I’m admittedly not much of a baker. For starters, I don’t like to touch flour. It’s a relief to me that white boards have replaced chalk boards in the world because flour gives me the same chills as chalk. I love watching gymnastics when the Olympics roll around, but every time the athletes go for that chalk bin I’m cringing as they rub their hands together and white clouds of chalk puff off like smoke. I don’t know why it bothers me so much. It’s just one of those weird, quirky things. So it’s a big deal for me to delve into the world of bread making in which flour is plentiful and kneading, which = more flour, is key. Yikes. I have chills just thinking about all of that white stuff. When I’m baking anything it’s best that everyone keep their distance. Flour ends up everywhere. If yeast is involved I inevitably kill it. And worst of all my blood pressure tends to soar with my frustration. But there is one bread that I love enough to take the pains to make myself. My Swedish grandmother’s rye bread. My grandmother was born in the U.S. to Swedish parents and I imagine this is their Swedish recipe that had to be modified for American ingredients. Sadly she passed away a few years ago so I can’t ask her for certain.
My mother is a talented baker and one of the best parts about Christmas was that she would bake grandma’s rye bread. Bread baking day was always welcome with the aroma filling the kitchen and the crusty loaves coming out of the oven to receive a slathering of melted butter. As soon as the loaves were cool enough we would dive in. My dad and I agree that the ends are the absolute best part. I love to eat this bread without a thing on it. Alternately I love it toasted with butter, as an open-faced sandwich with sliced ham and grainy mustard, or with gjetost and jam. It has a lovely chewy texture, not too dense, and is slightly sweet. I can eat through half a loaf in no time flat. For me, it’s a little slice of heaven in more ways than one.
Lucky for me I don’t have to venture into my high pressure baking world any more to get my rye bread fix because this past winter I discovered a local bakery, Conditori Tessina, that makes a rye bread so similar I would swear it’s the same recipe. Of course I know it can’t be the same, but in a blind taste test I don’t think I could tell the difference. They make their Tessinagrova rye bread every Thursday and when I have a loaf of that warm bread under my arm you may very well see me skipping home. So this is the part where I admit that the bread in the photo is the Tessinagrova bread from Conditori Tessina. Anything I would have made would certainly not have been photo worthy. But for those of you who have inherited baking genes, here is my grandmother’s rye bread recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as my family has for at least four generations.
My Grandmother’s Rye Bread
makes 2 loaves
2 cups (480ml) buttermilk*
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup + 1/4 cup (240ml + 60ml) water
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable shortening*
1 package yeast ( 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/3 cup + 1/2 teaspoon (65g + 2.5ml) sugar
1 tablespoon (15ml) salt
1/2 cup (12 ml) molasses*
2 1/2 cups+ (300g) rye flour, unsifted
4 3/4 cups+ (570g) all-purpose white flour, unsifted
Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup (60ml) tepid water, add 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Set aside in a warm place. While the yeast is activating, mix remaining 1 cup (240ml) water, shortening, 1/3 cup (65g) sugar, salt, and molasses in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Add the baking soda to the buttermilk in the bowl of a large, standing mixer. Pour in the hot molasses mixture and stir well. Let cool to room temperature. When cool, add the rye flour, yeast, and white flour and mix on low speed with the bread hook attachment. If the dough is sticky, knead in more flour until a nice dough has formed. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and let rise in a warm place until doubled. Punch down the dough and divide evenly into greased 9 inch (23cm) loaf pans. Set the pans in the cold oven for the dough to rise one more time. When the dough rises just above the brim of the pan, turn the oven on to 350°F (180°C) and bake about one hour or until a nice crust has formed and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it. When finished baking, remove the loaves from the oven and brush the tops with butter while still warm. You can do this easily by unwrapping the end of a stick of butter and rubbing it onto the crust. Let the loaves cool for 15 minutes in the pan before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.
*You can’t find buttermilk in Sweden but it’s easy to make your own. To make one cup (240ml) of buttermilk, put 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice into the bottom of your liquid-measuring cup and fill to the 1 cup (240ml) line with milk. Let stand for five minutes, then it’s ready to use in your recipe. Molasses and vegetable shortening (Crisco is a brand name of shortening) can be found at Gray’s American Stores. I did try to make this bread once subsituting all the Swedish things you can get on hand such a filmjölk for buttermilk, mörk sirap for molasses, and vegetable oil for the shortening but those changes were significant and yielded a much less successful loaf of bread so it’s worth using the ingredients that are called for in the recipe.