by Joan Nathan
from Jewish Holiday Cookbook
(Schocken Books, 2004)
Makes 2 loaves
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 was.—Joan Nathan
2 tablespoons (2 packages) active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 1/4 pounds all-purpose flour (5 cups)
3/4 pound rye flour (2 3/ to 3 cups)
1/4 pound rye bran (1 cup) (see Note)
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1. Dissolve the yeast with the sugar in 1 cup of lukewarm water. Set aside. In winter, make sure the temperature in your kitchen is at least 65°F (18°C).
2. On a marble or pastry board, place 4 cups of all-purpose flour, 2 cups of rye flour, and the bran. Make a well and put in the yeast mixture. Work the wet ingredients into the dry, using your hands and a pastry scraper. Add 1 1/2 cups more water and the salt and oil. Slowly work in the remaining cup of all-purpose flour and cup rye flour. (Dividing the dough in 3 and using a food processor is an easy alternative.) When you have added the flour, 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 a greased cookie 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 cookie 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), keep it that high.
Sam checked the loaves periodically and kept turning them around for even baking. Sam believes that rye bread should be eaten the next
day. “When it’s too fresh it’s like a stone in the stomach.”
Note: If you cannot find rye bran, whole wheat will do.
Recipe © 2004 by Joan Nathan. All rights reserved.