I had the privilege of having two really cool Grandma's - one who is still on this earth and another who is with our Maker. Both bestowed upon me and my Aunts, Uncles and Cousins different characteristics that I value and exhibit in different ways. During the short time in college that I lived with Grandma Terry I may have inherited some of her WWII super saver mentality that she most certainly acquired because of 11 other beings in her home and it's stuck with me. Ziplocs are reused until my husband begins to guffaw at me. Bread bags are not thrown away after the bread is eaten, but they function as Ziplocs that are doomed for guffawing. The plastic bags used for grocery store produce are my bathroom's garbage vessel. The other Grandma bestowed upon our family, among other things, the gift of cookery. She had 13 mouths to feed - this woman cooked. She taught me how to level baking powder, which apparently is not an innate quality according to the way I remember her reprimanding my younger cousin at the annual holiday cookie baking party. How to make a pie crust out of lard. The way to dip a Ritz cracker peanut butter sandwich into melted chocolate. And the love of fresh made bread. But, after all, it's not hard to love fresh bread. However, I have the impression a majority of home cooks are intimidated by baking yeast breads. My mother never did and I considered her the utmost domestic goddess! But that was in the era of those frozen loaves that became trendy, so I give her respite for not being a yeast bread baker. My personal width and breadth of yeast bread is limited - I try, but I am not an Artisan Bread Baker by any means. So, that means you can do it, too! This Rye French Bread is a dense, crusty, moist and chewy loaf that tastes even better with a huge pat of butter. I dare you to try, too!
You need to start early in the morning. The dough needs several rising times, but the actual work you do is very minimal. First, you activate the yeast in some very warm water. How warm of water you say? Good question. Don't get out the thermometer. That's just nonsense - who can find their thermometer, anyway?
Here's what I do: While you're assembling the ingredients and tools for this mission run your tap water at its hottest setting. Once your done assembling the cast of characters your water is going to be good and hot. Just hot enough for yeast that's been sitting in the freezer to activate! Now measure out your water in a large measuring cup, sprinkle in the yeast, and give it a joosh. Awesome. Let that sit for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes and your yeast is looking foamy measure in the flour and give it a stir. Now, that sits covered in a warm spot for a couple hours building what's called a starter.
After the starter sits on the counter covered with a dish towel for 2 hours it looks like this. And you're done. Just kidding.
After two hours you mix the remaining flours and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center of the flour. I used my KitchenAid mixer bowl for easier clean-up.
The starter you made this morning is dumped into the well and mixed in with your bread hook (if you're using the KitchenAid) or with a wooden spoon if you have arms like Popeye. Now you're going to knead the dough with the KitchenAid for about 5 minutes. Or you're going to develop your pectorals and knead by hand for 10 minutes.
And bread hook.
The dough should be elastic, smooth and kinda sticky, but not too sticky. Just a 'lil sticky.
Remember when I told you about easier clean-up? Well, that doesn't make much sense if I've just moved the dough ball into a different bowl. Some days I wonder what goes on up atop my shoulders.
The dough will rise for 1 to 2 hours more, or until it doubles. Rye bread always seems to rise really slow. If you are gluten free you could make this with all rye flour, I would double the yeast and all rising times. Let me know if you try it, I'm just recommending it on theory and haven't tried it myself, but why wouldn't it work?!?
And after the final rise your bread will look like this after a couple hours. Now shape into loaves and have a party. Wait, what did you utter? More details you say? OK, I'll try.
Take the risen dough and plop it onto a floured surface, using the tips of your fingers flatten it out gently, expelling any air bubbles. Now cut the dough in half and shape two circle shapes. Working with one piece at a time, fold one half of the dough into itself, sealing it with the palm of your hand. Fold in the other half and tuck the ends under to form a long baguette shape. There. Bread. Now rise again for a couple more hours until about doubled in size. Now bake in a preheated oven until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom or when a meat thermometer inserted in the center reaches the internal temperature between 180º and 190º.
Now you can have your party. With bread.
Please Please Please Oh Please let me know if you make this GF. I'll give you a kiss. On the lips.
Rye French Bread
Yield: 2 Loaves
for the starter:
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2/3 cup very warm water
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
for the dough:
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups rye flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup very warm water
Non-stick cooking spray
Sprinkle the yeast into the water in a bowl. Give it a joosh, leave for 5 minutes. Add the flour and mix to form a thick batter. Cover with a dish towel and leave for 2 hours.
Mix the flours and the salt together in the bottom of a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the starter and half of the water.
Mix in the flour. Stir in the remaining water to form a fairly moist, sticky dough. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
Note: A stand-up mixer can do all the work here. I used the bread hook and kneaded at medium speed for 5 minutes, occasionally scraping the dough down off of the hook.
Put the dough in a clean, greased bowl and cover with a dish towel. Let rise until doubled in size, 2-3 hours. Punch down, then let rest for 10 minutes.
Using a well-floured work surface divide the dough into two equal pieces and shape each piece into a large circle, pressing any air bubbles out with the tips of your fingers. Roll one side into the center, using the palm of your hand to seal and express air. Repeat with the other side, tucking the ends under to form a long loaf, about 12" in length. Place the loaves on a french bread pan or cookie sheet, cover with a dish towel and let rise in a warm spot for an additional 1-2 hours, or until about doubled in size.
Bake in a 400ºF preheated oven for 30 minutes. Lower the heat to 350ºF and bake an additional 25 minutes or until hollow sounding when tapped underneath. Cool on a wire rack.
Gluten Free Option: All unbleached all-purpose flour can be substituted for rye flour making a GF option. No, I haven't tested this, but why wouldn't this be possible? Rye takes longer to rise, so I would double the yeast and the rising times.