painting shows loaf of Swedish bread

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While I was away for the weekend my Mom bought some oranges. I wrote about eating my first orange of the fall and winter in Taos, New Mexico in November, but these were the first oranges we have had in the house since spring. Suddenly oranges are calling to both of us. I planned to stir up a lunch of bread and soup to warm us up this cold day. Plenty of beets, turnips, carrots and half a head of cabbage dictated borscht, brought together with chicken broth from the freezer, the last few cherry tomatoes on the vines and a package of dried mushrooms (my sister-in-law likes Ukranian borscht with mushrooms in it).

When I asked Mom if she wanted Swedish rye or whole wheat bread to go with the soup, she said, “Swedish rye. We haven’t had that in a long time.” Indeed we haven’t — I only make it when I can get fresh oranges. Now, I know you can buy oranges any old day at the grocery store and that they come from Florida, Israel, Mexico, goodness knows where. Since I live in California, I eat and cook with California oranges in season and one of the first things I make when they come in in the winter is this sweet rye bread, flavored with orange juice and zest, anise seeds and raisins.

I learned to bake this from my childhood friend, Lori Johnson. I’ve tweaked it a bit over the years, substituting orange juice for some of the water in the original recipe. This makes wonderful toast and dynamite peanut butter sandwiches.

Into a large mixing bowl, measure

1 Tbsp shortening

1/3 cup molasses

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1 scant Tbsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp anise seed

In the 1-cup liquid measuring cup that you used to measure the molasses, place 1/4 cup warm water and 1 package active dry yeast (2 and 1/4 tsp).

Beat yeast and water with a fork. Let yeast proof while you

Zest one orange into the mixing bowl.

Then cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice into a 2 cup measuring cup. Add water to reach 1 and 1/2 cups total liquid. Add this to mixing bowl.

Add 1 cup sifted unbleached flour.

Check temperature. If contents of mixing bowl is now lukewarm or cooler, add proofed yeast and stir.

Next add 2 cups rye flour and beat until smooth (I use a large wooden spoon). There will be flour clumps. That’s okay — you are beating to develop gluten in the rye flour and the lumps will vanish if you beat hard and long enough. The batter should turn glossy.

Stir in 1 cup raisins, a few at a time, incorporating each batch before adding more (Exposed raisins will burn in the oven’s heat).

Add 3 to 3 and 1/2 cups unbleached flour until you have a soft dough.

Let dough rest 10 minutes.

Knead dough until smooth — at least ten minutes. Form into ball. Grease your mixing bowl and place dough in it. Cover with a damp warm towel and put in a warm place to rise until double (I check it in about an hour: rye flour slows the rising time of bread). Punch it down. Let it rise again until double. Grease loaf pans, or round pans or baking sheets. Divide dough in half and shape into two standard loaves, round loaves or free-hand braids. Preheat oven to 375. Let rise again. If you wish, you may slash the tops of the loaves ten minutes before putting them into the oven.

Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until crust sounds hollow when thumped. For best texture, let the bread cool on a rack before cutting.

Food notes: If you must have an additional holiday touch, you might substitute dried cranberries for the raisins. I have not done this myself. Heidi of 101 Cookbooks has a link to some rye flour shortbread cookies on her recent sticky gingerbread post: I am thinking of making them with anise seed and orange zest to duplicate the flavors of this bread in cookie form.

All you candy-makers please visit again on Wednesday December 14 for another recipe by Susan Darm, featuring English toffee.

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