While there are a number of advantages to living in our neighborhood, which is one of the outermost zip codes but still technically-within-the-urbs, access to stores is not one of them. We have just one tiny mom and pop convenience store within walking distance, so any real grocery shopping requires a car trip.
Even then, the stores that are handiest to us do not, alas, offer particularly good pickings when it comes to the bakery section. During the summer and fall months, there’s a farmer’s market near work at which I can conveniently pick up artisan bread along with vegetables during a lunchtime walk, but that hasn’t started up yet. Since we aren’t going to make a special trip into the city every weekend just for the bakeries or the farmers markets that have already phased in, that frequently means settling for whichever of the supermarket’s bland offerings don’t have a shelf life of eight months thanks to corn syrup or transfats.
This ongoing frustration is what recently prompted me to resume my long-dormant habit of baking bread on the weekends. I have neither the time nor the patience to maintain a sourdough starter again, but I have been making some lower-impact breads every few weeks while the oven is already warmed up for the Monday office treat baking.
One of my newfound favorites is this dark rye bread, which gives you deli-style payoffs with just a little more time and effort than your average quick bread. It uses a bit of a cheat, getting the complex, tangy flavor that usually comes from long fermentation from buttermilk instead, but you’d never know the difference if I didn’t tell you. It also packs in some extra heartiness by using one third whole wheat flour and a spoonful of wheat germ along with the rye and some bread flour for stretch and lift. You’d think, given all that whole grain, that it would be a dense and heavy bread, but it’s actually delightfully soft and easy to slice.
While it makes great sandwiches, the best topping I can think of for a just-baked slice of this bread is a smear of cream cheese and a glistening, sweet and tangy layer of my mother’s pepper jelly, which she was kind enough to make and mail to me after I expressed nostalgia for it. Should you have a less accommodating mom, raspberry jam or currant jelly work very nearly as well.
Buttermilk Rye Whole Wheat Bread
(From Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads)
Makes one loaf
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) dry yeast
1 cup dark rye flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon wheat germ
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons canola oil
2/3 to 1 cup bread flour
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the yeast, rye and whole wheat flours, wheat germ, caraway seeds, and salt. Run the mixer briefly to integrate the dry ingredients.
Heat the buttermilk, molasses and oil together in the microwave or a small saucepan until hot, 120-130 F. Add to the dry ingredients and mix at medium speed for 3 minutes. Gradually add just enough bread flour for a firm but not stiff dough to form.
Exchange the paddle for the dough hook and knead the dough in the mixer for 8 more minutes. If necessary, add more bread flour, but err on the side of a slightly sticky dough.
Place the dough in a large greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, approximately 1 hour.
Pat out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a 14 x 7 inch rectangle. Roll the dough up tightly, pinch the edges to seal, and tuck into a nonstick or greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. Lightly cover the pan with plastic wrap and let rise again until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until it’s well browned and sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom.
Turn out of the pan and cool completely on a rack before slicing.
As with all yeast breads, resist the urge to slice it when it’s still warm, since the steam will promote gumminess in the still-cooling crumb.
This loaf keeps well on the counter in a loosely folded brown paper bag for several days, but you’ll probably devour the loaf well before staleness is a going concern. You can also tightly wrap the loaf in plastic and a layer of foil and freeze it for later use.