Braided Marble Rye Bread

If you’re of our generation, chances are good that when someone mentions a “marble rye,” you think of that gorgeous chocolate-brown and tan loaf that caused such trouble in a classic episode of Seinfeld. With this recipe you can enjoy the benefits of a fine marbled rye without having to wrest it from the arms of a sweet elderly person. What’s more – using a sponge starter means that you’ll be able to reproduce the same perfect loaf of bread time and time again.

If you plan to make more ryes in the future, spoon out a half-cup or so of the sponge before adding your remaining ingredients; a sponge used time and time again will yield magnificent yeast flavours as it improves with age. For more information on sponge starters, see the excellent tips from The Fresh Loaf bread-baking site.

Bakes one large, braided loaf.

What You’ll Need
Sponge Starter:
– 1 c. warm water
– 1/2 c. lukewarm almond or soy milk
– 2 1/4 t. (1 package) active dry yeast
– 2 T. molasses
– 1 T. margarine
– 1/2 c. rye flour
– 1/2 c. all purpose flour

– 2 T. vegetable shortening
– 1 1/2 t. sea salt
– 1 T. caraway seeds
– 1 c. rye flour
– 1 to 1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
– 2 T. cocoa powder

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients of your sponge starter and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit in a warm place until bubbly and doubled in size, at least one hour. (The top of the refrigerator makes a nice, cozy home for your bubbling sponge starter!)

Once you have a very active sponge starter that has doubled in size, uncover and mix well with a spatula until completely de-gassed and returned to its original size. In two large bowls, divide your sponge starter into two equal mixtures. You will now begin to make two separate loaves of rye dough: one with cocoa powder, for color, and one without.

In one bowl, add your cocoa powder to your halved sponge starter and stir well. Carefully divide all of your remaining (i.e., “dough”) ingredients in two and split them between the two sponge starters. What you will end up with is two identical balls of dough, except that one contains 2 T. cocoa powder and the other does not.

(Start by adding 1/2 c. rye flour and 1/2 c. all purpose flour to each bowl. If more flour is needed, add more all purpose flour 1/8 c. at a time to each bowl, until you have a pliable, moist dough that is not sticky but not crumbly or dry. You may need the full 1 1/2 c. of all purpose flour called for above, but chances are you will need between 1/8 and 1/4 c. less per bowl.)

Turn your dough out onto a floured surface and knead until springy, about 5 to 10 minutes. Coat each ball of rye dough in vegetable oil, return them to their bowls covered with a damp towel, and let rise in a warm place at least one hour, until the dough has doubled in size.

Punch down your dough and turn out onto a floured surface. Cut each ball of dough in half, so that you have four equal-sized pieces of dough. These will be the strands of your braided loaf.

With firm hands, roll out each piece of dough into a thin log, about 1 to 1 1/2 feet long, which tapers off towards the end. Lay out each strand side by side, and pinch them together at one end. Now, you will begin to braid the strands together. Starting from the rightmost strand, lift the strand of dough and lift it OVER its neighbour, UNDER the next neighbour, and OVER the final (leftmost) strand.

Repeat this process, always starting with whichever strand of dough happens to be the rightmost strand. Lift this strand OVER the one immediately to its left, UNDER the strand after that, and OVER the leftmost strand. This process may take some practice to get right, but your dough will look very elegant even if it is not perfect – promise!

When you have braided each strand down to its very end, pinch these ends together and tuck BOTH pinched ends underneath the loaf. Oil or grease a large baking sheet, carefully transfer your loaf onto the sheet, and let rise again at least half an hour. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400 F.

When your dough has risen a final time, and your oven is preheated, brush the loaf with a wash of soy milk or vegan margarine and bake in the oven 25 to 30 minutes, or until completely baked and hollow-sounding when knocked on its bottom.

Let cool on a rack at least a half an hour (sprinkle with flour for a more rustic-looking loaf), admire, slice and enjoy!

About shesdoingagreatjob

A veteran vegan and her omnivorous companion deliver punchy vegan versions of epicurean classics, from homestyle favourites to exotic beyonds.
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