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To: The United States Department of Agriculture.

From: America's Holiday Bakers.

Re: The Food Pyramid.

Dear Ag Folks: We know, we know. Whole grains, plus fruits and veggies, should form the solid (and often stolid) base of our daily diet. Meat, fish, dairy, and seeds & nuts should be seen as complementary, not main-course.

But what's up with the pointy little tip-top of the pyramid? Crowded into a tiny triangle – with an ominous notation to "use sparingly," instead of a number of daily servings – are two of the holiday bakers' best friends: sweets, and fats.

Be sensible, now. Do you REALLY expect us to be good doobies and use sugar and butter "sparingly" from now till New Year's?

Because I've got news for you, Pyramid Police – I'm about to throw all dietary caution to the winds.

And I don't think I'm alone out here.

My Four Food Groups at the holidays? Chocolate; Fancy Appetizers; Eggnog; and Everything I Steer Clear of the Rest of the Year.

My mantra? Bring it on. The treadmill will still be there January 2.

Now for those of you following a healthy diet EVERY day of the year, please forgive me if straying into the Carb Zone offends your sensibilities. I promise I'll go back to eating sensibly – right after I enjoy my last glass of champagne at midnight New Year's Eve.

And, just to atone for planned sins, I'm adding a low-fat, low-sugar, whole-grain treat to my lineup of holiday favorites this year: party rye. That dense, dark, thin-sliced rye bread, centerpiece of smorgasbords everywhere.

Forget (for the moment) the smoked salmon and cream cheese, the pickled herring and caviar - this bread is good all on its own.

Or perhaps with the thinnest sliver (“use sparingly”) of butter.

Call it my salute to the Food Pyramid, holiday-style.

Didn't know you could make Party Rye at home, did you? Read on...

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How does that dark pumpernickel you get at the supermarket get its deep-brown, chocolate-y color? From super-caramelized sugar (instructions below); or from this baker's shortcut ingredient: powdered caramel color.

Want to use espresso powder or dark cocoa or some other element from your pantry's dark side to make your bread chocolate-brown?

Go for it! But please don't ask me how much, how it'll make your bread taste, if it'll work, etc.; I haven't tried it, so I don't know. Give it a whirl, then share your results here, OK?

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A very slightly grainy texture adds interest to this bread. Traditionally, it comes from malted wheat flakes (left), wheat berries that are allowed to begin sprouting, which sweetens their flavor. They're then dried, flattened, and gently softened, making them ready to use in your favorite yeast bread recipes.

We're really pleased to have found a new source for malted wheat flakes – key to England's granary bread – after many years of not offering them. If you have malted wheat flakes, use ’em. Assuming most of you don't have them, though, substitute old-fashioned rolled oats (right).

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And what would dark rye be without pumpernickel, the rye equivalent of whole-wheat flour?

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And one more texture-enhancer: cracked wheat, which we'll soften in boiling water before using. It adds a compelling chewiness to the bread.

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Let's get started. As I said, if you have powdered caramel color, use it. If not, here's the alternate way to deep-dark pumpernickel color.

Place 1/3 cup sugar in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until the sugar melts.

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Continue cooking the sugar, stirring to help it brown evenly when necessary.

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Now we're cooking!

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Cook the sugar until it turns dark brown and begins to smoke. Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool for 2 or 3 minutes, while you bring 1 cup of water to a boil.

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CAREFULLY add the boiling water and stir until the sugar is dissolved, reheating briefly if necessary.

I don't need to tell you that working with boiling sugar syrup can be dangerous; please be sensible when doing this (e.g., no kids, no dogs, no distractions).

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Use this water for 1 cup of the boiling water called for in the recipe.

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Put 1 cup cracked wheat and 1/2 cup malted wheat flakes or old-fashioned rolled oats in a medium-sized bowl.

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Pour in the 1 cup of burnt-sugar water + 2 cups boiling water. OR 3 cups boiling water and 2 1/2 teaspoons powdered caramel color.

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Stir to blend.

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Allow the mixture to cool to lukewarm, which will take about 1 hour. Notice the grains have started to absorb the liquid.

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Stir in the following:

4 cups pumpernickel flour
1 cup King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour, organic preferred
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

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Stir with a spoon...

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...or do what lazy me does, and switch to a stand mixer.

For that matter, you could start right out in the bowl of a stand mixer, couldn't you? In retrospect, I don't know why I didn't do that.

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If you're looking for a typical yeast dough here, forget it; the mixture will be sticky and have about as much life as a lump of clay. Not at all your typical yeast dough.

Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it sit in a warm place (70-75°F) for at least 12 hours, and up to 24 hours.

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Here it is, about 15 hours later. You can barely see, along the floury sides of the bowl, where it's “risen” just the slightest bit.

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Dig a spoon into it, though, and you'll see its spongy texture. The yeast has definitely been working.

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After the mellowing/rising period is complete, grease two 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” loaf pans. Stir the dough in the bowl a bit, to bring it together. Divide it in half, and press each half into one of the pans.

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Smooth the surface of the dough with your wet fingers. The dough is exceedingly sticky/slimy; but if you keep your hands wet, all will be well.

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Want a thinner/longer, more traditional shape to your party rye? Use two long, narrow 12 1/2” x 3” x 2 1/2” pans, if you've happened to acquire such pans in the past. Or try our three-channel pan (above), using just two of the channels.

See how the loaves above are slightly different colors? One is made with powdered caramel color; the other, with burnt-sugar syrup. Which is which I can't remember. And in the end, it didn't matter – by the time the loaves were baked, they were the same rich brown color.

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Here's one more pan option: our brownie edge pan, a perfect fit for this recipe.

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Cover the loaf (or loaves) with plastic wrap, and let rest for 1 1/2 hours; they'll rise just slightly, as you can see above.

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Grease one (or two) pieces of aluminum foil, and cover the pan(s) tightly with the foil, greased-side down.

Preheat the oven to 225°F.

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Place the covered pans in the oven. Bake the bread for 2 hours. Remove the foil from the pans, and check to see that the bread is firm and looks set – it should register about 205°F to 207°F on an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a loaf.

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Its top crust will look very moist; that's OK.

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Also, it doesn't make a difference which size pan(s) you've baked the bread in; the loaves will bake for the same amount of time.

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Was this the perfect size/shape pan, or what?!

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Let the bread cool in the pans for 15 minutes to firm. Remove it from the pans and allow to cool to lukewarm before wrapping in plastic wrap or a dishtowel.

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Cool completely before slicing. This is one of the 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” loaves. For party rye squares, slice thin, then cut each slice in half crosswise.

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Now THAT'S what I call thin-sliced.

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Slice your bread. Ready your toppings.

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Let the party begin!

Usually it's not a good idea to refrigerate bread; it stales more quickly in the fridge. But in the case of this ultra-moist bread, if you're going to store it longer than a couple of days, wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate. Or at least put it someplace cool. Otherwise, its moisture makes it prone to mold.

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Party Rye.

PJ Hamel
The Author

About PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!