April 14, 2017
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Rye Is on the Rise
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It took a couple millennia, but rye has finally evolved from a peasant food to a coveted pastry ingredient.

About a year ago, it started to happen. Waffles began to take on a dusky, nutty brown color. Cookies started to gain a tinge of mellow acidity, and pastry crusts developed a rustic heft. Cup by cup, the sweet, glutinous white flour that we were used to was replaced by a glamorously dark and tangy rival: rye.

Until recently, rye flour was mostly found in sturdy Scandinavian and Eastern European sandwich breads, but the grain is decidedly having a moment beyond the loaf. Chocolate rye cakes have hit the menus of Tartine Manufactory in San Francisco and Bien Cuit in Brooklyn. Rye cookies and croissants have popped up in coffee shops around the country, and the dark flour has sifted its way into pancakes and pastas. In Martha Stewart’s latest tome, A New Way to Bake, rye takes the form of almond-y cutout cookies, seed-covered soft pretzels, double chocolate muffins, a rhubarb and raspberry crisp, and even a buttery crust for a quiche.

Where did the sudden mania for rye come from? After all, the ingredient had a reputation for literally thousands of years before as a utilitarian workhorse of bakeries and breweries. In the Middle Ages, white bread was a status symbol, and darker grains like rye were relegated to the peasants. Even as early as the first century, Pliny the Elder wrote that rye “is a very poor food and only serves to avert starvation.”

Rye certainly can avert starvation, but it’s also one of the few healthier alternatives to white flour that has its own nostalgic flavor profile. It has less gluten and a lower glycemic index than wheat, and more fiber, iron, and magnesium. But unlike flours from amaranth, teff, or quinoa, there’s something familiar and evocative about it. Instead of reminding us of a health food, it reminds us of the sweet maltiness of rye bread flecked with crunchy caraway seeds that we ate as kids. And how often can we honestly revisit nostalgic foods from our youth for their “health benefits”?

Rather than trying to approximate the taste of white flour, rye has a headstrong character of its own. Since the flavor is strong and since it absorbs more moisture than other flours, most rye baked goods are tempered with a bit of wheat. Bakers love the sour fruitiness of the grain, which makes it a great accompaniment to cherries, plums, rhubarb, and acidic dark chocolates, but the earthy taste holds up just as well to savory foods like eggs, salmon, and herbs. It may have taken a few thousand years to acquire the taste, but now that we have, the possibilities are endless.

Ingredients

  • 1½ pounds rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
  • ½ pint fresh or thawed frozen raspberries
  • ⅔ cups natural cane sugar
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest plus juice of 1 orange
  • ½ cup rye flour
  • ½ cup packed dark brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • ½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • ¼ cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, and coarsely chopped
  • Ice cream, for serving (optional)

Rye flour adds a bold flavor to this crisp topping while taming the delightful tartness of the rhubarb. Although rhubarb is often associated with spring and strawberries, it grows prolifically in cool climates well into the summer, when raspberries are also in season. If you prefer, you can use an equal amount of strawberries.

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, stir together rhubarb, raspberries, cane sugar, 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, and the orange zest and juice.
  2. In another bowl, combine the remaining ½ cup all-purpose flour, the rye flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Rub butter into flour mixture using your fingers or a pastry blender until it is well incorporated and large crumbs form. Stir in oats and nuts.
  3. Turn rhubarb filling into a 9-inch square baking dish (or other 1½-quart baking dish), and cover with topping. Bake, rotating dish halfway through, until topping is browned and crisp and juices are bubbling in the center, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving with ice cream, if desired. (Crisp is best served the day it’s made.)
Herb Quiche With Rye Crust

Herb Quiche With Rye Crust

1 9-inch quiche

Ingredients

  • For the Crust
  • ½ cup rye flour
  • ¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • ½ teaspoon coarse salt
  • ½ teaspoon fennel or caraway seeds
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 3-4 tablespoons ice water
  • For the Filling
  • 3 large eggs
  • ¾ cups heavy cream
  • ¾ cups milk
  • ¾ teaspoons coarse salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • ½ cup packed small fresh herb sprigs, such as chervil and dill

The custardy filling for this quiche is simple, to allow the flavor of the rye-fennel seed crust to come through (we like caraway seeds here, too). You can add 1 cup of briefly sautéed or blanched vegetables, such as broccoli, asparagus, or greens, to the quiche. Just be sure not to overfill the crust with the custard mixture; it should reach just to the top of the crust.

    Make the Crust

  1. In a food processor, pulse flours, salt, and seeds to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons ice water. Pulse until dough is crumbly but just holds together; if necessary, add up to 1 tablespoon more water. Transfer dough to a piece of plastic wrap and form into a disk. Wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to overnight.
  2. On a floured surface, roll out dough to a 13-inch round, 1/8 inch thick. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Fold edges of dough under and crimp. Freeze 30 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line shell with parchment; fill with pie weights or dried beans. Transfer pie plate to a rimmed baking sheet and bake 20 minutes. Remove paper and beans. Bake until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let crust cool completely.

Make the Filling

  1. Reduce oven to 375°F. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, milk, salt, and pepper. Set pie plate on a rimmed baking sheet and pour custard into cooled crust, stopping just short of top.
  2. Arrange herb sprigs on top. Bake 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 325°F. Continue baking, rotating sheet halfway through, until golden and set, about 55 minutes. Transfer quiche to wire rack and let cool at least 1 hour before serving.
Rye Soft Pretzels

Rye Soft Pretzels

12 pretzels

Ingredients

  • 2 cups warm water (about 110°F)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast (from one ¼ ounce envelope)
  • 3½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • 2 cups rye flour
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for baking sheets
  • ½ cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • pretzel or coarse salt, for sprinkling
  • anise seed, sesame seeds, caraway seeds, and poppy seeds for sprinkling

Pretzels get their bronzed and pleasantly bitter exteriors from a quick poach in a baking soda solution, which hastens the browning as they bake. Rye flour’s sweet maltiness is perfect for pretzels; the only things you need to serve along­side are cold beers and an assortment of mustards and dips.

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine water and honey. Sprinkle with yeast, and let stand until foamy, 10 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk 3 cups all-purpose flour, rye flour, and salt. Add 1 cup of flour mixture to yeast, and knead on low until combined. Add the remaining 4 cups flour mixture, 1 cup at a time, and knead until combined, about 30 seconds. Knead on medium-low until dough pulls away from sides of bowl, about 1½ minutes. Add the remaining ½ cup all-purpose flour, and knead on low until dough is smooth, soft, and elastic, about 6 minutes more.
  3. Pour melted butter into a large bowl; swirl to coat sides. Transfer dough to bowl, turning dough to completely cover all sides with butter. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  4. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and leave in a warm spot until dough has doubled in size, 1 to 3 hours.
  5. Butter 2 large rimmed baking sheets. Punch down dough to remove any air bubbles. Transfer to a very lightly floured work surface. Pat into a rectangle and cut the dough into 12 equal pieces (about 3½ ounces each).
  6. Working with one piece at a time and keeping the others covered lightly with plastic, roll the dough into an 18-inch-long rope. Make a “U” shape with the rope and cross the ends over, pinching them at the bottom of the “U” to form a pretzel. Transfer to one of the prepared baking sheets, cover with a kitchen towel, and repeat process with remaining dough, dividing them between the 2 sheets. Let pretzels rest until they rise slightly, about 15 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 450°F. Fill a large, wide pot with water (about 10 minutes); bring to a boil and add baking soda.
  8. Reduce water to a simmer and add 3 or 4 pretzels. Poach for 30 seconds. Use a slotted spoon or a spider to return pretzels to baking sheets. Poach remaining pretzels.
  9. Brush pretzels with beaten egg. Sprinkle evenly with salt and seeds. Bake, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Let cool on wire rack, or eat warm. (Pretzels are best the day they’re made, but can be lightly covered and kept at room temperature up to 2 days.)

Anna Hezel

Anna Hezel is the senior editor of TASTE.

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