To say that our budget is a little tight right now is an understatement. More accurately, and perhaps more in the parlance of our modern era, we have enacted austerity measures. I am a reasonably thrifty person, but if you buy a house and throw a large wedding within the span of three months and aren’t broke, well, you probably aren’t doing it right. (Right?! Please comfort me.)
Being a person who cooks can be empowering during times like these, not only because cooking can be more pocketbook friendly than eating out, but because you likely already have some pantry staples and freezer something-or-others stowed away that you are only going to cook if necessity calls for it. You know what I’m talking about: the brick of leftover lentil stew that you froze in 2013 with good intentions, but looks so unappetizingly brown that you don’t really have the stomach to defrost it. Or the buckwheat groats that you bought because you have an Eastern European friend who claims that kasha varnishkes is somehow actually delicious (still open to being convinced; still have not cooked it). Canned water chestnuts (seemed like a good idea?). Ten pounds of dark rye flour (long story). That sort of thing. And so the gauntlet has been thrown: no grocery shopping unless absolutely necessary. Use what we have on hand.
The cooking arsenal of the broke is vast, and intensely personal. I turn to bread. Bread, although maligned for many reasons nowadays, is very useful for turning ingredients that aren’t particularly substantive on their own into a meal. (Dried pasta, similarly maligned, is similarly useful.) So I set off to make a loaf. My go-to recipe is Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread (and its variations), but it goes stale pretty quickly on the countertop. Not really at-the-ready for slicing when you need a piece under a fried egg or some cheese. What I needed was a slightly enriched dough, with a little bit of fat and sweetener, that stays pliable a bit longer and has a finer crumb for toasting. And there was that ten pounds of dark rye flour in my cabinet.
What followed was a cobbled-together recipe from various King Arthur Flour recipes. We tend to associate rye with caraway, the seed it’s most commonly paired with in classic deli rye, but on its own it has a mild, nutty flavor that I really love. The bread itself is reasonably easy as far as breads go, and stays fresh sealed in plastic on the countertop for up to a week. Most importantly, it toasts up beautifully: crisp on the outside, still pillowy on the inside, ready for whatever you can scrounge from the fridge and pile on top (tomato jam, cheddar, and chopped fennel fronds? Maybe being broke is not so bad.)
A rye bread for toasting
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups rye flour
- 2 1/4 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled
- 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
- Mix all the ingredients together, stirring until the dough just comes together. Knead the dough with your hands for just a minute or two. It should be a little sticky and very pliable, but not too wet.
- Cover the dough and let rise until doubled in size, 60 to 90 minutes.
- To make a more sandwich-style, taller loaf, lightly grease a 2-pound capacity loaf pan (don’t worry, you can also shape the loaf by hand and bake on a baking sheet).
- Deflate the dough and gently shape it into a log and place it into the loaf pan. If not using a loaf pan, shape the dough into a round boule or freeform longer loaf, tucking ends under to create a smooth loaf, and place on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Allow the dough a second rise, for another 60 to 90 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit near the end of the second rise. Just before baking, slash the bread several times across the top with a sharp knife.
- Bake for about 45 minutes, until bread is dark-golden.
- Allow bread to cool before slicing. Bread stores well in a plastic bag or bread box for up to one week.