I love this bread, with its crisp, golden, open-textured crust and moist, chewy crumb.
It’s much more flavorful than ordinary white bread. Now, let me make it clear that it’s not gluten-free bread. It does contain wheat flour. It’s called rice bread because there’s plenty of cooked rice in it.
I found this unusual recipe while browsing through Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery. The source is old – David wrote that English cookbook author Eliza Acton first published it in 1857. I liked the claims David made for it: moist, long-keeping, light, easy to make, delicious. I’ve made it many times since, and each time I think how right she was.
It’s a good feeling to bake bread with a proved 160-year pedigree. Although I think that if Eliza Acton was baking it in 1857, the recipe is probably much older than that. Apparently, a clergyman’s wife gave it to Mrs. Acton. She was doubtless seeking to stretch the flour into more loaves – English clergymen not being exactly wealthy in the 1800s.
Who knows? I think you can put just about anything into bread. Some good wife imagined how rice would improve bread, tried it out, and the recipe has trickled down through the decades and possibly, a couple of centuries.
David had to translate Mrs. Acton’s recipe into modern usage. It originally made ten loaves and depended on the home-brewed yeast of the time. She added more rice than Mrs. Acton’s recipe, too.
I was surprised at how few ingredients go into this delicious bread, and especially, how little yeast it takes.
I like fresh yeast, but if you don’t have any on hand, active dry yeast works too.
It is a little strange at first, mixing a cooked grain into flour. But keep going, the result will be excellent.
This is the dough after all the rice is incorporated and it’s started to ferment.
The dough is too soft to knead; a few stretches and folds on a floured surface will do. Sprinkle more flour on if needed, but don’t be tempted to add lots more in order to knead. It doesn’t really need kneading. Stretch it between your hands and fold each side to the center. Turn the dough over and stretch and fold again, twice. That’s plenty of action for this floppy dough.
This recipe set me off on years of experimenting with less and less yeast, having learned through David’s fiery prose that you want to taste the wheat in bread, not a whole lot of yeast.
When Jim Lahey’s highly hydrated no-knead bread went viral in 2006 via a column in the NY Times by Mark Bittman, I was already familiar with the concept, and ready to embrace the loaf made with 1/4 teaspoon of yeast. The Lahey loaf takes 24 hours before baking, but rice bread takes far less time, about three hours.
The bread is meant to taste salty, but you can reduce the salt to 1-1/2 teaspoons if you prefer. Less than that would make a bland bread, because of the rice. It doesn’t matter which rice you use. Brown rice will need a little more water in the cooking and will give its own darker look and flavor to the loaf.
Rice contributes its own fat and sugars, which omit the need for added oil or an egg. So you’re saving a few calories there.
It’s the kind of bread that demands being slathered with butter. It makes excellent toast too. En garde.
Hide the butter.
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