I grew up in a small West Virginia town that had a large commercial bakery. The smell of freshly baked bread permeated the neighborhood where the bakery was located. The bakery made sliced, white sandwich bread and that is what we ate. I never tasted homemade bread until I was an adult.
My mother attempted to make yeast bread once. She left the dough to rise on the warm gas stove while we went to church one Sunday. The dough took over the kitchen while we were gone. It oozed between the stove and counter, and I remember my father had to pull the stove from the wall in order to clean up the mess.
As I recall, he forgot about love and compassion mentioned in the sermon that morning. My mother never attempted to make anything with yeast again.
I took up bread baking once I was on my own. As a potter, I was sure I could get the kneading part down, since it is a lot like wedging clay. It took several baking attempts to understand how the yeast works.
My husband grew up in a Polish household where heartier breads were preferred. He especially likes rye bread, and I recently made a loaf of Old World rye bread that I will make again.
At least once a week during the pandemic, we are having cream cheese, smoked salmon, onions, dill and capers as our breakfast meal. Paired with the homemade peasant rye bread, it rivals breakfast at any posh resort.
Rye bread can be light or dark, depending on the proportions of wheat flour to rye flour and the addition of various coloring agents. Molasses and chocolate will make the bread much darker and more flavorful.
I used Wedel chocolate in my recipe. It is from a famous Polish chocolate company and was a gift from our former exchange student. I added caraway seeds and Penzey’s ground caraway powder to my recipe, simply because my husband likes the flavor.
This rustic rye bread has just the right amount of sweetness and caraway seeds. It is great for sandwiches, but is delicious slathered with a pat of butter, too.
Old World Rye Bread
2 packages of active dry yeast
1½ cups warm water
½ cup molasses
6 tablespoons butter, softened
2 cups rye flour
¼ cup baking cocoa
1 to 2 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 teaspoons salt
3½ to 4 cups white flour
Dissolve yeast in warm water in mixing bowl. Mix in molasses, butter, rye flour, cocoa, caraway seeds, salt, and 2 cups of flour. Stir in enough white flour to form a stiff dough. Turn onto a floured surface and knead until smooth.
Place dough in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled. (This can take up to 1½ hours.)
Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Divide in half. Shape into loaves. (I made round loaves, but you can form oblong loaves, too.)
Grease baking sheets and sprinkle with cornmeal. Place the loaves on the cornmeal-covered sheets. Cover and let rise until double, about 1 hour.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes until bread tests done. Remove from baking sheets and cool on wire racks.