This recipe, adapted from one on the King Arthur Flour website, is a keeper. It's delightfully soft, and it features both the slightly tangy taste of classic rye bread and the sticky sweetness of raisins, with a bit of crunch in there just to screw things up.
The best part about it is that it is easy to make, and, if you regularly bake bread, you likely have the ingredients already. If not, you can easily go out and get them.
Mix the following ingredients in a bowl (or in your bread machine on the dough setting, if you prefer):
½ cup pumpernickel flourMix to form a shaggy dough. Knead 10 minutes, let sit 10 minutes, then knead some more. Near the end of the kneading process (if you're using a bread machine, when it beeps), add 1 cup raisins and ½ cup chopped walnuts. You can substitute any dried fruit and chopped nuts here.
½ cup rye flour
2 cups bread flour
1¼ cups water (room temperature)
2 tbsp. melted butter
3 tbsp. brown sugar
1½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. instant yeast (room temperature)
If you made the dough by hand, let it set in a bowl with a damp cloth over it for about an hour. It should double in size. If you made it in the bread machine, just wait until the dough cycle is complete.
At this point, transfer the dough to a lightly oiled loaf pan and cover it with lightly oiled plastic wrap.
Let sit for another 45 minutes or so until the dough crests over the top of the pan. Preheat the oven to 350°F. The dough should look something like this before it goes into the oven.
Bake for about 25 minutes (or longer if you prefer a thicker crust). Remove it from the oven and tent it with foil to keep the crust from burning. Return to the oven and bake another 15 minutes. It's always difficult to tell when bread is ready. I've found two good ways: you can either use an instant-read thermometer (the inside of a medium-sized loaf should hover around 190°F) or you can thump the outside of the loaf with your fingernail. If it's done, it should resonate slightly and hurt just a bit when you thump it.
When the loaf is done, slide it out of the pan and onto a cutting board. I like to cut my bread soon after it's out of the oven (my wife would disown me if I didn't give her a warm piece of bread).
Since water-based loaves can be rather soft and moist, I usually cut them and let them sit on a wire cooling rack for about an hour. Doing so allows them to cool and draws out some of the excess moisture so they will be easier to package.
While it's not a true rye bread, this recipe yields a loaf that is dark and rich like a traditional rye. And the texture of the bread is so perfect that I couldn't ask for more. It's going to be tough not to eat it all now while the wife is sleeping.