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Sam the Argentine Baker’s Medium Rye Bread

Sam The Argentine Baker was a Washington, D.C., legend. Born in Russia and raised in Argentina, he came to Washington and ran the city’s finest bread bakery until he retired to Israel in 1974. Years ago, on a visit to Washington, Sam spent several days making empanadas, knishes, challah, pizza, and rye bread at my home. He probably had the strongest fingers I have ever seen, for he took only a few moments to knead the following rye bread. His movements appeared effortless. It was only when I tried to repeat his recipe that I learned how very talented he is.–Joan Nathan

LC Sam I Am Note

This Sam The Argentine Baker sounds like quite the character. According to author Joan Nathan, “Sam believes that rye bread should be eaten the next day. ‘When it’s too fresh, it’s like a stone in the stomach,’ he says.” Day-old bread it is!

Medium Rye Bread Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 30 M
  • 3 H
  • Makes 2 loaves

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons (2 packages) active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 1/4 pounds (5 cups) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 pound (2 3/4 to 3 cups) rye flour
  • 4 ounces (1 cup) rye bran (if you can’t find rye bran, whole wheat bran will do)
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for the baking sheets

Directions

  • 1. Stir the yeast and the sugar into 1 cup lukewarm water until dissolved. If you’re making this during winter, make sure the temperature in your kitchen is at least 65°F (18°C). Set aside.
  • 2. On a marble or pastry board, dump 4 cups all-purpose flour, 2 cups rye flour, and the bran. Make a well and pour in the yeast mixture. Using your hands and a pastry scraper, gradually work the wet ingredients into the dry. Add 1 1/2 cups more water and the salt and oil. Slowly work in the remaining 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1 cup rye flour. (Dividing the dough in thirds and using a food processor is an easy alternative to hand mixing the dough.) The dough will be sticky, heavy, and difficult to manage. Scrape under the dough, folding it over. Using your hands, continue to lift and fold, adding more flour as needed and scraping the board. Knead for about 5 minutes, until the dough is soft, velvety, and elastic.
  • 3. Shape the dough into a ball, dust with flour, and place in a bowl. Cover and let rise in a draft-free place until doubled in size. This will take 3/4 to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the heat of the room.
  • 4. Punch down the dough, knead, and make 2 balls from it. Shape into oblong loaves and place on an oiled baking sheet. Cover and let rise about 30 minutes more, or until the loaves rise somewhat.
  • 5. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
  • 6. Using your hands, spread a little oil on the dough. With a razor make 4 flat, evenly spaced slits across each loaf.
  • 7. Place the baking sheet on the next-to-lowest rack of the oven. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Then lower the heat to 350°F (175°C) and bake about 45 minutes more, until the loaves sound hollow when tapped. If your oven does not seem too hot at 400°F (200°C), you can keep it that high. Sam checked the loaves periodically while they were in the oven and kept turning them to ensure even baking.
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