Name: Howard Walfish
What’s your spice? Caraway seeds
What do you know about it? Growing up in a Jewish household there was no shortage of rye bread (for deli sandwiches, anyway; PB&J got good old white bread). As a kid I assumed that the tasty little seeds in the bread were rye seeds – why else would it be called rye bread? When I found out (much later in life) that they were, in fact, caraway seeds I was dumbfounded. It has a taste similar to fennel, which it is related to botanically, but isn’t quite as licorice-like. Caraway seeds are used in many Northern European cuisines, in many different ways. When I first tasted the Swedish liquor aquavit, it took me a moment to place the flavor: caraway.
What’s your favorite vegetarian recipe using it? Rye bread. I’m the kind of cook who prefers technique to recipes, even when it comes to making bread. The following recipe for rye bread is just a simple one that can be tweaked to your liking. A stand mixer will help immensely, but you can also do it by hand.
1 cup of rye flour
5 cups of AP flour (more or less)
3 cups of warm water (more or less)
half a packet of active dry yeast
a pinch of kosher salt
a tablespoon of caraway seeds, plus a little more
Start by briefly toasting the tablespoon of caraway seeds in a dry sauté pan for a few seconds, until you can smell them. Then dump them into your mixing bowl. Add the two types of flour, the yeast, the water, and the salt. Then mix until the dough just forms a ball. If the mixture seems too loose and sticky, add a little bit of flour at a time until it forms. If the mixture seems too hard and dry, add little splashes of water until it loosens up. Then let the dough sit and rise covered in a warm place, for about an hour.
After the hour is up mix it again for about five minutes, then transfer it to a loaf pan (a disposable aluminum pan would work as well). Sprinkle on the remaining caraway seeds, and if you’ve got some coarse salt that would be good as well. Then let it rise in a warm place again, for at least another hour. While it’s rising preheat your oven to 450 degrees and put a small, oven proof dish full of water on the bottom rack. A broiler pan works great for this. The steam that will be released from this oven will help your bread expand more and yet form a nice crust while baking.
After the hour is up, move the pan into the oven and let it bake for about 45 minutes. Remove it from the oven, turn the loaf out of the pan, and let it cool for at least 20 minutes before eating. Best served with a smear of really good mustard and maybe a good half sour pickle.