Jewish Rye Bread

Who doesn’t love Jewish rye bread? Especially when it’s made with a homemade rye sour starter. And the not-so-secret secret behind this stunner of a recipe? It includes onions and caraway seeds, resulting in a vastly more complex taste.

A loaf of Jewish rye bread, cur in half, one half balancing on the other

This rye bread is the real deal, folks. Made with an ample amount of rye flour and onion and caraway aplenty, it’s going to taste blissfully familiar to anyone who’s spent years seeking out a loaf of authentic Jewish rye bread. It’s made the traditional way, with an old-fashioned homemade sour starter and a smidgen of day-old bread that’s been soaked in water. Who are we to argue with tradition when it works?!–Angie Zoobkoff

Jewish Rye Bread

  • Quick Glance
  • Quick Glance
  • 50 M
  • 16 H
  • Makes 2 loaves
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Special Equipment: Spray bottle filled with water, wooden peel

Ingredients

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  • For the rye sour starter
  • Day 1
  • Day 2
  • Once a week feeding (to maintain the rye sour starter)
  • For the Jewish rye bread

Directions

Make the rye sour starter–Day 1

In a large bowl, combine the rye flour, water, and yeast, stirring until the mixture is completely smooth.

Tie the onion and caraway seeds together tightly in cheesecloth fashioned like a homemade tea bag and then sink the bag completely into the flour mixture.

Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and place it in a nice warm spot (70° to 75°F|21° to 24°C) and leave it overnight until it’s thick and airy, sorta like whipped cream. Remove the bag, scraping the sour mixture off the bag and back into the bowl, and discard the cheesecloth bag.*

Day 2

Add the water and rye flour to the sour and mix until smooth. Cover with plastic and let it ferment at room temperature until it’s visibly fermented and frothy and quite possibly almost double in size, 3 to 4 hours more.

The rye sour can now be used to make your rye bread recipe. You’ll probably have plenty leftover to put in the fridge. The sour may be kept alive and well in the refrigerator forever if it is fed regularly. Store it in a tightly sealed container and feed it once a week. The chopped onion and whole caraway seeds should have been removed by now and discarded after the first day and not used in future feedings. (See instructions below.)

Tester tip: If you’re going to make this recipe infrequently, just make fresh sour each time. There’s no need to keep your sour alive for weeks or months in between uses. If you are going to bake weekly, feed your sour at least once between baking sessions.
Once a week–Maintain the rye sour

Turn the sour into a large bowl, add the water and rye flour, and mix until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let ferment at room temperature until it’s nice and frothy and full of fermentation bubbles, 3 to 4 hours. The rye sour can now be used to make your rye bread recipe. Or you can put it back in a tightly sealed container and return it to the refrigerator where it will be okay for another week. Feed the sour at least once per week and you will be able to use it indefinitely.

Make the Jewish rye bread

Take the bread, break it into pieces, and moisten it with 1⁄4 cup plus 3 tablespoons water. Let sit for 15 minutes. Measure out 1⁄4 cup (95 g) of the bread and water mixture.

In a large, wide bowl combine the rye sour starter, the remaining 3/4 cup water, the wet bread mixture, instant yeast, and ground caraway. Stir with a wooden spoon until well blended. Add 1 3/4 cups of the flour and stir until the mixture looks like thick pancake batter, about 2 minutes. Add the salt and remaining flour and stir until it starts to form a gloriously shaggy mess.

Scrape the dough out of the bowl and onto a clean, unfloured work surface and gently knead until it forms a smooth ball, 6 to 8 minutes. If the dough begins to stick to the surface, use a plastic scraper to scrape it up and maybe even to scrape the dough from your hands. (Rye has a different chemical makeup than wheat flour and tends to be sticky. Don’t be alarmed if that’s the case and resist the temptation to add flour. Keep gently kneading and the dough will come together.)

Lightly oil the bowl, place the dough back in the bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let it ferment at room temperature until the dough has increased in size by about 50%, roughly 60 to 90 minutes.

Uncover the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Gently shape both pieces into rounds and cover with plastic. Let rest for 30 minutes.

Shape the rounds into loaf shapes. Place on a cornmeal-coated cutting board and cover with plastic wrap.

Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C) and adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Place a baking stone on the rack and a cast iron skillet on the lowest rack or bottom of the oven about 1/2 inch (12 mm) away from the door so it’s accessible to add ice (to create steam to hydrate the bread while it bakes). Preheat the oven for 45 minutes before baking. Have ready a large stainless steel bowl or aluminum roasting pan that’s larger than your baking stone.

While the oven is preheating, let the loaves rest and continue to ferment for 30 to 60 minutes. When you think it’s ready, gently touch the dough with a finger to see if it is ready for the oven. If the indentation is slow to fill back in, the loaf is ready for baking. If it fills back in quickly, give it about 15 more minutes.

Uncover the loaves and use a spray bottle filled with water to heavily spritz the loaves. Place the loaves on a cornmeal-dusted wooden peel. With a razor blade or sharp knife, score the tops of the loaves with 5 uniform slices perpendicular to the length of the loaf.

Slide the loaves onto the preheated baking stone. Add a few ice cubes to the heated cast iron skillet and cover the loaves with the upside-down large stainless steel bowl or aluminum roasting pan in order to capture the steam. Bake for 8 minutes. Then uncover the loaves and bake until the desired color has been achieved, roughly 30 to 35 minutes, although baking times will vary depending on the size of your loaves.

Remove the loaves from the oven, place them on a wire cooling rack, and spray heavily with water. Let cool completely before cutting. Originally published September 8, 2018.

Print RecipeBuy the Zingerman's Bakehouse cookbook

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Recipe Testers Reviews

I love the Jewish rye bread this recipe produced. It makes bread with a great toasty crust and a crumb that's tender and full of deep rye flavor. So many recipes for rye barely include a few tablespoons of rye in the recipe. This one incorporates around a 1:1 ratio of rye to white flour yet still manages to make the bread not come out too dense or flat.

The process of making the sour is interesting to me in how it incorporates the onions in there. This gives an amazing flavor and aroma that lingers in the background of the finished bread. It does not hit you in the face with onion flavor but it is certainly there, making it both delicious and versatile.

The suggested method for generating steam involving a large metal bowl or roasting pan is clunky, inconvenient, could ruin the bread and might even be a bit dangerous if one is not careful with a hot upside down roasting pan! I did not have a bowl large enough for this and my roasting pan would not cleanly cover the bread. I got worried it might mess up the bread as it expands in the oven. I ended up getting rid of it and just used the ice-in-cast iron plus my trusty water spray bottle. I sprayed the oven walls 3 times at 1 minute intervals in the beginning and that is all. The breads worked out great and the crust was perfect. I highly recommend either that or baking the breads one at a time in a covered heavy Dutch oven.

I do think making 2 loaves from this recipe makes them a bit small, about 3 inches tall. This is not ideal for sandwiches. I might try the recipe again and only bake 1 loaf to see if i get a taller loaf like the one in the picture.

This Jewish rye bread has a few steps, but if you’re home and have the time, it's well worth making. My whole family loved this bread and it has a ton of flavor! Next time I make the bread, I plan to make more starter as I found I had to use all of mine to make the 2 loaves of bread.

After the second day, the mixture looked frothy and had a weight of 415 grams. I then stored it in the refrigerator for 3 days and used it at room temperature in my bread recipe.

Our first loaf was devoured quite quickly!

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Comments

  1. I use King Arthur flour and they say one cup of their flour weighs 4.25 oz. So 3 1/2 cup + 1Tb of their flour should weigh 15oz. Spooning the flour into a measuring cup and leveling the top gave me 17 1/2 oz, considerably more flour than 15 oz. unfortunately. Would it be possible to provide this recipe using weights. It’s much more acccurate.

    1. Paul, like you, we find the King Arthur weights to be a little low. We do provide metric equivalents for all of our recipes, which you can find by using the US/Metric toggle switch at the top of the ingredient list. The metric weights are very precise, but if you prefer to work in ounces, I have added those to the US tab.

  2. I started yesterday with an established rye sour. I added the onions and caraway seeds and will feed it again today with plans to make the bread starting Sunday. My question is how often do you add the onion and caraway to the sour? Is it before you make it each time or will the flavor carry over for 1 or 2 times?

    1. Hi Brenda, the onion and caraway are added initially for flavor then removed. After that. the starter is fed with flour and water. Hope this helps!

  3. I have not tried this recipe but it grabbed my attention because I developed my own no-knead Dutch oven Jewish deli rye a few years ago that is so much simpler. I use 1/4 cup plain goat-milk yogurt or kefir in the recipe to replicate the rye sour flavor note. A ratio of 3:1 artisan bread flour to rye flour, and an overnight proofing of 18 hours. Better than any rye I grew up with in Boston, and we had a Jewish bakery on every corner where I grew up.

  4. Lots of work, lots of effort. Looks like an excellent recipe and process. I was impressed with your use of the “alta,” which is German for “the old”. Using a bit of old bread, usually from a piece of a previously make rye bread, to innoculate the present bread with a history. The yeast in it is dead, there isn’t enough material to add flavor, it’s more a homage. It’s used in every old-world style New York Deli Style Caraway Onion Rye Bread.

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