overnight rye bread

23 Apr

When I visited San Francisco, I was on a bread kick, sourdough in particular. It began with the Tartine book, and was fuelled by the The Toast Story which I have linked to before:

When I called Josey Baker, the — yes — baker behind The Mill’s toast, he was a little mystified by the dustup over his product while also a bit taken aback at how popular it had become. “On a busy Saturday or Sunday we’ll make 350 to 400 pieces of toast,” he told me. “It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?”

But Baker assured me that he was not the Chuck Berry of fancy toast. He was its Elvis: he had merely caught the trend on its upswing. The place I was looking for, he and others told me, was a coffee shop in the city’s Outer Sunset neighborhood — a little spot called Trouble.

On my second day, still hazy with jet lag, I took the tram all the way to Outer Sunset, within sight of the ocean, and ordered the special at Trouble. Filter coffee, a slab of cinnamon toast, and a young coconut, with its fresh juice and soft insides. I sat at the driftwood bar and watched the locals come and go, and took notes. The breakfast was an odd combination, but it worked because of the story behind it. Food tends to be more satisfying with a side of story.

The toast was good: sweet, airy, plenty of butter and cinnamon. The bread wasn’t really the point of the experience. It was fluffy and white, a vehicle for the topping. Like the Japanese version of toast as dessert, with ice cream on top. A novelty, not for every day. I walked down to the beach and fell asleep, toes dug into the sand.

Later in the week I went to the Mill, closer to the centre of town. An enormous white space, racks of artisan bread and ceramics on the wall. I ordered cream cheese on rye and watched the shimmer of heat rising from the line of toasters. It seemed there was a Toast Master, one guy assigned to grill, butter and serve the squares of homemade bread. Behind him, a team of bakers tipped dough out of plastic tubs and shaped it into balls, relaxed, dexterous. They were wearing jeans, shorts, bandanas, the antithesis of the French brigade. The rye was dark and chewy, with a slight bitter edge that balanced the cream cheese perfectly. It was stuffed with seeds and grains. I think I had another piece straightaway. I definitely went back later on, and worked up the courage to ask the baker, Josey Baker, if he accepted interns come from across the Atlantic. He did, he could squeeze me in for a day.

I mentally revised my work uniform, rejected the white jacket and check trousers I brought with me, considered buying an old band T-shirt from the many vintage shops along Valencia. I allowed myself to be intimidated unnecessarily. The staff at the Mill were open, generous, sharing recipes and tips. They seemed to be constantly experimenting with new flours, different hydrations. We had a late breakfast in the garden, porridge, toast, a frittata cooked in one of the empty decks of the oven. Late in the afternoon, after the early shift had gone home, I helped the girl in charge of the rye.

‘It ferments quite fast, so we just let it sit in the mixer for an hour or so.’ After that we scooped it straight into greased loaf tins, patting it out with wet hands. She rattled off bread puns as I sprinkled cornmeal and she scored the tops with criss-cross lines. She would bake them in a few hours, at the end of her shift, by which point the loaves should have risen to the edge of the tins. I was done for the day, and left with my leggings covered in flour, a little high on the newness of it all.

This was three winters ago. I tried some other rye recipes in the meantime – the Hot Bread Kitchen book has a good one – but came back around to this one. If you have an active starter, it doesn’t take much effort at all. Prepare your starter, soak some seeds. Wait. Mix the dough vigorously. Pat into tins, no shaping necessary, and allow to rise. Over an afternoon in a warm kitchen, or overnight in the fridge. When it reaches the top of the tin, it is good to go. Barely any active time, just waiting. Perfect if you are hibernating for the winter. It will last for three or four days without going stale: with butter and jam for breakfast, honey for elevenses, slices of cheese for an evening in with friends. Have it toasted to pretend you are in California.

(Special thanks go to James and Matthieu for bringing me Danish rye flour which is especially dark and gritty. It works with a paler kind, but I love the deep colour.)


Overnight rye bread

makes 1 loaf – adapted from Josey Baker Bread

The rye flour I find in France is called Seigle T130, a semi-whole-grain blend. The Danish rye flour, which I prefer, is darker and grittier. It is possible to use light rye, it just makes for a paler crumb. Sometimes I mix the two to make my imported stuff last longer.

This recipe is based on getting 8 hours sleep, so adjust accordingly! I mix the leaven about midday, start the dough at 10pm and go to bed. Then bake at about 8am. To speed up the rise, if doing this during the daytime, the tin can be left in a warm place (in winter: an oven warmed to 40C, then turned off) for 4-5 hours.

quantities are for 1 or 2 small loaf tins, 10x26cm – all measurements in grams:


In the morning, mix levain in a small jar, and soak seeds in a large bowl. In the evening, about an hour before bed, mix everything in the large bowl: the seeds, levain, flour, water and salt. Use a stiff spatula and give it a good stir to combine. It will have the texture of cement.

Grease a loaf tin with olive oil and press the mixture into it. With wet hands, smooth out the surface of the loaf. Sprinkle with 1 tbsp extra cornmeal, shaking pan so it covers the surface. With a sharp knife, cut criss-cross slashes, about 5mm deep, to form a diamond pattern. Wrap loaf tin in a tea towel and leave in the fridge overnight.

The next morning:

The dough should have risen a little (but not like a traditional wheat bread) about 1.3 to 1.5 times in volume, up to the top of the tin. If not, let it sit out at room temperature for a couple of hours. Preheat oven to 250C. When the loaf goes in, throw a handful of ice cubes or a cup of hot water onto the floor of the oven to make steam. Bake for 10 minutes at 250C, then lower heat to 210C for 40 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes then remove from tin and let cool on a wire rack.

Optional extra, if well prepared: cook 50g of whole rye grains/berries in plenty of simmering water until they are al dente. 30 minutes to one hour. Drain and allow to cool. It is best to do this when preparing leaven and soaking seeds. Mix into dough with rest of ingredients.

[Rye flour recipe, number 2 out of 3]

3 Responses to “overnight rye bread”

  1. Sarah muston April 23, 2018 at 12:37 pm #

    Your description is mouth watering and I can almost smell
    The bread rising and cooking !!
    With some French jam it would be a perfec
    Breakfast !
    Nice to have your cooking thoughts with us again !

  2. the OP April 27, 2018 at 4:32 pm #

    Reblogged this on Wag 'n Bietjie.

  3. Bill Sewell April 28, 2018 at 6:37 am #

    Hi Frances,

    Sounds v tasty, I might give it a go today. How deep are you loaf tins?

    Hope all’s good with you


    Bill Sewell

    My beautiful new fully illustrated cookbook ‘Bill’s Kitchen’ is now available
    Click here to order online – or pick up at one of the Cafes


    Cafe @ All Saints, Hereford
    Michaelhouse Cafe, Cambridge

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