Honey Rye Bread

For many years Jerri has occasionally added some rye flour to her basic white bread. It makes a flavorful variation on an excellent white bread. When she adds enough rye flour, the bread takes on a grayish cast, and so we call it Graubrot, which translates literally from German as gray bread.

Graubrot is the popular name for Mischbrot (mixed bread) in Nordrhein-Westfalen. It describes a bread that is made with both white and rye flours. Bakers vary the proportions to create many different kinds of bread and may add spices such as caraway, anise, fennel or coriander.

I remember eating Graubrot nearly every day when I studied in Münster (in Nordrhein-Westfalen). A baker at the farmer’s market sold it by weight, like meat or cheese. If you asked for a pound, he would cut a piece off a loaf, weigh it, wrap it in paper and tell you how much you owed. The loaves were large and round, weighing four or five pounds. A half loaf weighed about a kilogram and would last me for a week.

The recipe below does not produce authentic Graubrot, but it is a delicious rye bread much different from the versions sold in most bakeries and supermarkets in the United States. It makes two medium-sized loaves and a pan of dinner rolls. The milk and honey give it a slightly sweet taste.

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup warm water (105 degrees or so)
1/4 tsp. sugar
2 1/4 tsp. (1 package) active dry yeast
2 cups milk
3 T butter
3 T honey
1 T salt
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups rye flour

PROCEDURE:

First dissolve the sugar and yeast in the warm water and set it aside to proof. Melt the butter and warm the milk to about 105º and pour them into a large bowl. Stir in the salt and honey, beat a cup of white flour and a cup of rye flour into the milk, then stir in the yeast. Add the second cup of rye flour and beat well.

Add more white flour one cup at a time, beating well after each addition. When you have added enough flour, the dough will become hard to stir and start to come away from the sides of the bowl. The exact amount of flour needed depends on the humidity, kind of flour and other factors. When it is sticky but stiff, it is ready to knead.

Let the dough rest for five minutes, then turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Knead the dough until it is smooth and silky and is no longer sticky, seven to eight minutes. Grease the bread bowl with butter or shortening. Make the dough into a ball and put it in the bowl, turning it to cover it with grease. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and put it in a warm, draft-free place. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in bulk.

Grease two 4 1/2 by 8 1/2-inch loaf pans and an 8 or 9-inch baking pan.

Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it five or six turns to remove the gas. Cut the dough into three equal pieces. Form two of the pieces into loaves and put them into the loaf pans. Roll the remaining dough into a half-inch thick rectangle and cut it into nine pieces. Shape each piece into a roll and put them into the baking pan.

Cover the pans and let the dough rise again until it nearly reaches the tops of the pans. You can tell when the bread has finished rising by gently poking the top of the loaf. If the dimple remains, the loaf is ready to go into the oven. If it puffs out in a few seconds, the bread is not yet ready.

When the dough is nearing the tops of the pans, preheat the oven to 375º. Bake the rolls about twenty minutes and the loaves thirty to forty minutes. I suggest that you turn the loaves out of the pans after thirty minutes to test for doneness. Loaves are done when they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. If they do not sound hollow, bake them on the oven rack for an extra five or ten minutes. Remove them from the oven and place on a rack to cool.

For a shiny top crust, brush the loaves and rolls with an egg wash before putting them into the oven. Make the wash by beating a tablespoon of cold water into the white of an egg. Or you can brush the tops of the hot loaves with butter after you take them from the oven.

You can devour the rolls still warm from the oven with plenty of butter and jam, but the loaves slice better if you let them cool completely. This bread makes delicious toast too.