When I started to write this post, I was awaiting the results of a blood test to determine if I had celiac. Oh joy. I was pretty pissed about it too. I’m a pastry chef. Wheat flour is my job, something I work with every day. A positive diagnosis would be difficult in so many ways and I was overwhelmed thinking about where to even begin. Forgive me if I sound flip and self absorbed. For those that do have celiac or high gluten intolerances, I feel for you. As a friend put it, “I had no idea how terrible I’ve felt my whole life.” I get it. Believe me, I do. But coming right back to the “what about me” realm, I panicked at the thought of giving up my beloved bread and pastries. My favorite food group, besides blue of course, is carbs. A positive would break my heart. But I came up with a plan: I would think about it after I got back from France. Yep. That was my plan. Temporary avoidance. Solid, right? I also decided to bake this bread as a sort of childish middle finger at it all. But also because it’s really really good and I wanted to enjoy it while I could. Then yesterday I received some good news: negative. Oh thank you thank you thank you! To celebrate, I had a warm slice slathered in fancy butter. Because I’m worth it. Now they’re talking lactose intolerance. Arrggghhhh. Later. When I get back.
Peter Reinhart is my bread guru, the man I turn to first when I have a question or want to learn something bread related. He was in town a month or so ago to promote his latest book so I went to his lecture at the Culinary Historians of Chicago meeting. As often happens at these gatherings, there were snacks. A few of the members baked bread from his numerous books and we each got a little sampler plate. There was a sprouted corn cornbread from the latest book, cinnamon rolls and a delicious wild rice & onion bread that I became a little obsessed with. It was so good – moist, tender, onion-y. I coveted my neighbors samples. I had to make this bread.
So I researched the book containing this recipe, Brother Juniper’s Bread Book, and discovered it was best known for one particular recipe: Struan Bread, a harvest loaf containing polenta, oats, wheat bran and brown rice. It also seems to be universally recognized as making the best toast. I love the internet. Full of interesting information. Intrigued, knowing it contained at least two outstanding recipes and likely many more, I bought the book. Of course I did.
Not long after it’s arrival I had friends over to celebrate Polish Easter, an annual event full of sausage, pierogies and polka. I made the bread and it was immediately praised, devoured and leftovers squirreled away. Home run! Usually the store bought traditional rye bread just sits in the basket, a few slices politely removed. This was gone in a heartbeat. It’s definitely a keeper. I have yet to make the Struan but I’ll get to it.
As written, the recipe is indeed excellent and I’ve made it several times since. The dough comes together incredibly easily with a slightly higher proportion of yeast than a typical recipe for a light airy crumb. The wild rice adds a nice texture and crunch and the onion has wonderful flavor and moistness. I can also confirm that it is a fantastic sandwich bread, makes a terrific grilled cheese and it too results in excellent toast. But the last time I made this bread, I started thinking about a recipe I’ve been struggling with, a light rye bread dotted with rye berries. Though the idea was strong, the execution wasn’t quite right. In the notes to the Reinhart recipe, he mentions that other grains and rices can easily be substituted for the wild rice and this got me thinking. What if I used his recipe as the base for my rye berry idea?
Oh yes, indeed. This was good. The light rye flavor enhances the onions so nicely and the rye berries add a nice crunch and pop here and there. I think I might like it even better than the original. That’s the wonderful thing about a great recipe: it’s adaptable. Don’t want to use wild rice or rye berries? Try something else … brown rice, wheat berries or whatever you like. Use all wheat flour, whole wheat flour or throw something else into mix. A handful or nuts or seeds would be delightful too. Just make sure to keep the white wheat flour at around 80% of the total flour weight or you’ll lose that wonderful lightness.
A note on rye berries: these are whole rye kernels, similar in look and taste to wheat berries though they’re sometimes a lovely sage green color when uncooked. Not as common or easily found as wheat berries or farro, look for them with the Bob’s Red Mill items in your local grocery store. I found them at Whole Foods and occasionally have seen them in the bulk food sections. Like wheat berries, they take a long time to cook, sometimes over an hour, and are a great source of protein and fiber. I like to use them in salads, like a tabbouleh, with a lot of fresh herbs and bright flavors.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: SMELL THE MAGIC. This bread will fill your home with the most amazing smells. Baking bread is always wonderful but this is a whole other level. Something funny happens when you make this. Before you’ve even finished the loaf you’re already thinking when you’re going to make it again. And you will because you’ll want more toast.
6 years ago: Spicy Cajun Ginger Cookies
5 years ago: Strawberry Buttermilk Ice Cream
4 years ago: Strawberry Shortcake
3 years ago: Fresh Ricotta
2 years ago: Greek Meatballs, Passionfruit Chiffon Cake
last year: Guinness Crème Anglaise
other grain recipes that can easily use rye berries: Roasted Sweet Potato & Wheat Berry Salad, Farro Tabbouleh
other bread recipes: Strecca di Nonna, Cheddar Monkey Bread, Classic White Sandwich Bread, Irish Soda Bread, Sticky Bun Bread, Breaking Bread with Emmanuel Hadjiandreou, Multigrain Bread, Pretzel Rolls, Apple Cider Rolls, Chocolate Cherry Buns, Orange Rolls, Classic Streusel Coffeecake
other Peter Reinhart books I recommend: The Bread Baker’s Apprentice (winner of a James Beard Award and the IACP Award), Crust and Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers, Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor, American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza If this test came out differently, I may have had to buy this one: The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking
ONION & RYE BERRY BREAD – adapted from Peter Reinhart’s Wild Rice & Onion Bread recipe
Makes 1 loaf
For the rye berries:
¼ rye berries
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
for the dough:
¾ cup lukewarm water
1 Tablespoon active dry yeast (note: 1 package = 2 ¼ teaspoons)
2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup dark rye flour
1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
¼ cup lukewarm buttermilk or milk
1 cup diced onion (4oz)
- For the rye berries: in a saucepan, combine the rye berries, water and 1 teaspoon salt.
- Bring to a boil, reduce to low and simmer covered until tender, 60 – 75 minutes.
- Drain and let cool until needed.
- For the dough: In a large bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer, combine the water and the yeast and let sit for 5 minutes until foamy. If it’s not foamy, chances are your yeast is dead. Toss it and start again with fresh yeast before you waste the remaining ingredients.
- To the bowl, add the two flours, salt, pepper, cooked rye berries, brown sugar, buttermilk (or milk) and diced onion.
- If using a standing mixer, mix with the paddle attachment on low for 1-2 minutes until combined. By hand, use a wooden spoon. The dough should be sticky, coarse and shaggy.
- Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
- For the mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed, or continue mixing by hand, for 4 minutes, adjusting with flour or water as needed to keep the dough ball together. After 4 minutes, the dough should be soft, supple and slightly sticky.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough by hand for 2-3 minutes, adding more flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will still be soft and slightly sticky but will hold together to form a soft, supple ball.
- First rise: Place the dough in a clean, greased bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 1 – 1 ½ hours. At this point, if you like, you can put the bowl in the refrigerator to slowly rise overnight. It breaks up the process and develops a slightly better flavor in my opinion. Continue with the next step though the second rise will take longer as the bread comes up to temperature.
- To shape: spray a loaf pan lightly with cooking spray and set aside until needed.
- Since this dough is a little on the sticky side, the easiest way to shape is to kind of roll it together gently into a loaf shape on a lightly floured surface. Gently place in the prepared pan.
- Lightly spray the top of the loaf with cooking spray and cover lightly with plastic wrap.
- Second rise: Let the dough rise at room temperature for ½ -1 hour, until increased about 1 ½ times its original size. In a loaf pan, the dough should come to at least 1” above the rim.
- About 15 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350°F
- To bake: Bake for 10-15 minutes, then rotate the pan and continue baking for a total of 45-55 minutes until a rich golden brown and sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom. If you’re the specific type, the internal temperature should be 185°F or higher in the center.
- Cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes.