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How to make Jewish Rye Bread

Mitchel's European (sourdough) Jewish Rye Bread a la Dan


  • This recipe will not work with commercial yeast.  It requires a starter (flour and water with natural yeast). See below.
  • The best source for starter is another baker.  (Ours is from Mitchel who brought it to SLC ten years ago from Eli Zabar in NYC.)   To make your own, see the instructions in Nancy Silverton, Breads from the La Brea Bread Bakery.
  • This recipe is descended from recipes in the Nancy Silverton book, with extensive modifications by Mitchel and minor ones by Dan.
Special Equipment:
  • KitchenAid mixer or equivalent.
    • bread machines will not mix the dough properly.
  • food scale.
    • preferably one with a "zero out" feature.
  • banneton/brotform.
    • a basket for dough rising, plus a kitchen towel to line it. These come in different sizes and shapes. This recipe works best in a 6-8 cup basket, either a "boule" or a sandwich loaf shape.
  • pizza stone.
    • The pizza stone is essential to make a real crust and substitutes for a brick oven.
  • bread or pizza peel.
    • The only practical way to get the bread in and out of the oven.
  • razor blade or lame.
  • 9 1/2 oz. starter, about the consistency of pancake batter or somewhat thinner, that was fed and brought to room temperature at least 4 hours earlier.
  • l lb. 10 1/4 oz. flour.
    • Use about 1 cup rye, dark rye or pumpernickel flour. For a very light rye like the ones from commercial bakers, use about 1/2 cup rye. You can increase the rye, but above 1 cup the bread will rise less. Baking it in a sandwich loaf shape rather than a "boule" will help it to rise even with more rye.
    • For a chewier rye bread, use 1 cup "first clear" high ash flour.
    • The balance should be organic unbleached white high protein hard wheat flour. We use Giusto's Peak Performer unbleached bread flour product #02338 in 50 lb bags, special ordered from Wild Oats. Different flours make radically different breads; "bread flours" in general make a poufier, less crusty bread than the high protein flour we recommend. Whole wheat also works and will produce a darker and chewier bread; use a sandwich loaf, not a boule, rising basket.
  • 13 1/2 - 14 oz. water.
    • Use enough water to make a sticky dough that sticks to the bottom of the mixing bowl slightly but does not break apart after 4-5 minutes of kneading.
    • Stickier doughs will produce more and more irregular air bubbles; doughs with less water will produce a more even and less interesting bread. I usually aim for as sticky a dough as I can handle without making a huge mess, unless I am aiming for a very high rise.
    • Very small changes in the amount of water make large differences; be careful!
  • about 1 Tbs. olive oil.
  • 1 Tbs. salt.
  • about 1-2 Tbs. caraway seeds (optional).

I.  Mix (35-40 minutes)

  • Measure 9 1/2 oz. starter, 1 lb. 10 1/4 oz. flour and 13 1/2 oz. water into mixer bowl.
  • Mix, using dough hook, at lowest speed, for 5 minutes.
    • Dough should be stickier than a bread machine dough -- it should stick to the bottom of the mixing bowl slightly.
  • Push dough off hook, cover bowl with towel, and let rest for 20 minutes.
  • Add salt, and, if desired, 1 Tbs. seeds.
    • Salt inhibits yeast, so we add it late to give the yeast a chance to get started growing. Don't forget the salt, though, or your bread will be tasteless.
  • Mix, using dough hook, at lowest speed, for 4 minutes.
  • Mix, using dough hook, at next speed up, for 4 minutes.
    • If you forgot to add the salt, add it now and mix for 4 minutes.

II.  First Rise (3 hours 20 minutes or 4 hours 20 minutes)

  • Oil a mixing bowl, by pouring about 1 Tbs oil in and spreading it over the entire bowl.
    • A steep sided glass or ceramic bowl about two or three times the size of your dough works best. Metal bowls seem to dissipate the heat too fast and the dough doesn't rise as well.
  • Turn the dough into the bowl.
  • Shape into a ball and press folds to seal.
  • Reverse dough ball so that oiled surface is up and sealed folds are down.
  • Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap.
  • Allow to rise away from drafts 3 hours 20 minutes or until at least doubled.
  • Alternatively:  refrigerate for up to 24 hours, and then allow to rise 4 hours 20 minutes.
    • If you forget and let the bread rise too long, do not despair. Usually it will recover, although it is likely to rise less and may become quite sour (especially after two to three days in the refrigerator). Cutting the second rise somewhat will help. Also, long breads require less structure than round ones, so don't make your over-risen dough into a boule.

III. Punch, Shape and Second Rise (20 minutes plus 1 hour 20 minutes)

  • Turn dough out onto unfloured dry wooden board.
  • Knock down, by throwing it against the board a few times.
  • Cover with a towel and allow to rest 15 minutes.
  • Shape bread into a boule and increase surface tension by rotating dough on board and pushing slightly down and under.
    • It should stick very slightly to the board but not enough to separate.
  • To shape bread into a sandwich loaf or baguette, first flatten it into a disk, then roll it up.
  • Put a kitchen towel into the banneton or bread rising basket and flour it with a heavy flour (rye, corn meal, etc). Alternately, or in addition, cover it with seeds or kosher salt crystals.
  • Place the dough, upside down (seam side up), into the lined banneton.  Tuck any rough edges of dough in and smooth the bottom slightly.
  • Wrap the towel over the dough.
  • Place the entire banneton into a large garbage bag, and, holding the mouth nearly closed, suck the air out of the bag and then fill it with exhaled (moist) breath.
    • The moist air allows the dough to rise without drying out. If the rising dough begins to dry out, it will form a stiff surface that prevents any more rising.
  • Tie the plastic bag and allow to rise away from drafts for 1 hour and 20 minutes.
  • Alternatively: refrigerate for up to 24 hours, and then allow to rise 2 hours and 20 minutes.
  • Preheat oven during this time (see below).

IV.  Bake

  • Preheat oven for one hour at 500 degrees F. with pizza stone.
  • Create steam by throwing 1/3 cup of water against the side of the oven.
    • Steam is essential for a crusty bread.
  • Flour peel.
  • Reverse dough onto peel and shake a little to loosen it.
  • Slash dough with a razor and sprinkle with seeds if desired.
    • The depth and shape of your slashes will affect how the bread rises, its final shape, and its crustiness. For a bread with mostly white flour, try a deep slash three-quarters of the way around a boule. For a heavier rye bread, try a sandwich loaf with 2 or three deep diagonal slashes.
    • To help the seeds stick, first shpritz the loaf with water from a plant sprayer.
  • Slide dough into oven.
  • Reduce heat to 450 degrees.
  • Wait 1 minute 40 seconds and throw 1/3 cup of water against the side of the oven, being sure not to hit the stone or the bread.
  • Wait 1 minute 40 seconds and throw 1/3 cup of water against the side of the oven.
  • Wait 1 minute 40 seconds and throw 1/3 cup of water against the side of the oven.
  • Bake 40 minutes more, for a total of 45 minutes.
    • Don't open the oven during this time.
    • A finished bread will be dark mahagony in color--darker and richer tasting than a commercial bread.
    • For breads with largely whole wheat or rye flour, cut the baking time by 5 minutes.
  • Allow to cool on a rack. Listen for crackling sounds and admire the fine network of cracks before eating.


  • Onion Rye: 
    • Chop 1/4 onion very finely.
    • At the end of step I, add half the onions to the dough. The best way to do this is to fold them into the dough by hand before the first rise. You can also simply add them to the mixer near the end of the final kneading, but they are likely to get smashed.
    • In step III, instead of flouring the banneton towel, cover it with the remaining onions and (if desired) seeds.
  • Challah:  Use all white flour, with up to one cup of high ash ("First Clear") flour.  Add 3 eggs, 1 Tbs maple syrup or honey and 3/4 cup flour to basic recipe.  Braid in step III.  In Step IV instead of slashing, wipe with beaten egg and allow to air dry (about 5-10 minutes), then wipe with beaten egg again and cover with sesame and poppy seeds. (The double egg wipe gives the challah its characteristic shine). Do not use steam when baking breads with an egg wash. You may prefer to reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees after 15 minutes and/or to bake a total of 35 to 40 minutes. Or see our commercial yeast Challah recipes, which make lighter breads.
  • Semolina Bread: Use 1/2 semolina flour, 1/2 white flour, and sesame seeds. For a stronger sesame taste, substitute sesame oil for the olive oil.
  • Baguette (2 loaves): Use all white flour, an extra 1/3 tsp salt, substitute canola oil for the olive oil, and let rise in two baguette shaped bannetons.
  • Pumpernickel Bread: Use 1 1/2 cup pumpernickel rye flour and the balance whole wheat. For a darker color, add 1 Tbs molasses in step 1.

Caring for your starter

  • The best source for starter is another baker.  (Ours is from Mitchel who brought it to SLC ten years ago from Eli Zabar in NYC.)   To make your own, see the instructions in Nancy Silverton, Breads from the La Brea Bread Bakery.
  • Starters will change depending on what they are fed. Therefore you may wish to keep separate white and rye or wholewheat starters. However, rye starters go very sour very quickly, so be sure to keep a white starter as a "mother" culture.
  • Starter should be fed twice or even three times a day unless refrigerated. Refrigerated white flour starter does not need to be fed for several weeks (see below).
  • To feed your starter add equal amounts of flour and water so as to double the total volume: i.e., if you have 1 cup of existing starter, add 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of flour. This doubles the amount of starter each time you feed, so you will have to spill some off. Be careful in disposing of unwanted starter since it dries into a form of concrete.
  • Between feedings, leave your starter open to the air at room temperature. It should bubble and froth. If you think of it, stir it once between feedings. The consistency should be similar to a pancake batter -- adjust water or flour if needed. If you are not feeding it enough, it will become strong smelling and sour, or water will separate on top, or it may even turn brown. None of these are fatal: just start feeding it more.
  • When you are not going to use your starter for a few days, you can refrigerate it in a sealed container. Feed it before refrigerating it. Refrigerated starter does not need to be fed for several weeks. On removing it from the refrigerator, feed it again and do not use it for at least 4 hours. Sometimes I find that the starter makes distinctly better bread if it has gone through at least a couple or three feeding cycles, so it is a good idea to remove the starter from the refrigerator a day or two before baking.
  • Starter is alive, composed of natural yeasts and bacteria from your original culture and the air of your kitchen. It will vary according to how you feed it, what yeasts are nearby and so on. Underfed starters get very sour and may develop a layer of water on top or even turn black. Do not panic -- just feed it several times, leaving it open and at room temperature in between.
  • We have not found a successful way of keeping starter alive and untended for more than a month, although Nancy Silverton says that drying it will work.

Now that you have starter, you will want to use it for other starter/sourdough recipes.

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