All grains contain peptides that mimic morphine or endogenous opioid substances. This is where I deal with my latest loaf craving. Get your bread-based exorphin fix here.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Everyday Bread #47- A Simpler Meteil

A Simpler Meteil

"Was the sweet taste of Reinhart's breads truly because he had mastered control of the enzymatic reactions that break down the complex sugars (starches) of the doughs using delayed fermentation techniques, or was that just B.S.?" -today's Blog Question

A Simpler Meteil Recipe

In the wake of yesterday's Meteil disaster, while using Reinhart's recipe for the Meteil sandwich Loaf (for the third time), I wondered if others have had the same trouble as I have had with the recipe.  And I wanted to know if anyone else had achieved the rich dark chocolate brown that Reinhart got, as shown in his picture of the Meteil on page 112 of his book, "Whole Grain Breads".  No Reinhart Meteil that I had ever baked had ever looked like that.  Not even close.

I did a quick Internet search for Reinhart's Sandwich Rye Meteil.  And you know what?  I'm not the only one having trouble with the meteil recipe.  There are some pretty funny, awful loaf pictures here, for example.  I'm glad I'm not alone in my meteil failures.

While misery loves company, it is not much of a party. Eventually, one would like to know if it is the recipe or the baker that is the problem.

I began to suspect that it is the rye flour I'm using: a dark rye, and not a whole (or pumpernickel) rye.  Jugalbandi's blog has a nice list of the various rye flours that should be available to us.  To quote that blogger:

Types of Rye flours
  1. Light/white rye flour – devoid of the bran and germ

  2. Dark rye flour – mostly pericarp with a little endosperm
  3. Whole rye flour or Whole grain rye flour – flour made from the whole grain
  4. Pumpernickel rye flour – a more coarsely milled version of Whole rye flour.
Other whole rye products used in breads are rye meal and rye chops (cracked rye).
We use whole or pumpernickel rye flour depending on availability. The next best option is dark rye flour.

I, however, only have light and dark ryes available to me from the Arva Flour Mill.  I would have to find another source for my whole rye flours (or grind my own, always a possibility).

Or maybe Reinhart's loaves are so dark because his molasses is some sort of extra-black stuff.  Or did he add cocoa to this recipe (he does, in later loaves, although he doesn't list it as an ingredient here).  Who knows?

I had another question I wanted answered.  Was the sweet taste of Reinhart's breads truly because he had mastered control of the enzymatic reactions that break down the complex sugars (starches) of the doughs using delayed fermentation techniques, or was that just B.S.?  Did the sweetness of his loaves merely come from the enrichment (the addition of molasses and honey)?  If the latter, then why do I want to do three time-sensitive, complicated separate builds for a bread when one or two simpler ones might suffice?

I did another Internet search and found another recipe for a Meteil that is somewhat simpler than Reinhart's.  This is from Bernard Clayton's book, "The Breads of France".  Google Books has snippets of this book online, and one of the recipes available to all is the Meteil.  This recipe uses all-purpose flour, but I decided to try it with whole wheat instead.  It gives the recipe in volume measurements.  I weighed the ingredients as I went, so these weights are my own and may not reflect what Clayton intended.

I made a few other slight changes to the recipe, to make it more or less fall in line with Reinhart's ingredients.  For example, the rye starter that Clayton uses is a simple yeast starter, what Reinhart would call a Biga.  I see that other people (on the Fresh Loaf blog) have wondered if such a thing is possible:  Reinhart says you can use a biga here, but he doesn't say how.  Some experts cautioned against trying it because such a starter hasn't got enough acidity: that is why rye breads mostly use sourdough starters.  Someone else had carefully read Reinhart's book, and reported "...on p. 116, Reinhart talks about using a biga in place of a starter in the margins of the Seigle recipe...he suggests you add 1/4 tsp ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to up the acidity...the Transitional Rye on p 119 uses a biga and yogurt."

I decided to add about 1 g of ascorbic acid here.  That is just 2 X 500mg pills of Vitamin C that I crushed with my stone mortar and pestal.

Clayton's dough has some vegetable shortening, something I've never baked bread with before (but I was willing to try; Reinhart uses oil or butter).  But Clayton's has no sweetener.  I decided that since I was changing all purpose flour to whole wheat flour, I might need some extra liquid.  So I added about 40 g each of honey and molasses.  We also had a few leftover onions from last night's salad on the counter, so I just tossed those into the dough as well.

Starter ingredients

For my own edification and practice, I've figured out some of the Baker's percentages of this loaf as I made it.  I thought that the salt value was a bit high; now that I see the percentage, I guess it could be brought down to about 2%. And the hydration could probably be cut down substantially too (to a total that doesn't exceed 85%).  I have probably added far too much sweet stuff (honey and molasses).  I will never use shortening ever again: it is all saturated transfats, not good for you.  We can see from the overall percentages that this Meteil is a 47% Rye bread.  Here is the recipe as I made this bread:


StarterNotes for next time
1 1/2 crye flour202g100%
2 1/2 tspdry yeast10g5%try 4 g & 18 hrs
1 1/2 cwarm water334g165%
2x500mgvitamin C tablets1g0.5%
Final Dough
1 cwarm water225g44%try 186g
1 tbspsalt21g4%try 14g
3 tbspshortening41g8%try 28g butter
3 tbsp?honey41g8%try 28g
3 tbsp?molasses41g8%try 28g
1 crye flour133g26%
2 1/2 cwhole wheat flour375g74%
1/4 smallonion, chopped100g100%optional
1egg, lightly beaten--
1 tbspmilk--
Total Recipe Amounts
-Total flour weight710g100%
-Total rye flour335g47%
-Total whole wheat flour375g53%
-Total salt21g3%aim for 2%
-Total water559g79%
-Total liquid sweeteners (shortening/molasses/honey)123g17%
-Total hydration (water and sweeteners)682g96%aim for 85%

Directions:  I pretty much ignored Clayton's instructions.  Not on purpose, just because I was changing the recipe on the fly.

I mixed up the starter.  Clayton says it is to sit out at room temperature for at least 6 hours, or overnight.  I left mine overnight, about 8 hours.  It is very wet, and I was surprised that it blew the top off the container.  Probably I used too much yeast.  In the morning it had all settled back in, however.  I did lose a bit in the explosion, but I just scraped some off the walls and tossed it back in.

The Starter explodes and falls back in the night

I mix it all up, ignoring Clayton's instructions

Clayton would have you add the water from the dough portion of the recipe to the starter, then salt and shortening, and finally the rye, blending it all with about 30 strokes. Only then do you begin adding the all purpose flour, 1/2 a cup at a time.  I ignored all this (remember, I'm using whole wheat, not all purpose, and this is an entirely different look and touch) and just tossed it all together and mixed.  It remained quite wet.  I turned it out on a floured surface and kneaded by hand and with the folding technique of the pastry cutter for a couple of turns.  It was not as gooey as Reinhart's meteil dough; but it was moister.

It wasn't enough kneading, I know that now. I should have kneaded it more, to develop more of the gluten, if possible.

Then I placed it in the bowl to rise.

Within an hour and a half, it had risen nicely so I turned it out on the floured counter top.  I didn't divide the dough, as Clayton would have us do.  In stead, I formed a single big batard shape.  I was fairly gentle with it, trying not to degas it too much.  It is like handling a meringue.

The dough is very wet, very fragile.  I know I should have kneaded more; perhaps I should have degassed it more, too, I don't know.  But I knew I was going to have trouble moving it, that is why I opted for the parchment paper.  I shored it up as best I could in a couche, too.

After 30 minutes of resting, I preheated the oven, with a stone and pan for water to make steam.

The Loaf is Glazed with Egg and Milk

I was going to ignore the glaze, but ultimately I decided I would brush on the egg and milk topping, because Clayton's oven temperatures are a bit hotter than Reinhart's.  Clayton sets his oven at 400 degrees.  I preheated to 450 for 30 minutes, then turned it down to 400 once the batard was on the stone.  Then it was 30 minutes one way, and another 20 minutes the other way.

As usual, I forgot to score the loaf before putting it into the oven.  Frankly, I don't think it made any difference: there was no gluten to do the oven spring.

Once again, the loaf was too long for the stone (and too long even for the parchment paper).  However, for whatever reason, it did not drip that much.  It should not have held together as well as it did: it was wet, it was spreading instead of rising, I had not kneaded it, I had included onions in the dough, it was too much dough, etc.  Maybe the higher temperature helped bake it before it could drip, who knows?

I shored it up as best I could in the oven with some inverted loaf tins, so it wouldn't stretch sideways too much.

A new use for loaf pans

For the last 20 minutes of baking, the loaf was now holding together well enough to remove the loaf pans that were shoring up the sides.

I'm leaving.  The loaf cools on the stone in the cooling oven.

When the loaf was finished, I did something else I've never done before.  We had to leave right away, so I decided to shut the oven off and just leave the loaf on the hot stone in a cooling oven, after I took the parchment paper off.

When we returned home, the house had a friendly smell of home-baked rye bread with onions.  I finally got a good look at the loaf I had baked. It is flat and misshapen, but the crust is golden and rustic-looking.  It smells like rye and onions.  I would wait at least a day to cut into it, and taste it.

Bad News:

Today's baking cracked my best old Pampered Chef's round baker's stone.  I admit that I've probably been abusing it a bit out in the barbecue (never in direct contact with the grill, always atop another stone that had a crack in it), but it should have handled today's baking with ease.  Surely leaving it in a cooling oven with a loaf on it shouldn't have caused it to crack, should it?  Both of my stones are cracked now, right down the middle.  I'll have to get some new ones.  I'll be looking for a much thicker stone.  In the meantime, I'll have to use the broken pieces.  I won't get another one from Pampered Chef. The newer ones from that company all seem to have stupid stone handles, and I hate that, both for pizza and for bread.  Worst idea ever.

Crumb Shot and Verdict

Rainy days and Mondays: how can it get you down, when there are 3 1/2 rye breads on the table (and pie)?

Although this is a tiny, flat loaf, it slices really well.  The crumb doesn't have a lot of holes, it is fairly dense, but not overly so.  The crust is not tough or crusty, despite the extra time and higher temperatures of the bake.  It is appropriate in consistency, not too crunchy or too chewy, but there has been a little more carmelization of the crust than in Reinhart's loaves, and you can tastte a bit of bitterness which I suspect is the acrylamides from the Maillard reaction; there is the faint background of molasses in this taste.  Although it is not an overpowering taste, it does mask the flavour of the interior of the loaf, and I wondered what the flavour of the bread would be like if I cut off the crust.

I wanted an answer to my question: is Reinhart telling the truth about the flavours of his bread being due to the enzymatic reactions breaking down the complex carbohydrates, or is it just because he adds a lot of sweeteners (honey and molasses) to the enriched dough?  To test the theory that Reinhart is full of BS, I have baked this Meteil: not Reinhart's, but someone else's recipe (which has then been changed by me to add honey and molasses, in fact more honey and molasses than Reinhart would have used).  So how does this one taste, compared to Reinhart's?

In this Meteil, even with the (overpowering) crust cut off, there is not the complexity of taste and overtones of scent and flavour that Reinhart's loaves have.  I taste the rye, but I also taste the molasses.  It is not as salty as I thought it might be.  Here, the sweetness is not as prevalent as it seems in Reinhart's loaves although I've used even more sugary stuff.  Here, the flavour is singular, the harmonic tonal taste flatter and less complicated: just a multiple of the fundamental taste repeating itself.  It is like comparing an orchestra playing Beethoven's ninth, to someone on a hill playing bagpipes.  Both are nice -- in their way.

Thank God, the world is a widely diverse place, where there is room for orchestras and bagpipes.  There is also room for loaves as rich as Reinhart's and as simple as this Meteil.

I think that it is true what people say: you need to have a sourdough to develop the complexity of rye.

Something else I should mention.  I toasted some of this bread, buttered it, and put on a thin layer of some Blossom Sheep Cheese (from Stratford's Montforte Dairy).  As I spread the white cheese on, I suddenly realized that this rye is quite brown in colour: no, not quite as dark a chocolatey brown as Reinhart's picture of the Rye Sandwich Meteil from Whole Grain Breads, but moreso than any rye meteil of his that I have yet baked.  Did this happen because of the extra sweetener, or the kind of oil that I used?  Is it a carmelization of the entire crumb?  Why do my Reinhart loaves not achieve this colour (but when he bakes it, it does?).

Questions, questions, and more questions.

Notes to Myself:
  • If this tastes at least as good as Reinhart's loaves, then there is no point in baking Reinhart's loaves.  The only reason someone would go to the trouble of making a separate soaker and starter before the final dough would be for a taste that is decidedly excellent.  That, in fact, is what Reinhart is selling us here.  Do we buy it?  Or is it B.S?  That is the question, that is the experiment behind this recipe today.  And the answer is, no: it is not B.S.  Reinhart's breads are decidedly excellent and they are worth the trouble to make.  Generally speaking, anyway.  I'm still not sold on the Meteil Rye Sandwich Recipe, from which I've seen and had more failures than any of his other recipes.
  • If you make this simple meteil again, try letting this dough proof less, and try kneading it more.
  • Try this dough again sometime, and degas it thoroughly before forming the loaf, and see if the crumb is still okay.
  • Cut the salt to 2% (14g)
  • Don't use vegetable shortening, use oil or butter, and cut it back to about 28 g.  Cut the molasses and honey back to about 28 g each.  That would make the total sweeteners 84g.  Cut the water hydration back so that the total, with the oil, molasses, and honey, is no more than 85%: so you will need to cut the water in the final dough to 186g, if you intend to keep the starter that soupy (but why is the starter so soupy?  Must be for some reason).
  • I'm not sure about the yeast: I was thinking of cutting the amount back, and extending the time it remains out, at rest, as Lahey advises.  But does Rye work the same way as Wheat, in this regard?  If you are going to try this, perhaps the starter needs some of the wheat that you will be adding.  I don't know, you would have to try it.
  • The idea of letting the loaf cool in the cooling oven: was that a good idea, or a bad idea?  Can you think of any reason why you should not do this?  For this loaf, this time, it seemed to work out all right.  Does it damage the baking stone?


  1. I make this recipe and have had great success with it. In fact I teach a Rye bread making class using this recipe since it is so easy and always turns out great. I do mill my own flour so that may make a huge difference.

  2. Thanks for sharing. When I grind my own grains I am never sure I am getting the flour the correct fineness, since it is so adjustable.

    I had to chuckle when re-reading this blog entry, because back then I was trying to get the rye bread 'darker', and today -- right now -- I'm experimenting with a 50:50 rye:ww mixture, trying to get the crumb 'lighter' in colour. I am no longer adding sweeteners, vitamin C, or oils to my breads (at least, I haven't done so for a long time now). Maybe its just my changing tastes, but I don't really feel the bread needs it.

    The tricky part of a meteil or any dough that contains a lot of rye, for me, is getting the hydration right, but not having the dough sag. Currently I'm trying to develop the gluten with longer sourdough fermentation and gentle stretches and folds. It is fairly easy to get the gluten to elongate at 85% hydration, but then the loaf is wet and sags too much. At 75% hydration, the gluten doesn't develop enough length, and so the loaf sags again. It was interesting for me to re-read Clayton's recipe at this precise moment, and see the amount 79% in my table (before adding sweeteners). Maybe that is the magic number for a bread with this much rye.