And I have finally gotten very, very, very close.
Here is what I did:
In one bowl, I combined:
10 oz rye flour
1 tsp ground-up caraway seeds
1 tsp ground-sup fennel seeds
10 oz cool water
In another bowl, I combined:
1 cup unfed sourdough starter
8 oz water
9 oz rye flour.
I covered both bowls and left them on the counter all day yesterday and then overnight.
This morning, I got up and combined both bowls of fermenting glop in my stand mixer. I added:
2 tbsp of molasses
1 tbsp of oil
1 tbsp of butter
2 tsp vital wheat gluten
8 oz (approximate) bread flour
1 tbsp espresso powder*
2 tbsp cocoa powder*
2 tsp high-acid yeast
2 tsp kosher salt
I was going to add more wheat flour, because I really did not have a dough at that point: I had a thick batter. But you know, I decided that the fact that all the recipes I had said that the dough should be "sticky" might be a euphemism for "batter," and I have previously made the mistake of putting too much damned wheat flour in the bread and creating a ROCK.
I scraped the batter onto a silpat floured with rye flour and kneaded it by hand until it kind of came together into a loaf, in a very floppy saggy only-touchable-because-of-dry-flour-all-o
I then oiled my dutch oven (which is a small dutch oven, just big enough for a Cornish game hen) and flopped the loaf in. It would not actually stand up as a loaf, so I wound up pressing it into the pan. I covered the pan and stuck it in an oven I had prewarmed to about 150 degrees (I keep a pizza stone in my oven, so it retains heat well) and ignored it for an hour or so. By then, it had puffed up to the top of the Dutch oven, about a doubling in size.
I took the lid off and let it grow up a bit higher. Then I brushed the top with whole milk and (leaving it in the oven) I set the oven to 425, because I wanted to encourage as much oven spring as possible. After it beeped to let me know me know it was hot, I let it bake for an hour.
And then I shut the oven off, left the oven door closed, and left it in there for another three hours with the oven light on. This is an attempt to reproduce the old Slavic overnight style of baking, where you stick the next day's bread in the oven after the current day's dinner is cooked, and leave it there overnight.
It's damned good. A little dryer than I want, but since rye bread can be hideously gummy, that's okay.**
The texture of the top crust is perfect--leathery, hard. Just brilliant. The side crusts, alas, are spongy: I need to find a way to make the loaf stiff enough to stand up on the pizza stone itself, so I can get a proper crust on all sides, without turning it into a rock or a pancake.
But in the meantime, after most of a decade of trying, I have a GIANT LOAF OF REALLY GOOD BREAD AND I KNOW HOW TO DO IT AGAIN.
*next time I may try bitter chocolate and coffee, but hey, I had this stuff this time.
**Next time I may add a little cream or honey (or both) to improve that.*** Also it could use about twice as much molasses. Or maybe the honey will fix that. Also, next time ditch the vegetable oil and use 4 tbsp soft butter.
***I will also drop the actual baking time to 40 minutes. The oven was not quite cool when I took the bread out, but it was only pleasantly warm, and I handled the cast-iron dutch oven with bare hands.
Bonus: via kafkonia, Original Wonder Woman design. Check out those mighty thews.