Lithuanian black rye, a la Stan
Back in March, Stan (elagins) posted about a Lithuanian black rye bread that he had made. It looked absolutely lovely and worthy of a bake. However, my baking over the past three months has gone in other directions. Worse, I've taken about as much bread out of my freezer as I have out of my oven. It's a wonderful tool, the freezer, but baking is much more satisfying than thawing.
Originally, I intended to follow Stan's schedule for the bread but two things conspired against that plan. First, I didn't think to refresh my starter Friday morning. Second, temperatures in my kitchen were 77-78F, several degrees higher than the room temperature in Stan's write-up.
Plan B, then, was to set up the sponge and the scald on Saturday mornining, make up the opara Saturday evening and refrigerate it overnight, then allow it to warm up Sunday morning before making up the final dough. That all sounded good until I realized that the warmer temperatures in my kitchen were effectively halving the fermentation times that Stan had noted. That led to Plan C.
Plan C was "Maybe this will move so fast that I can bake Saturday evening." Plan C1 was "Man, I'm going to be up really late by the time this comes out of the oven. Maybe I should go back to Plan B." Plan C2 was "I'm going to cheat a little and add a gram of ADY to the final dough." As it happened, Plan C2 carried the day.
Another difference that I encountered with the final dough was that it behaved slightly differently than Stan's did. Mine never did clear the sides of the mixer bowl. It just formed a layer around the interior of the bowl as thick as the gap between the dough hook and the bowl wall. The inner surface of that layer received a good massage from the dough hook but there was very little kneading going on unless I used the spatula to nudge the dough back towards the center of the bowl. Why mine behaved differently than Stan's will be a matter of conjecture. My guess is that the flour I used (Hodgson MIlls Whole Rye) behaved differently at that hydration level than the flour Stan used. Two other potential differences are that I made enough dough for two loaves, rather than one, and my mixer has a 7-quart bowl. A different size dough mass in a different (?) size bowl could have behaved differently, too. In the end, it really didn't matter. The dough, paste really, got enough mixing/kneading.
Following directions, I dumped the dough onto a dry countertop, portioned and shaped it into two roughly equal-size loaves. [Stan, we need to talk about the definition of "slightly sticky". This is almost pure rye. By just about any baker's experience, that translates to "really, really sticky". 'Nuff said.] I chose to put the shaped loaves on a Silpat in a half-sheet baking pan instead of playing with parchment and peel and stone. Because the evening was drawing on, I took the covered loaves to an upstairs bedroom that was even warmer than the kitchen. At about the one-hour mark, they started showing some pinholes in the top surface even though there were no cracks yet evident. I took that as the cue to preheat the oven. While I think that was the right decision, I may have been able to get away with another 15 minutes of fermentation. Maybe. I just wasn't brave enough to find out.
This bread smells sublime while baking! If someone could figure out how to bottle and sell that fragrance, they would be very, very rich. The only thing better is the flavor of the bread.
As you can see, Stan's shaping beats mine:
The cracks occurred during baking, which is why I think the final fermentation might have safely gone a bit longer than I allowed. The coloring isn't quite as dark as I expected, although some of that may be due to the pictures being taken in sunlight.
One picture of the crumb:
Before you get all excited about the big holes, the largest are less than 1/4 inch or 6mm across. This is a dense bread with a tight crumb, which is perfectly fine for a 90% rye bread.
I mentioned the flavor. It is extremely complex. Due to the shortened fermentation times, this batch is undoubtedly less sour than if it had fermented longer in the temperature range mentioned by Stan. That said, there is an underlying hint of sourness that provides structure for the rest of the flavors. The sweetness of the malt and the honey really shine. The natural spiciness of the rye takes a back seat but is still very much there; Stan mentioned licorice while I perceive allspice. There are also hints of coffee and toasted almonds and a lot more that beggars my vocabulary for flavors. This is seriously good bread. There's an enormous range of foods that could be paired with it, from salty ham or sausage, to tangy marmalades, to mellow or sharp cheeses. I think it would play nicely with witbier/weissbier, or a shandy, or a maibock, too.
This is definitely on the "to bake again" list, although I may wait for cooler temperatures to see how they change the flavor profile.
Thank you, Stan!