If we ever win the lottery, the first thing I would do is design a kitchen with a special counter about 18 inches below counter height for kneading bread. I know this sounds crazy, because who wins millions of dollars and then thinks about how much easier it will be for her to knead bread now that she’s on Easy Street? Obviously, I was meant for a life of poor obscurity and drudgery. Or! I was destined to live in a paradise that smells constantly of freshly baked bread, where a 5-foot-tall baker can knead to her heart’s content with perfect leverage, suffering nary a knot in her shoulder.
Especially when you like to bake breads with whole grains, kneading at “counter height” (I swear counters are designed for people over 6 feet tall) for 15 to 20 minutes can be a challenge. I usually stand on one of the bottom rungs of our stepladder when I knead. It gives me a little bit of an advantage that really pays off in minute 12 of the kneading process. This bread, all I can tell you, this bread is worth it. And don’t even think of quitting kneading too soon in the process. You want all those whole grains to form long, smooth strands of gluten. It is what makes this bread so special when you pull it apart, fresh out of the oven. This has to be at least as good as winning the lottery.
I’m not sure what gives this bread its tender soft interior paired with a shattering crisp exterior. I suspect the buttermilk—the only liquid in this bread—is the secret. While I love the flour mixture I recommend below—one-third white, one-third wheat, one-third dark rye—you can combine the flours any way you like. If you eliminate white flour all together, you will need to extend your kneading time and rising may take a bit longer, especially the first time around. The instructions below walk you through how to braid these loaves, which I highly recommend so that you can pull bits of the loaf off and eat them warm, with fresh butter. (Save the second loaf for the prim practice of slicing the next day, for toast and sandwiches. Eating your civilized toast you will reflect wistfully on your savagery the day before.) However, you can also simply form each half of the dough into a loaf, plop it into the pan, and bake it like a normal loaf of bread. No one here is judging you. Anybody who kneads bread for the 15 to 20 required minutes can do whatever he or she wants, in my book. Bonus points if you’re short and your counter is high.
Rye + whole wheat buttermilk bread
Adapted from thirschfeld’s recipe on food52
Makes 2 loaves
- 2.5 cups buttermilk, heated to about 95 degrees
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups dark rye flour (finely ground)
- 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
- 2 teaspoons fine salt or 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 egg
- 3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature, very soft
1. In a large bowl, mix warmed buttermilk (it should feel about the temperature of your finger, or use a meat/candy thermometer), honey, and yeast. Whisk to dissolve yeast.
2. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the all-purpose flour, then the rye flour. Stir until well mixed, then add salt, egg, and butter. Stir until mixed again. Add about 1 cup of the whole wheat flour and stir until mixed it. (Dough should be getting very stiff.) If you can add more flour in the bowl, add it 1/4 cup at a time, until you can no longer mix it in.
3. Sprinkle some of the remaining whole wheat flour from the measuring cup onto the clean counter. Dump dough onto counter. Begin to knead, mixing in the remaining whole wheat flour as you knead. Use all-purpose flour to continue lightly flouring the counter if dough sticks. Knead until dough becomes smooth, strands of gluten have formed, and dough’s texture is soft like baby skin. This takes at least 15 minutes.
4. Form dough into a smooth ball and place in a large, oiled bowl. Cover with a warm, damp tea towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until doubled in bulk. (I use a giant measuring cup for this so I can see the dough has doubled. And I use the “proofing” setting on my oven set to 95 F.)
5. Punch dough down, form a ball, return to bowl, let rise 1 more hour, until doubled in bulk again. Grease and flour two loaf pans.
6. Punch dough down and turn out onto counter. Divide in half. Divide each half into three balls. (I use my kitchen scale to get symmetrical pieces.) Roll the first three balls into thick ropes a bit longer than your loaf pan. Pinch the ends together tightly and braid the ropes, pinching them together again at the end. Snuggle the braid down into the first loaf pan. Repeat with the second half of the dough.
7. Cover pans and return to a warm place. Let them rise again for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, until doubled again. Preheat oven to 375 F. When bread has risen for the last time, remove all coverings from it. If desired, brush with some well-beaten egg and sprinkle with rolled oats or a rolled 7-grain mixture. Pop loaves into the oven on a baking sheet. Bake for about 45 minutes, until loaves sound hollow when tapped on bottom. Remove loaves from pan and let cool as long as you can. Pull apart braids or slice, as you wish.