Rye bread is a simple bread made from a combination of rye flour and wheat flour. Rye flour contains a very low level of gluten, a protein needed to make bread rise properly. The addition of wheat flour adds enough gluten so the bread rises and is not too dense. Rye bread was originally made in Northern Europe because the rye grain was more tolerant to the cold climate there than wheat. (yclept says "rye was originally a weed seed in wheat fields, and these breads were 'rye' because of the naturally occuring quantity of rye seed mixed in when the grain was threshed.") Different varieties of rye bread were a staple in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, and Russia. Immigrants from these countries brought their rye bread recipes to New York, creating the famous New York pastrami on rye sandwich.
There are many different kinds of rye bread. European breads such as German rye bread or Swedish rye bread tend to be lighter in color and texture because they contain less rye flour. Dark rye bread and pumpernickel bread contain a higher rye flour to wheat flour ratio, giving them a stronger rye flavor and denser texture. They have a deep brown color thanks to the addition of molasses, cocoa powder, or coffee. Brown colorants are often added to rye bread to hide the gray, unappealing color of the rye flour. Jewish rye bread, also known as New York rye bread, is also a deep brown color and contains numerous caraway or anise seeds for added flavor. Some varieties also call for fermenting the dough, adding a sourdough flavor to the bread.
This particular recipe from my mother is for a Swedish rye bread, also known as "limpa." It has a nice, mild rye flavor and is light and fluffy. It is gently sweetened with a triad of molasses, brown sugar, and white sugar while an egg and butter add richness. This bread makes excellent sandwich bread.
This recipe makes two large free-form loaves.
- 1 3/4 cup warm water
- 1/8 cup white sugar
- 1/8 cup brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons molasses
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 2 1/2 cups rye flour
- slightly more than 4 cups white bread flour
- 4 tablespoons melted butter
First, make the bread sponge by combining all the sponge ingredients in a large bowl and mixing thoroughly. It should have a very runny consistency. Place plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel over the bowl and leave it in a warm spot for 20 minutes. I like to leave my sponge in a gas oven with a pilot light, but you can also leave it in an electric oven that has been warmed by turning it on for about ten seconds. Check the sponge when the time is up; the yeast should have produced numerous bubbles and the sponge should have grown somewhat in size.
Add the rest of the water, both kinds of sugar, molasses, egg, and salt and mix well. Mix in the rye flour, stirring well to make sure all of the flour gets wet. Add the white flour and melted butter. At this point the dough should be somewhat sticky, but if it is too sticky add a bit more white flour. Transfer the dough to a flat surface dusted with a flour and knead it for about ten minutes, or until it is slightly tacky and elastic. Add more flour if the dough is too sticky to knead, but try not to add too much. Place the dough in an oiled large bowl, put plastic wrap or a damp towel on top, and let the dough rise in a warm spot. The dough is done rising when it has doubled in size, about 60 to 90 minutes.
Punch down the dough to remove the air bubbles and let it rest for a couple of minutes. Divide the dough in half and shape them into two round or oblong loaves. Place the loaves on two flat metal sheets such as cookie sheets and place a towel gently on top of them. Let the loaves rise for another hour.
Place the loaves in a 425 ° F oven for about ten minutes to develop a nice crust on the bread. Then lower the temperature to 350 ° F and let the loaves bake for another 40 minutes. The loaves are done when they sound hollow when rapped. Let the bread cool thoroughly before slicing.
I have only made this recipe with free-form loaves, but I imagine you could make them in bread pans also. I would guess the recipe would fit in two or three 9 by 5 inch pans. You can also make rye bread rolls. Simply divide the dough into golf ball sized circles after the first rise, let them rise again, and then bake them at the same temperatures. The time required to bake the rolls is probably going to be much shorter than for the whole loaves, so be sure to watch them carefully.