Few foods can link cultures and cuisines across the globe quite like the humble loaf of bread. A simple concept at heart, made of little more than yeast, flour, and water, the process of transforming dough into a fluffy, leavened loaf is a remarkable feat of science and art, all kneaded into one. This uniting factor has never been more true, nor more visible, than every 16th of October, when eaters everywhere celebrate World Bread Day. Now in its eighth year running, I’m proud to say that I will have proofed and baked with the best of them for the past seven; a pretty impressive record for someone who periodically neglects their blog for unspeakable stretches of time.
With a hard and fast deadline, the time to act was now, no room for dawdling despite a crazy work schedule. I can’t explain why this date holds quite such importance to me, but participating in the festivities became my top priority. Shaking the light dusting of flour out of my loaf pans and warming up the ice-cold oven, ambition surging through my weary heart after a full day’s work, it was nonetheless the perfect opportunity to tackle something new: Rye bread.
Sure, it’s not the most lovely or universally loved loaf, but rye has a dark, seductive charm all its own. Dense, hearty, and complex, it’s no anonymous sandwich bread, that’s for sure. Flecked with aromatic caraway seeds, the flavoring takes a sharp departure from tradition from there. Root beer, my favorite childhood beverage, adds sweet, woodsy nuances, perfectly paired with the unique character of rye. It won’t beat you over the head with root beer essence- This isn’t isn’t a soda cake, after all- but it’s definitely present in every savory bite.
Rather than merely munch on my new creation, lightly toasted and slathered with buttery spread, I thought it more fitting to dress the thin slices up for the occasion. Decked out for a party of any sort, my rye forms the foundation of bite-sized canapes, topped with a smear of tart, unsweetened Greek-style almond yogurt and a simple pimento olive tapenade. The salty, sour accompaniments compliment the inherent sweetness of the soda beautifully, without obscuring the flavor of this bold bread.
Happy World Bread Day! Be it a sweet or savory event, here’s hoping it’s nothing but delicious.
Root Beer Rye Bread
1 1/3 Cups Regular Root Beer Soda (Not Diet,) at Room Temperature
1 Teaspoon Root Beer Extract
1 1/4-Ounce Packet Active Dry Yeast
1 1/2 Cups Rye Flour
2 Cups Bread Flour
2 Tablespoons Flaxseeds, Ground
1 1/2 Teaspoons Caraway Seeds
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
To begin the dough, measure out the root beer and sprinkle the yeast over the liquid, and let it sit for 5 – 10 minutes, until bubbly and active.
Meanwhile, stir together rye and bread flour, ground flaxseeds, caraway seeds, and salt in a large bowl. Add the yeasted soda and olive oil, and slowly begin to incorporate the liquids into the dry goods. Use the dough hook attachment of your stand mixer to make light work of the job, or be prepared to get your hands in there and get dirty. The resulting dough is very dense, so resist the urge to add more water. Continue to knead the dough for about 10 – 15 minutes until smooth and slightly elastic.
Lightly grease a second bowl, drop the dough in, and cover with plastic wrap. Stash it in the fridge and allow it to sit overnight. It may not rise at all in that time, so don’t stress over the volume at that point.
If the kitchen is fairly warm, let it sit out until it reaches room temperature. Otherwise, use the “proof” setting on your oven to warm it back up.
Lightly grease an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan; set aside.
On a clean, very lightly floured surface, turn out the dough and use your knuckles to gently press it down down into a fairly even rectangle, being careful to keep the width no longer than the length of your loaf pan. Roll up the rectangle as tightly as you can manage. Pinch the seam closed and place the bundle with the seam side down in your prepared loaf pan.
Let the bread rise proof for 2 – 4 hours. That may seem like a lot, but it really does take its sweet time to rise. It won’t balloon up in a big way, but it should reach the top of the loaf pan. At that point, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until deeply browned all over. Let cool completely before slicing thinly.
Makes One Loaf