This bread is very flavorful, dense and unusual. The recipe is an adaptation from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s book “The Bread Bible” and it’s quite different from most of the other breads in her book. Flavored by beer, molasses, orange zest, aniseed and fennel seeds, this bread certainly doesn’t lack flavor. It is wonderful to serve simply with butter or with a slice of sharp, aged cheese.
The dough is actually quite sticky, so even if you try not to add too much flour when you knead it by hand, you will most certainly anyway. One helpful solution is to wet your hands as you’re kneading it to keep it from sticking too much to your fingers. Otherwise, you could of course use a machine to do the kneading for you.
This bread cooks in a low temperature oven since it tends to brown easily and that in turn can make it bitter. The low temperature also affects the texture of the bread which is dense, thick, and slightly cake-like. Ideally, use yeast designed specifically for sweet doughs. If you use regular yeast, the initial rise will simply take a little longer.
2 Small Loaves
4 tablespoons dark molasses
2 tablespoons corn syrup
10 fluid oz bitter ale / 1 ¼ cups
3 tablespoons butter
2 ¼ teaspoons salt
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups rye flour
2 teaspoons orange zest (from 1 orange)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon aniseed
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon instant yeast
1. Combine the molasses, corn syrup, ale, butter and salt in a small saucepan. Heat over low heat until the butter is melted. Pour into a measuring cup and let cool.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the all purpose flour, rye flour, orange zest, sugar, aniseed, fennel seeds and yeast.
3. Using the hand method, gradually add the cooled liquid mixture and stir until all the flour is moistened. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together, then knead it on a floured surface for 5 minutes, adding as little flour as possible.Cover it with an inverted bowl and let rest for 20 minutes. Knead the dough for another 5 minutes until it’s very smooth. Add some additional flour if the dough is sticky.
You can also do this step using a machine. Then, using a dough hook, mix the mixture on low for about 1 minute, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes. Next, knead the dough on medium speed for 7 minutes. Knead in some flour on the counter if the dough is too sticky.
4. Now, place the dough in a lightly greased 2-quart bowl (or dough rising container). Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, 1 to 3 hours, ideally in 75 – 80 degrees.
5. Once it’s doubled, scrape it out on a floured surface, cut it in half, give it a business letter turn (stretch the dough out and fold it on top of it a couple of times) and cover and let rest for 30 minutes. Shape into 2 loafs and set on a lined baking sheet2 inches apart, cover with an oiled plastic wrap. Let rise until almost doubled, 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 min.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. On the lowest shelf in the oven, place a cast-iron pan or a sheet pan. Above, place a baking stone or a sheet pan.
7. Slash the bread with a serrated knife by making 4 diagonal slashes on the top of each loaf. Mist the dough with water. Set the baking sheet on the hot stone. Toss ½ cup of ice cubes into the pan beneath and shut the door immediately. Bake for 5 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 20-25 minutes or until an instant read thermometer in the center reads 190 degrees. Turn the sheet pan around halfway through for even baking.
8. Let cool on a wire rack and wrap each loaf in a baking towel.