Pain de Seigle

French Rye Bread

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes

    2

    thin baguettes, each about 12 inches 30 cm ) long

Appears in

At the end of the first summer season I worked in Monte Carlo, I went to Nice with some friends to celebrate with dinner. We ordered enormous plateaux de fruits de mer—large platters of mostly raw shellfish. These were accompanied by thin slices of gray-looking bread served with butter. I took a bite of the bread, and then another, and then I identified the familiar taste—rye bread! The rye bread I knew back home was Jewish rye, while the French rye bread was less crusty, but equally delicious. Here’s a recipe for the French rye bread. Don’t be turned off by the fact that you need to prepare a sponge the day before (and don’t be tempted to skip it—it’s essential). It does require forethought, but the sponge takes all of 5 minutes to prepare, so it doesn’t add an excessive amount of work to the process.

Ingredients

Sponge

  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • ½ cup warm water, about 110°F (45°C)
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon flour into a dry-measure cup and level off)

Rye Dough

  • teaspoons active dry yeast (the rest of the envelope you opened for the sponge)
  • 1 cup warm water, about 110°F (45°C)

Sponge

  • cups medium or whole-grain rye flour
  • ¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • teaspoons salt
  • 1 jelly-roll pan dusted with cornmeal

Method

  1. Make the sponge the clay before you intend to bake the bread (it keeps in the refrigerator for up to 5 days as long as you watch that it doesn’t dry out, and you deflate it occasionally). Whisk the yeast into the water in a small mixing bowl. Use a small rubber spatula to stir in the flour, stirring vigorously so that the sponge becomes somewhat elastic. Scrape the inside of the bowl free of any bits stuck to it, then use the spatula to press the sponge into a coherent ball. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set it aside at room temperature to rise for 2 hours.
  2. After the sponge has risen, use a small rubber spatula to deflate it and stir it back into a ball. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap again and refrigerate until you are ready to prepare the rye dough, at least overnight.
  3. When you are ready to prepare the rye dough, whisk the yeast into the water in the bowl of an electric mixer. Scrape the sponge into the bowl and use a large rubber spatula to mix the liquid and sponge together until smooth. Stir in the rye Hour in 3 additions, stirring the dough smooth after each. Add the all-purpose flour and salt and continue stirring until the dough is evenly moistened and there are no dry spots.
  4. Place the bowl on the mixer with the dough hook and mix on low speed for 3 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl and the hook and allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes.
  5. Mix the dough on low to medium speed until it is smooth and elastic, about 3 minutes. Scrape the dough into an oiled bowl then turn it so that the top is oiled. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled, 1 to 2 hours.
  6. Scrape the risen dough to a lightly floured work surface and use a bench scraper or a knife to divide it in half. Stretch ½ of the dough into a rough 6-inch (15-cm) square. Roll jelly-roll style from one side, and pinch the end to seal it. Repeat with the other piece of dough. Using the palms of your hands, roll the first piece of dough into a cylinder about 12 inches (30 cm) long. Repeat.
  7. Arrange the formed loaves equidistant from each other and the sides of the pan. Cover the pan with a towel or plastic wrap and set aside to rise for about 45 minutes. The dough should only just start to puff; it does not have to rise until doubled.
  8. About 20 minutes before the loaves are risen, set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375°F (190°C). Bake until the loaves are well risen and firm to the touch, about 35 minutes. Slide the loaves from the pans onto racks to cool.

Serving

Slice the bread thinly and serve it with butter. It’s also great toasted.

Storage

Keep loosely covered with plastic wrap on the day that it is baked. Wrap and freeze for longer storage. Defrost and serve at room temperature.

Variations

Add 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds or ground caraway to the dough. Or paint the outside of the unrisen loaves with water and sprinkle each one with teaspoons of caraway seeds. Form the entire quantity of dough into 1 large or 2 small boules. Moisten and sprinkle with caraway seeds if you wish. A large boule will take 45 to 50 minutes to bake.

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