(Monogrammed Wheat and Rye Bread)

This recipe makes one 1 1/4-pound loaf. Use these quantities if you have a bread machine. If you're using a stand mixer with a dough hook, you may safely double the recipe (though the baking may take a few minutes longer, depending on your oven).

Combine these in your bread machine pan or stand mixer bowl to make the sponge...
1 1/4 tsp bread machine yeast
1/2 cup whole rye flour
1/4 cup bread flour
2/3 cup warm water

The next day, add these to form the dough...
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups bread flour
1/2 cup whole rye flour
1 1/4 tsp salt

Bread flour for stenciling

Start this recipe the day before you want to be eating the bread. We must begin by making a sponge. As the name implies, it will soak things up. In this case, the sponge will soak up all of the microflora that visit it. This is something like sourdough.

Add the yeast, flours, and water to the bread machine pan or stand mixer bowl. Process the ingredients until well mixed, about 5 minutes. You may have to scrape down the sides and bottom of the pan with a rubber spatula. Turn off the machine and allow the sponge to sit overnight or for at least 12 hours.

Next Day: Good morning! Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to feed that science experiment in the bowl and turn it into dough. To make the dough, add the water, flours, and salt to the pan with the sponge. Knead as you normally would (use the dough setting on a bread machine, or the dough hook on a stand mixer). The dough will be fairly wet; this is okay.

When your robotic assistant is finished, spray a smooth surface with water and turn the dough out onto it. Wet your hands and knead the dough to remove any remaining air bubbles. Roll it into a round loaf and stretch the surface so it's tight. Put it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, cover it, and let it rise for about 1 1/2 hours. The loaf is ready to be baked when a finger-poke indentation does not bounce back.

While the dough rises, preheat the oven to 425°F. Yes, you should begin preheating the oven 1 1/2 hours ahead of time. This will ensure that the oven parts are all toasty warm and will stay that way even when you open the oven door to pop the dough in!

Make your stencil out of a piece of parchment paper, construction paper, or typing paper. Make sure the initial or design is at least 1/2 inch wide. You might want to print out a very large letter or dingbat from your computer.

When the dough has risen, use a sharp toothpick to puncture the top of the dough to the depth of about 1 inch, at least 9-10 times. This will allow steam to escape and will prevent the crust from splitting and marring your design. Place the stencil on the bread and sift several tablespoons of flour over the initial or design. Remove the stencil. Bake on the middle shelf of the preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until well browned and the loaf sounds hollow on the bottom when thumped with your knuckle. Remove to a rack to cool.

SOURCE: Rustic European Breads From Your Bread Machine by Linda West Eckhardt and Diana Collingwood Butts. (The entire book is this good. Go buy it. Also, I've reworded most of the recipe.)

The rye flour you use should not be uniformly white, but should be speckled. Avoid Pillsbury's "medium rye flour" at all costs. Arrowhead Mills makes a fantastic rye flour; if you can find it, use it.