Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A little about rye

Just finished mixing Hans' rye bread. He'll take a few and the rest we will sell tomorrow at our farmer's markets. I like making rye bread. I like eating rye as well. But it can't be the spongy stuff. The bread I'm making for Hans has equal parts of rye and wheat flour. So it's fifty percent rye and fifty percent wheat. We don't put any sweeteners in our rye bread. Only rye flour, wheat flour, water, salt and yeast. For Hans, I add a little whole caraway seed. I think Hans has been in the states too long. In Germany, caraway is called "kimmel". I don't think it's as common in rye bread there as it is here. Rye bread is so common from central and eastern Europe, because the rye grain is so plentiful there. The climate fits that crop very well. From a baker's standpoint, there are a couple things that make rye bread a little tricky. First, I said before that rye is loaded with pentosan, not gluten. It has a small percentage of gluten, but the quality is not favorable to baking. Due to the high amount of pentosan, there is also a high amount of the enzyme amylase. The problem that a baker faces is that the enzymatic activity in rye is denatured at a much higher temperature than the enzymes in wheat. This causes them to remain active in the oven much longer. The enzyme will have an effect on the wheat structure as well. It is very common to see rye loaves busted open on the side, because the structure is compromised via "starch attack". The gluten structure is weak to begin with because there isn't much of it. The enzymes damage it, and the gluten can't hold together.

Secondly, pentosan is like chewing gum, only it doesn't have any sweetness. If certain steps aren't taken care of before the dough gets to the oven, the crumb will be very "gummy". It will be baked, but the mouthfeel will be very sticky, ball up in your mouth, and the bread will be hard to digest. Centuries ago bakers learned that to avoid this they could lower the ph of the rye flour. Not sure how they knew. Not sure how they built such high, straight churches without a computer. Not even a slide rule. They had a string, and some bricks. Anyway, they sour the rye flour before they add the wheat flour to it. The lower ph will denature the pentosan some and eliminate some of the stickiness.

As bakers we see alot of rye formulas that preferment the rye flour before mixing. American bakers typically blend the water for the dough, the rye flour and the yeast, and let it sit for a few hours before mixing the dough. We call this the "rye sponge". In the production of German breads, sourdough yeast is used. We do the same here. We keep a "rye culture". We blend whole rye flour, very important it's whole rye, water and a piece of yesterday's culture. This step is called "feeding". What we are blending is called our "rye sour". We allow this to sit overnight, and the next day we add, wheat flour, water, salt and yeast. We always hold back a piece of the rye sour. Late afternoon it will be fed again, readied for the next day's batch.

Being Americans that we are, countless attempts have been made by bakery ingredient companies to create a chemical replacement for this rye sour process. Never have they been successful, never will be. You cannot replace the element that time has on fermentation. If you ever eat salt & vinegar potato chips next to a loaf of grocery store sourdough, they taste the same. They are trying to create sour flavour from powder. Never gonna happen.

Not long ago my daughter Deanne had the nerve to tell me that she enjoyed the pumpernickel at the Cheesecake Factory. I died a little that moment. Next she's gonna tell me she's a Cub fan.


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