When our youngest was a newborn, I spent many hours cradling her refluxy little form and half-watching Seinfeld DVD boxsets. I’m positive that many new parents can relate to the lost hours slumped in front of the TV during those first few shattering, exhaustion addled weeks – comforting, undemanding and, crucially, familiar programmes have become fondly entwined with the memories of each of our children during this stage. For us, Seinfeld fitted the bill perfectly and the frequent food references served as reminders to feed ourselves as well as our tiny new creation: the big salad, thirst-inducing pretzels, chocolate babka and, of course, the infamous rye loaf that almost pushed a desperate George Costanza over the edge, nudged us blearily towards the kitchen in search of sustenance.
Okay this isn’t a marble rye, the bread so beloved by the Costanza family, but it is pretty delicious all the same. Chewy, robust and filling – this is one versatile loaf. My recipe mixes rye, spelt and a touch of white flour to produce an open textured crumb that’s very different to the dark, dense, albeit delicious, ‘corky’ breads you may be accustomed to.
The flavours in this particular loaf – fennel and black treacle – marry beautifully with a summery slather of cool, creamy cheese, a crisp apple and maybe a little smoked ham, but also perfectly partner a hearty bowl of soup during chilly weather. Alternatively, how about some sharp, crystalline cheddar with a spoonful of tamarind chutney? Or – as part of a smörgåsbord – thinly sliced alongside boiled eggs, pickled beetroot and dill-infused gravlax? You can also ring the changes and add caraway seeds, orange zest – or herbs if you’re wandering down a savoury path. However, this makes incredible buttered toast and is phenomenal with a tart jam for breakfast, in which case omit the herbs for a more neutral taste.
As well as lending a distinct flavour, the syrupy, burnt toffee scent of the treacle pervades the entire house as this bakes: imagine the heavenly aroma of freshly baked bread enhanced by a deeply intense caramel note. Truly one of the great pleasures of baking. This amenable dough can be popped into a loaf tin, but I prefer a more freeform approach – this produces a pretty artisanal oval from which you can cut long, elegant slices. On the other hand, you could make excellent rolls; very good for picnics – sufficiently robust to withstand travel, yet light enough to leave ample stomach space for further alfresco fare.
I may balk at mugging little old ladies à la Jerry Seinfeld, but, in the words of the inimitable Estelle Costanza, I would certainly takes buses to get that rye…
200g rye flour
200g spelt flour
100g strong white (bread) flour
1 sachet fast acting dried yeast
1 tablespoon black treacle
1 teaspoon salt
390ml warm water
Combine the flours, salt and yeast. Add the treacle and gradually pour in the warm water as you may not need all of it. Knead for 5-10 minutes – or use a freestanding mixer and a dough hook. This will be rough and shaggy, rather than the smoothly elastic doughs you may be more accustomed to. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave in a warm spot, such as an airing cupboard of sunny windowsill, for around an hour or until doubled in size.
Knock back (punch the centre of the dough – it will collapse), knead briefly and shape. Leave to prove for a second time for approximately 30-40 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas Mark 7
Bake the loaf for 10 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 190C/375/Gas Mark 5. Bake for a further 30 minutes or until it sounds hollow when you tap the underside.
Remove from oven and leave to cool. As with all breads, if you try and slice the loaf whilst it is still hot, the crumb will compact and the texture will be doughy.