A friend of mine, R., lives in a tiny row house near Regent’s Park in the Marylebone district of London. The door is painted bright yellow and there is a veritable garden on the front pavement and across the way, lined with trees in pots, flowers and other vegetation. Once, when I visited her, she served a small loaf of rye bread which had a tight crumb and toasted up beautifully with a crusty exterior and chewy insides. It was just right, spread with thin slices of pate, or sweet butter and homemade jam. Fruitlessly, I have looked for a loaf that resembles this memory a long time ago, and had given up finding such a tasty loaf of dark bread.
Recently, my daughter, M., mentioned that she baked a spelt/rye bread from a recipe a friend gave to her awhile ago. Nigel Slater, a cookery maven from England also has a recipe for spelt/rye bread, this one with a little grated parmesan cheese added during the second kneading of the dough. Because the heat wave that we’ve had dispersed into drizzly rain and fog, it’s much cooler now and I thought I would weigh in and try my hand at making one of these loaves of bread. Nigel Slater’s recipe is given for two loaves and the ingredients are listed in metric specifications. I like to make one loaf at a time so I cut the recipe in half. Here are my approximate measurements converted from his:
Nigel Slater’s rye loaf: In a warmed bowl, combine dry ingredients:
1 1/2 cups rye flour; 1 1/2 cups wholemeal spelt flour; 1/3 cup white flour; 1 tablespoon (packet) of dry yeast; 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt. Whisk these dry ingredients together to combine.
Heat scant 1 1/2 cups of water to warm but not hot; stir in 1 1/2 tablespoons of honey.
Pour water/honey into dry mixture and stir to combine. (Mine was a little dry when I added 1 1/4 cups of water so I added in a bit more, that’s why I increased the measurement from 1 1/4 to a scant 1 1/2 cups)
Reserve 1/8 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese to knead into the dough after it rises the first time.
Pull and stretch dough while kneading for a good 4-5 minutes. Lightly oil a clean bowl and let the dough rise until it is doubled, covered with a cloth or plastic wrap. Remove the dough from the bowl, place on a lightly floured board and knead again, briefly, for just a minute or two, adding parmesan as you go. I patted the dough into a rectangle, sprinkled parmesan cheese with a spoon, folded it over into thirds, then over again; repeated twice.
Butter a bread pan and flour it, shake out the excess flour. Shape the kneaded dough into a loaf and place in the pan, cover and set aside for a half hour or so until it has risen again.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Yes, I was surprised at this too but that’s the proper conversion from “220C, gasmark 8.”
Bake for 25-30 minutes until crisp on top. Remove from the oven, leave for 10 minutes, then lift out and leave the loaf to cool before slicing. To keep, wrap in foil or kitchen film and set aside. It will also freeze well.
So that’s tonight’s supper, along with a couple of croquettes of sweet potato, quinoa and cranberries that I picked up at Whole Foods yesterday. A small, crispy green salad would be good alongside.
after dinner postscript: next time, I would stretch, pull and knead the dough differently to incorporate more air into the dough during the first kneading step. Might also add a little more water too!