan and smooth it with wet hands. You should cover it with a clean cloth towel and leave in a warm place, draft free, to rise for about 3 hours. The oven should be warmed to 240C or gas 7. When it is hot, pop onto a bottom shelf a pan filled with some water. The steam would help a bread to form a good crust and rise better.
Before putting bread into an oven, you can make some decorative cuts and/or sprinkle it with a bit of flour. Bread should be baked for at least 50 minutes. Once you happy with a colour of the crust, take it out and leave to cool down before slicing.
200g of rye starter
500g of white rye flour (type 720)
325ml of filtered water
1 1/2 teaspoon of Guerande sea salt