He Said With a Rye Smile

When I retired, I realized I needed a new hobby, beyond brewing beer, (I have a batch of English Bitter about to be bottled) so I decided to start baking seriously, expanding my skills and experimenting with new recipes and techniques.  Now,  having nearly mastered the concept of retirement, I bake a lot of bread. I also bake a lot of pastries, cakes, cookies, biscuits, crackers, pizza, bagels and pretzels. (I’ve gotta get another hobby!)Hubble Deep Field Image

One of the holy grails of baking is to produce a good New York Jewish Rye Bread. This bread has a tangy rye flavor, chewy crumb and glazed, blistered crust. There are as many recipes and techniques to make this bread as there are galaxies in Hubble’s Deep Field image.

The recipe/method I chose was from Chef John V., A Good Cooking Recipe! This is not the easiest recipe, nor does it use the most common ingredients, however, his historical introduction rang with an authenticity that hooked me. His grandfather owned a dairy farm, as did mine. He was from Hudson NY, whereas mine was from Salisbury Vermont. He sold the farm and became a baker, whereas mine was a farmer to the end of his life. His other grandfather would work at the bakery whenever they needed help, whereas mine, did not. I didn’t say we had parallel experience, just that his sounded authentic.

Chef John V. uses some unusual, or at least uncommon (to me) ingredients that I found intriguing. Potato water: I have recipes that use small amounts of potato flour, but never potato “water”. First Clear Flour: milled from spring wheat and has a very high gluten and protein content which gives this rye its chewiness. White Rye Flour: milled from whole rye berries after the bran and germ are removed. I made the potato water and purchased the unusual flours from King Arthur (another Vermont connection.) He also uses a sour starter which requires 3 days of room temperature fermentation. When ready, the starter has a very yeasty, sour aroma – delicious.

The result of this first try was three small loaves of flavorful, aromatic, chewy crust and crumb rye bread, well worth the effort and will certainly be repeated. It might be fun to try an “easy” rye bread recipe to contrast the effort/reward of the two techniques. I think two medium sized loaves (think bigger sandwiches) would be appropropriate for this recipe.

New York Style Jewish Rye

Recipe by: Chef John V., A Good Cooking Recipe!

This recipe is as close to the original as can be. The only difference is they baked it in ovens that could inject steam during the first 10 minutes, which gave the crust its blistered look and chewy texture.

Note: This is a must have proper ingredient recipe! You can’t substitute medium rye flour without a change in texture. Light Rye or White Rye flour is a must is as 1st Clear Flour. Also note that flour has a different moisture content during the winter as in the summer, so in the winter you may need to add a bit more water and in the summer a little less. No more than a few tablespoons should do—this is a stiff dough! For your success please remember to measure exactly as baking is a science.

Serving size: 3 – 1½ pound oblong rye loaves (Note: next time 2 medium sized loaves)

Preparation time: Start to finish is 3 days including a sour starter


  • Sour Starter—
    • 1 cup warm potato water*
    • 1 cup light rye flour—see footnote
    • 1 Tbsp. yeast, dry active or 1 fresh yeast cake
    • Stir to blend well, then cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 3 days at room temperature 65-70o F

* Potato water—Peel and quarter 2 pounds of regular potatoes, cover with water and season with salt. Cook like you would for boiled or mashed potatoes, drain—saving the water the potatoes were cooked in. This is potato water, it gives bread a moist and compact texture. Save or eat the potatoes as you like.

  • Dough for the bread—
    • 2 cups warm water, about 120o
    • 1 Tbsp. sugar
    • 1 Tbsp. yeast
    • Add—starter from above
    • 2 cups light rye flour
    • 2 Tbsp. kosher salt
    • 2 Tbsp. caraway seeds
    • 4 ¾ cups first clear flour—see footnote
  • Glaze—1 cup water
    • 3 Tbsp. cornstarch mixed with ¼ cup cold water—no lumps


  1. In a mixer or by hand combine 2 cups warm water with sugar and yeast, mix and let sit for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the sour starter and the remaining ingredients. Mix on low speed for 2-3 minutes with a dough hook, then increase to medium speed and mix 6 minutes longer, be sure all the flour is absorbed into the dough by raising and lowering the bowl from time to time.
  3. Remove from the machine and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise 2 hours @ 70o or until doubled in size.
  4. Portion into 3 – 1½ pound pieces of dough and shape into oblong loaves, place on baking pans that have been sprinkled with semolina flour or fine cornmeal. Cover with a damp but not wet cloth and let rise for 40 minutes at @ 75-80o (on top of the stove is fine).
  5. Carefully remove the damp cloth, then slash the dough 3 times across the top with a very sharp knife or razor blade about ¾ of an inch deep. Immediately place in a pre-heated 375o oven, and place a pan of boiling water on the oven’s bottom. Remove the pan after 10 minutes, this will create steam and help with crust development. Continue to bake for 30 minutes or until center is 180 degrees F.
  6. For the glaze: boil 1 cup of water, mix the cornstarch with ¼ cup cold water, then combine with boiled water and stir continually until thickened. Cover with plastic wrap.
  7. Remove the bread and with a pastry brush, brush with the cooked cornstarch. A small amount of this glaze is enough, it’s used to create a shiny surface. Cool the bread on wire racks for at least 1 hour before slicing.


White Rye Flour is milled from whole rye berries which has the bran and germ removed and is unbleached. Medium rye is the next grade with is darker in color and if it were to be used in this bread it would make a darker loaf but not as dark as pumpernickel.

First Clear Flour is milled from spring wheat and has a very high gluten and protein content which gives this rye its chewiness.

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