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Stein's NY Rye Bread

After all that fine talk from Nancy and me about how simple it is to bake bread, here’s a complicated recipe. It’s really about 90% from George Greenstein’s first rate Secrets of a Jewish Baker but over the years I’ve changed, amended, and otherwise horsed around with his perfectly good recipe in order to customize it to my own perverse tastes. Read this recipe all the way through at least 3 days before you try it.

For the Rye Starter:

  • 1 cup warm water
  • ½ cup light rye flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 1/8 tsp active dry yeast

Mix all ingredients and let stand covered in a warm place for 1-2 days. It should be bubbly by then. If not try again.

For the sour:

  • Approx 3-1/2 cup light rye flour
  • 2 T ground caraway seed
  • 2 T dried onion flakes or minced fresh onions
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1/3 cup rye starter
  1. Put the starter into a medium bowl and add ½ cup water, the ground caraway, onion and 1 cup rye flour. Mix well. Then sprinkle about ¼ cup of rye flour evenly over the surface. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for at least eight hours.* At the end of that time the rye sprinkled on the surface will look like islands on top of the expanded mixture.
  2. Add another ½ cup water and 1 cup of the rye. Mix well, sprinkle as before with rye flour, re-cover with plastic wrap and let rise again for another eight hours.
  3. Add the final cup of rye and ½ cup water, mix and re-cover. You don’t need to sprinkle the top this time. Let rise for a final eight hours or overnight.
  4. Slice the crust from a ½” thick slice of rye bread. Cut the bread into small dice and soak in water to cover overnight. This is called altus or alte brot and makes for a moister more flavorful loaf. **

*You can let each stage go for longer than eight hours. I’ve run ‘em up to 12 hours each and if anything it was better. I usually bake on Sunday mornings so I put up the first batch Saturday morning, renew it 8-10 hours later and mix the final stage just before turning in for the night. Next morning the final stage is ready for mixing with the rest of the ingredients.
** If you don’t have any old rye bread handy you can leave this out. Save a slice in the freezer for next time from the loaf you make from this recipe.

For the finished dough:

  • 4-5 C unbleached white bread flour (I like King Arthur)
  • 2 -4 T caraway seeds
  • 1 cup warm filtered or bottled water
  • 3 tsp active dry yeast
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 T powdered malt (optional)
  • Altus (optional)

I use a Kitchenaid mixer for this, so kneading times reflect that. If you’re kneading by hand, good luck. This stuff is sticky.

  1. Add the yeast to 1 cup water in the mixing bowl. Strain the water from the altus, mash it well with a fork and add that, too. Add caraway, oil, powdered malt and onion flakes. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for five minutes.
  2. Add about four cups bread flour and the salt to this and mix just to combine. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes. The mixture will look very dry and shaggy.
  3. Saving about 1/3 cup for the next time you bake, add the sour to the white flour mixture and mix well. Switch to the kneading hook and begin kneading. The dough may seem very wet and sticky. If so add more white flour ½ cup at a time. The dough should still be soft and somewhat sticky. Knead for about 12 minutes on #2 on a Kitchenaid mixer or 20 minutes by hand until smooth.
  4. Turn the dough out onto the counter and shape into a ball. Lightly oil the mixing bowl and turn the dough around in it to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 20 minutes. Turn the dough out, punch it down and fold into thirds. Re-shape and return to the bowl. Do this twice more at 20 minute intervals.
  5. Turn the dough out and divide in half. Shape each half into a rectangle about 8 x 4 inches, long side facing you. Fold the right third of the dough over to the middle of the slab. Fold the left side all the way over the right side, up to the right edge of the slab. Now roll each end over so that they meet in the middle, forming two lobes.
  6. Press the two lobes together and pinch the seam shut. Tuck in the folds at the ends and using the flat of your hand tuck the ends under to form a smooth “heel.” The loaves should be sort torpedo shaped.
  7. Sprinkle a peel with cornmeal. Place a sheet of parchment paper on the peel. Sprinkle that with more cornmeal and place the loaves on it.* Cover loosely with a dry cloth or use a cardboard box big enough to allow the loaves to double in height. Leave as much room as possible between the two loaves so they don’t come into contact and stick together as they rise.
  8. About a half hour into this rise put your baking stone in the oven on the middle rack. Place a cast iron frying pan filled with small rocks on the oven floor and let the oven pre-heat to 375 for at least 30 minutes.

* Okay, so you don’t have a wooden peel or a baking stone. Line a flat baking pan with parchment paper and let the loaves rise on that. When it’s time to bake just put the whole thing into the oven.
The Glaze:

  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 T cornstarch

Mix cornstarch with ¼ cup cold water and bring another cup of water to a boil. Stir the cornstarch mixture into the boiling water until thickened.

  1. Paint the cornstarch glaze over the loaves. Slash each loaf three times crosswise at even intervals about ¼ inch deep. Slide loaves onto baking stone and immediately pour 1 cup hot water into the frying pan at bottom of oven. (You’ll get a real burst of steam so keep your sleeves rolled down and face averted) Shut the oven door immediately. Do not open the door for 20 minutes.
  2. Bake for about 45-50 minutes, turning the loaves around after 20-25 minutes for even browning.
  3. Warm up the remainder of the glaze. When loaves are done (they’ll be a little darker than golden brown, sound sort of hollow when thumped on the bottom and read 200 degrees on an instant read thermometer). Put the loaves on a cooling rack and paint once more with the glaze mixture.
  4. Let cool for at least three hours before slicing.