Sheets and Blankets

This is an unusual and wonderfully quirky recipe.

I’ve adapted it from a description found in John White’s “A Treatise on the Art of Baking” from 1828, free copy available here.

It is made from a mixture of both wheat and rye doughs, but instead of the more usual marbling effect, the doughs are laid on top of one another in layers, so that when the loaf is cut, the contrast between the two doughs is quite striking.  This striped effect gives the loaf it’s name of Sheets and Blankets, as it resembles a stack of folded bed-linen.

As a loaf, it was already fading from popularity in 1828, as tastes moved away from the dark rye breads and towards whiter loaves, but not only is it pretty to look at, it is also delicious to eat.

The rye layers are both darkened and slightly sweetened by the addition of a little treacle and delicately flavoured with caraway seeds. Neither is overpowering, and the addition of the white dough layers does much to lighten the crumb. Whilst sturdy, and having a fabulous crust, it is nowhere near as heavy or as dense as an all-rye loaf.

The challenge with this recipe is the proving times of the different flours. Rye is much slower and so reluctant to respond to the yeast, it requires a staggered start, and only when your rye dough is starting it’s main proofing should you start making your wheat dough. I used wholewheat flour as the starter for the rye, otherwise the proving time would have been a much more lengthy process.

I chose to bake this loaf in a tin to accentuate the layers, but you can leave it free-form on a baking sheet if liked. It’d probably be closer to how it was originally baked.

You can also bake this using brown bread flour instead of the white, for a sturdier loaf and a more subtle contrast between the layers. Stoneground wholemeal flour is do-able, but just that bit too heavy on the chew, in my opinion.

Sheets and Blankets

You need to start the rye dough at least 1 hour before your wheat dough. You can use your regular white dough recipe, or follow the method below.

For the rye sponge
100g brown bread flour
15g fresh yeast – crumbled
25g treacle – warmed
180ml warm water

150g rye flour
1tsp caraway seeds
1tsp salt

For the wheat sponge
100g strong white flour
15g fresh yeast – crumbled
200ml warm water

150g strong white flour
1tsp salt

  • Whisk together the ingredients for the rye sponge, making sure to get plenty of air into the batter.
  • Mix the other ingredients together and sprinkle onto the yeast mixture.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside to prove for 1 hour.
  • After 1 hour, the sponge will have broken through the dry flour on top, and bubbles should be visible.
  • Mix everything together into a soft dough and knead for 10 minutes. You may need to add a little extra warm water if it’s looking a bit dry.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside to rise.
  • Whisk together the ingredients for the wheat flour sponge.
  • Sprinkle the rest of the flour and the salt onto the yeast mixture.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside to prove. This will probably take less time than for the rye flour.
  • After 30-40 minutes, the sponge will have broken through the dry flour on top, and bubbles should be visible.
  • Mix everything together into a soft dough and knead for 10 minutes.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside to rise.
  • The two doughs should be fully proved at around the same time. Since the wheat dough is going to be more lively, you can deflate it and set it to rise again if the rye dough still needs some time.
  • When both doughs are risen you can shape them into your loaf.
  • Tip out each of the doughs and deflate.
  • Cut off 1/3 of the rye dough and set aside. Divide the remainder into 3 even pieces.
  • Cut 3 x 100g pieces of the white dough. You will have excess dough, so shape it into rolls or put it in the fridge to use later.
  • Shape the six pieces of dough into similar shapes, and stack them alternately one on top of the other, starting with a piece of the rye dough on the bottom.
  • Take the remaining rye dough and roll out thinly. The original recipe recommended having the final layer of the loaf of rye dough, and I chose to roll the remaining dough really thinly and wrapped the whole loaf in a thin layer of rye. This was extremely tricky. Since the bottom layer of the loaf is rye, a much easier approach would be to drape the rolled-out dough over the loaf and either join it to the bottom layer by pinching together, or tuck the edges underneath. I then transferred the loaf to the tin, but if you’re baking the loaf freeform, you can leave it on a baking sheet as is.
  • Sprinkle the top of the loaf with rye flour to prevent it from drying out and set aside to rise for about 1 hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan.
  • There’s not much oven-rise, so no urgent need to slash the top of the loaf, but it shows a nice contrast of the white dough beneath the rye if you like.
  • Bake for between 50 minutes and 1 hour, until the base sounds hollow when tapped.
  • Set aside to cool on a wire rack.
  • Do not slice until completely cold.
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