Friday, August 30, 2013

Raisins, Pecans and Rye--Oh My!

As you have probably gathered by now, I've got a bit of a rye bread obsession. I doubt there's any treatment other than to keep trying new recipes. Here's one for Raisin Pecan Rye Bread from another of my favorite baking books,  "The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion."  I've been seeking a bread that approximates the crusty artisan loaves I see at local farmer markets and bakeries for $5 or $6 apiece. Having gone through the process of kneading a rather sticky dough and struggling to incorporate generous amounts of raisins, currants and nuts into the mix without accidentally losing my wedding ring in the process, I can understand why the loaves are a bit pricey.

Not to intimidate any novice bakers, but I would agree with one comment in response to the online version of the recipe: this is definitely not a beginner's bread! But, as the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding (or, in this case, the bread!). The sweet, nutty combination of raisins, rye and toasted pecans is addictive. From my standpoint, toasted (or not) for breakfast (or lunch, dinner or snack) with butter or jam, slathered with cream cheese, peanut butter or, as the KAF Web notes suggest, an assertive cheese like Roquefort, it's hard to beat. Another variation of this bread, which I'm sure I'll attempt soon, is for Raisin-Rye Crisps, a cracker-like version--also quite pricey in the upper-crust groceries that sell them around here.

The bread recipe calls for a biga, a starter created in much less time than those used for traditional sourdough breads or rye breads--for example, the rye sour I wrote about previously. The biga in this recipe sits overnight, but if you allow it to ferment longer, it would add more sourness to the bread.

Biga just beginning...

Biga getting bigger

The recipe comes from the book and online recipes, which vary slightly from each other. Note that KAF recipes include both weights and measures for most ingredients. Weighing ingredients, particularly flour, isn't a bad idea, although I often don't do it. The reason it's probably wise is that everyone measures ingredients a bit differently, whereas weights are fairly uniform. I'm more strict about this for flour than for liquids but am not so much of a stickler that I wouldn't round off 1 7/8 ounces flour to 2 ounces.

Raisin Pecan Rye Bread

(Makes one large loaf, about 16 servings)


1/8 teaspoon instant yeast
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (2 5/8 ounces) cool water


1 1/4 teaspoons salt (the book version calls for 1 1/2 teaspoons, but I prefer less sodium)
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 7/8 ounces) medium or light rye flour*
1/2 cup (1 7/8 ounces) pumpernickel*
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) unbleached, all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (6 ounces) lukewarm water
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) butter, slightly softened
1/2 cup (2 ounces) chopped pecans (I toasted them first)
1 cup (5 ounces) currants or raisins (I used a combination of both)

Make the biga by stirring together the yeast, flour and water. The dough will be very stiff and dry. Place it in a lightly greased bowl, cover it with plastic wrap or a towel, and let it rest at room temperature overnight, or, as I did, for about eight hours during the day. Again, letting it rest longer, will up the acidity and sourness factor.

Mixing biga with rye and white flours using a dough hook

The next day--or later the same day--combine the biga with the remaining ingredients (except the fruit and nuts) in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix to form a shaggy, sticky dough. I used the mixer, first combining the ingredients using the paddle attachment for a minute or two, then using my dough hook to knead until the dough started to pull away from the sides of the metal bowl. Knead the dough until smooth, though it will still be quite sticky. Place it in a lightly greased bowl and allow it to rest for 1 hour. It will become puffy, though possibly not double its original size (mine actually did, I think).

Kneading by hand
Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface, gently deflate it, and knead in the nuts and fruit. I found this a bit tricky--a cup of fruit and half cup of nuts is a lot to incorporate into a dough that's so sticky. It helped to dust the dough and kneading board with a bit of flour, adding fruit and nuts a handful at  time and kneading a little after each addition. Some of the fruit ended up falling off the edges of the board, but finally, my fruit-speckled dough was ready to be turned into loaves (I doubled the recipe to make two!).

Risen rye before raisins
Shape the dough into a slightly flattened ball and place on a greased sheet pan or round 9-inch cake pan. Cover with some lightly greased plastic wrap or a proof cover. Let the loaf rise for about 90 minutes until puffy. I delayed the process by refrigerating the covered loaves to proof overnight, then allowing a few more minutes to sit at room temperature in the morning. I also brushed the loaves with a little water and sprinkled sesame and poppy seeds on top.

Raisin rye before baking

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the bread for about 50 to 55 minutes, tenting it lightly with foil during the final 15 minutes. It's important to keep your eyes on the bread at the end, as it does brown rather quickly. I also recommend turning the bread once about halfway through the cycle to make sure it browns evenly. The interior of the bread should register 190-195 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. As I don't have one of these (yes, it's on the list!), I used the old thump on the bottom of the loaf technique, plus my trained eyeballs, to figure out that the bread was done.

*Note: I used KAF White Rye for the first and KAF Medium Rye for the second, as I didn't have any pumpernickel. I would probably try a dark whole-grain rye such as Bob's Red Mill organic brand next time--or get the real thing via mail order from King Arthur Flour.

Raisin ryes fresh from the oven

Calories & Points:

According to KAF, each slice of the bread (if you cut it into 16 generous slices of 79 grams each) has about 236 calories, or, if you're going by the Weight Watchers Points Plus system, 6 points. However, as I like my bread toasted thin and crisp, I halve that amount--then eat two slices!


  • Check out some of the suggestions for the recipe online. I'm eager to try "pammyowl's" gluten-free suggestions with buckwheat flour, cornstarch and an egg to satisfy my gluten-phobic friends and relatives. Stay tuned.
  • Try substituting olive oil or a nut oil for the butter. Instead of (or in addition to) currants or raisins, use dried cranberries or cherries.
  • Use hazelnuts or walnuts or a combination of nuts in place of the pecans.
  • As rye and caraway go so well together, add 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of caraway seeds to the dough and/or sprinkle some on top.
  • Another idea is to use George Greenstein's rye sour in place of the biga for more pronounced sour tang. You would probably need to reduce the amount of added water--or add more flour--as the sour is quite wet.