When we first started dating, my husband introduced me to a site called Food Gawker. It’s a mosaic of food images from postings on various food blogs and it’s beautiful. Any recipe you could possibly dream of is there and they all look delicious. I have resigned myself to knowing that I will never ever have the time to make all of them, so I try to pick and choose the ones that speak to me. Swedish Limpa bread was one such recipe.
My husband loves rye bread, so I think I must’ve been looking for something new to try when I found the Limpa recipe. I’m part Swedish, my grandmother was mostly Swedish, and so there was no question about it. It had to be made. I tested it out on Easter Sunday when we had guests over and it was a hit. Crusty, lightly sweet, soft in the middle, with a warm, hearty flavor. My stomach is rumbling as I type this – I think I need to go bake a batch right now.
It was great, but heavy – as many rye breads will be. So I decided to work on the ingredients a bit. First it called for ¾ cup of molasses. I personally like the sweetness this gives the bread, but decided to pull back a little and cut it to ½ cup. Next was the shortening. I used vegetable shortening in it originally, which I think keeps the bread moister in the long term, but ultimately gives it a much heavier feel. I swapped that out with vegetable oil. We were getting closer.
After pouring through many blogs and cookbooks, I came upon a technique in my Test Kitchen cookbook called autolyse. They used this in a recipe for a heavier whole grain bread and they claimed this lightened it up. The process just involves mixing some of the flour with some of the liquid and allowing it to rest for 20 minutes or longer. This allows the flour to become saturated and gluten to form. It is then easier to work with and requires less kneading, prevents oxidation of the dough and also results in the lighter texture. I tested out this theory and also tried a sponge (flour, water and yeast that sat out for 24 hours). The autolyse won. The sponge showed promise. Note to self: must do more experiments on that later.
I also saw that many artisan bread makers worked with a much wetter dough than I was used to. Growing up, my mom would always say that the dough should feel like an earlobe when you were done kneading it. In many cases, I think this is perfectly fine. But in the case of my rye bread, I decided that this would be too dry. I would have to get used to working with a sticky dough. Fine and dandy if you have a dough hook and standing mixture, a little trickier if you do everything by hand like me.
I combined all of the above findings complete with scoring the loaves immediately before placing in the oven (my first attempt at this tricky technique). Five batches of bread later, and surprisingly not sick of it yet, and we had an almost perfect loaf.
However, the perfect loaf wouldn't have been complete without some good advice. My husband’s brother, a chef in San Francisco, urged me to make sure the café had rye flour in stock. A jolt of reality hit me. I was going to assume they had everything I needed! A call to Louie confirmed that they did not. Imagine showing up prepared with the perfect recipe and not being able to make it! I would bring in my own ingredients. Thank goodness for the luck of knowing someone in the industry.
Armed with the recipe, ingredients and hopeless enthusiasm, I made my way to the Farmhouse to bake my Swedish Limpa bread.