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A Journey Into Bread Baking World

Latvian style Christmas rye

It’s that time of the year when everyone cooks plenty of festive foods and enjoys their time with families and friends. Back home in Latvia one of the festive foods on the table is a rye bread with dried fruits, berries and nuts inside. It’s mid December and it’s a perfect time to share one of the festive Latvian rye recipes!

This is a very complex recipe even though I tried to simplify it as much as possible. The dough is made in three stages (regular wheat sourdough bread has only two, full process as done in Latvian bakeries would have 4-5 stages), there’s filling preparation, custom crust development and starch wash to finish the process. But the end result is worth every second spent on this bread!

This recipe is a simplified version (do you really want to spend 2 days and prepare thermophilic starter instead of your sourdough?) of a scalded coarse rye bread common in Latvia with a traditional filling. Similar breads can be found all over the Northern Europe. Most used filing ingredients in Latvia are dried cranberries, raisins, peaches, apricots, plums and nuts such as walnuts and hazelnuts. I chose cranberries, apricots and walnuts as I prefer this combination. You can try other combinations with the same ratios, but make sure you have one berry, one fruit and one nut or one berry and two fruits. One of them should be sour.

20% of flour in this recipe is wheat flour. My tests showed no difference in using strong bread flour and plain one - both yielded the same result. The reason to add wheat is that filling will be quite heavy and rye on its own might not rise properly. A bit of gluten helps to maintain crumb structure under additional load while fermenting and proofing. It is possible to skip wheat flour, but that requires some rye baking experience to make sure that the bread rises correctly with a heavy filling inside.

Before baking

First of all let’s identify all stages which we will have to go through to make this amazing festive bread.

There are three stages of dough development: sourdough, scald and final dough. Once the final dough is mixed, part of it will be put away to make custom crust. Then filling should be prepared by chopping and crushing ingredients and they will be added to the final dough. Next step will be custom crust preparation, then bread baking, starch wash preparation and finally long resting period once baking is finished.

Before starting the whole process, read the recipe thoroughly and create a schedule when to start and finish each stage. Make sure that you have all of the ingredients and kitchenware in advance. Make sure to have a correct type of rye malt: it should be raw (non-roasted and non-fermented) rye malt. It can be identified by EBC 4-10 in brewery shops. Baking supply shops in UK only sell roasted malt which is useless in this recipe.

Recipe

Let’s start with the dough first as it will take the most time to prepare. Google Docs spreadsheet can be found here if you want to adjust the recipe to your desired loaf weight.

Overall formula

Ingredient % Weight
Dark Rye Flour T1740 75% 449.10g
Wheat Bread Flour 20% 119.76g
Raw Rye Malt 5% 29.94g
Water 65% 389.22g
Salt 2% 11.98g
Total 1000.00g

#1 Sourdough

Ingredient Weight
Starter 41.92g
Dark Rye Flour T1740 188.62g
Water 125.75g
Total 356.29g

#2 Scald

Ingredient Weight
Dark Rye Flour T1740 89.82g
Raw Rye Malt 29.94g
Water (+100C) 239.52g
Total 359.28g

#3 Final dough

Ingredient Weight
Sourdough 356.29g
Scald 359.28g
Dark Rye Flour T1740 149.70g
Wheat Bread Flour 119.76g
Water 2.99g
Salt 11.98g
Total 1000.00g

Time required: 12 hour sourdough build, 3 hours scald (during sourdough build), 2 hours bulk fermentation, 1 hour proofing, 60 minutes baking ~= 17 hours including mixing and shaping.

Sourdough build

Just your normal sourdough bulking stage. Mix dark rye flour, water and starter together and leave covered at room temperature (about +20C to +23C) for 12 hours.

Cut a piece of bread in half at 45 degree angle and invert to make a heart

Scald

Scalding is used to partially breakdown flour starches and to partially gelatinise them. That makes rye crumb softer, tastier and also makes bread last a lot longer. Scalding also makes bread darker in colour. Scalding requires boiling water, so be careful.

To make a scald, pre-heat your oven to +65C, pre-heat a bowl with a boiling water, add rye flour and then mix in boiling water in 2-3 portions. Make sure to get rid of most of lumps, but be quick as the mixture will cool down very fast and we don’t want it to go below +60C. Check mixture temperature and once it gets down +65C mix in raw rye malt. Cover the bowl tightly and place into the oven for 3 hours.

After three hours your pale grey mixture should turn into dark brown, it’s smell will change too. Leave it at room temperature to cool to +30C +35C before mixing the final dough.

Sourdough on top of a scald - note the colour difference!

Final dough

Once sourdough and scald are ready, it’s time to mix everything together. Hydrate salt with a bit of water in the mixing bowl, add scald and sourdough and mix thoroughly. Then add all other dough ingredients and mix until everything is evenly incorporated. The end result should be sticky and should feel like modeling clay. If the dough feels excessively heavy and tears apart when bent then mix in some water. To do that simply dip your hands in the water and mix everything again. Usually it takes 2-3 dips to get to perfect consistency, but that depends on flour quality and the amount of water lost as vapour during scalding.

Once the dough feels good, Pinch 30g out of it and save to make a custom crust later on. Mix in the filling (read on how to make in the following section), cover with cling film or towel and let it ferment for 2 hours at +30C.

Shaping is very simple. Carefully roll the dough into a ball, then mould it into an oblong shape. Be careful not to deflate it. Use wet shaping to do that. Then get some baking paper and put it on a tray, dust the paper with a thick layer of rye flour. Put the dough on top of the flour layer, wet its surface with your hands and cover with a large bowl. Let it proof for around 60 minutes at +30C. The dough should start cracking from gas build up inside.

Filling

Ingredient Weight
Dried Apricots 47.90g
Dried Cranberries 47.90g
Walnuts 47.90g
Coriander Seeds 2.99g
Total 146.71g

Crush whole coriander seeds. Cut apricots and break walnuts into pieces of about the same size as cranberries. That’s all! Now mix into the dough.

Custom crust

Ingredient Weight
Dough 30.00g
Water 25.00g
Dark Muscovado Sugar 2.50g
Nutmeg Powder 0.15g
Cinnamon Powder 0.30g
Total 57.95g

Dilute sugar in water, mix in other ingredients, make sure everything gets evenly diluted. The end result should be a runny paste without any lumps. It takes some time to dilute the dough, about 5-10 minutes. Once done, cover and let it wait until the bread is ready to be baked.

Baking

Pre-heat your oven to the maximum temperature possible (+300C would be great, more realistic +260C will work too). Take a brush and cover your dough with a thick layer of custom crust mix (don’t cover the bottom of the bread obviously). Prick several holes with a chopstick and put in the oven. Spray some water inside. It should bake at maximum temperature for 10 minutes.

Set your oven to +210C, carefully release excessive heat and bake for 20 minutes. Then set your oven to +180C and bake for 30 minutes more. The bread should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom. Remove the bread from the oven and coat with starch wash while it’s hot. You need 2-3 thin layers.

The bread should rest at least 12 hours before cutting. I’d recommend 24 hours for the best results.

Starch wash

Ingredient Weight
Potato Or Corn Starch 4.00g
Water 180.00g
Total 184.00g

The best time to make starch wash is during baking. Take a sauce pan and dilute your starch in cold water. Bring it to boil stirring constantly. Let it cool down to room temperature. I cool it down in the fridge to speed up the process.

Christmas is a great time to try and bake something more challenging yet very rewarding!

Process overview

Let’s summarise the whole process to make it easier to understand what should happen, when and how.

  1. Sourdough build - 12 hours, room temperature.
  2. Scald - 3 hours at +65C, then cool down to +30C. Start 8-8.5 hours after sourdough.
  3. Final dough - mix the dough first, take out 30g, then mix in the filling. 2 hours fermentation, 1 hour proofing, both at +30C.
  4. Filling - 5-10 minutes.
  5. Custom crust - 5-10 minutes. Apply all of it to the dough right before baking.
  6. Starch wash - 5 minutes + cooling. Cook it during baking, apply to the hot bread right after baking is finished, 2-3 thin layers (you will only use a fraction of your wash sadly, but it’s hard to scale it down).
  7. Baking - 10 minutes at maximum temperature, 20 minutes at +210C, 30 minutes at +180C.
  8. Resting - 12-24 hours on a wire rack.

Not too scary, right? The end result is a wonderful loaf of rye which can serve as both savory and sweet bread. It pairs greatly with honey, cheese, cured meats and all sorts of jams. Or you can have it on its own. Maybe with a cuppa. It will also serve as a great edible Christmas table decoration.