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Happy Sunday Bread Heads! And welcome to the New Year!

It is hard to believe that I have been posting about baking for an entire year, but the calendar does not lie. This week we’re going to take care of a request. A while back a reader asked if I knew of a black bread that was sweet but with a bitter overtone and might be served in a bread basket at a German restaurant. I did, though it is actually a Swedish bread called Vort Limpa.

There are a lot of different Vort Limpa recipes out there, but they are all missing something in my mind. To make them darker and more complex I turn to my old stand by, Stout Beer, specifically Guinness Stout. Combined with the molasses, orange peel and basil (instead of the more traditional fennel seed) it makes for a bread of startlingly complex flavors that will wow your tongue. It is great with just butter, but makes a really fine bread as the base for a hard salami sandwich as well. When toasted the orange zest perks up and fills the kitchen with a tantalizing smell.

But enough teasing, let’s bake!

Bill’s Vort Limpa

Ingredients:

2 cups Guinness Stout (you could use any stout beer, but when you have access to the best why bother?)
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
½ cup dark molasses
2 packages (4 ½ teaspoons) yeast
3 cups rye flour
2 ½ cups bread flour
Zest of one orange, finely shredded
1 tablespoon of dried basil

For Glaze:
1 tablespoon dark molasses
2 tablespoons water
¼ teaspoon salt to sprinkle on top

Baking pans:
1 sheet pan, covered in parchment paper

Method:

In a medium sauce pan, combine the stout, salt and butter. When you pour the beer in it is going to foam a lot. Don’t worry about it, just toss the butter and salt in. The fats from the butter will eventually tame the foam. Heat over medium heat until the butter has completely melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the molasses. Allow the mixture to cool to 120 degrees and then stir in the yeast and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl or the work bowl of your stand mixer, combine 1 ½ cups of rye flour and ½ cup of bread flour. Pour in the stout mixture. Using a wooden spoon or the flat paddle attachment of your mixer, mix strongly for 2 minutes. You will have a fairly thin batter at this point.

Add the remaining 1 ½ cups of rye flour , basil and the orange zest. Beat for two minutes. Add the rest of the white flour, ½ cup at a time, until the dough forms a shaggy and wet mass. Rye flour is perverse, it is always sticky, so the challenge when kneading is to be able to work with it, but not put too much more flour into the dough.

If you are kneading by hand, set your patients to 11 and turn the dough out onto a very well floured work surface. You can spread ¼ of flour on the work surface without worrying. The dough is going to be pretty fragile, and goopy. Don’t panic. Just keep turning and folding like normal, but don’t press as hard. If the dough absorbs all the flour on the work surface, give it another ¼ of white flour. Some times this is needed sometimes not, you’ll have to judge. If it is a particularly humid day, you might need as much as another ¼ cup. You will know when you’ve reached the right level when the dough does not flow and starts to push back just a little. At this point you can knead for another eight minutes.

If you are going to knead with your stand mixer, switch to the dough hook and add ½ cup of flour right away. Set the mixer on low and let it work the flour into the dough. If all the flour is worked in and it is still sticking to the sides of the bowl, add another ¼ and see how it does. If the dough is pulling away from the sides, and not sticking, your good, but you might need some liberal sprinkles of flour during the process. Keep an eye on it as you knead at medium low speed for eight minutes.

Place the dough in a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in your oven with the light on for 1 ½ hours or until the dough has doubled in volume.

When the dough is risen turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. To form the loaf flatten the dough with the palms of your hands until you have a rectangle that is about 12” long and 10” inches wide. Working from the long side nearest your, roll the dough up away from you. Pinch the seams and lay the dough on the baking pan, seam side down. Cover with a tea towel and let rise until it has doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.

After 25 minutes, set a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat it to 400 degrees for the remaining 20 minutes of the rising time.

Just before you slip the loaf into the oven, make 12 or so 1” deep holes in the loaf with a tooth pick. This will prevent the loaf from rising too fast and breaking. Slip the loaf into the oven and bake for 30 minutes.

Now is the time to make your glaze. Whisk together the water and molasses and set side. At 30 minutes pull the loaf out of the oven and glaze with the molasses mixture. Sprinkle a little Kosher salt on the top. Turn the oven temperature down to 325 and return the loaf to the oven for 40 minutes.

At 40 minutes pull the loaf out and glaze and salt again. Return to the oven for five more minutes to set the glaze.

Remove the loaf from the oven and cool on a wire cooling rack.

One of the great joys of this bread is watching your friends and family try to figure out what exactly is in the bread, don’t tell them, leave them guessing!

The flour is yours.