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The ULTIMATE Jewish Rye Bread


Units Scale
  • Starter (Prepare 48 hours in advance):
  • 1/2 cup rye flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon crushed caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon minced onion
  • ***
  • Stage One (Prepare 24 hours in advance)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 1/4 cups rye flour
  • All of the Starter, above
  • 1/4 cup rye flour for sprinkling
  • ***
  • Stage Two: (If a double recipe is desired, this can be increased to 1 cup warm water and 2 cups rye flour.)
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 cup rye flour
  • ***
  • Stage Three:
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup rye flour, or more
  • ***
  • Rye Bread:
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 3 cups Rye Sour
  • 1/2 cup altus (See Note)
  • 4 to 5 cups first clear (aka common) flour (See Note)
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • Rye flour, for dusting work top
  • Oil, for greasing bowl
  • 1/2 tablespoon caraway seeds, or more to taste
  • Cornstarch solution (See Note) or water, for brushing loaves
  • Optional Toppings: Caraway seeds with Pretzel or kosher salt, charnushka seeds or Pretzel salt. In the bakery we use pretzel salt; coarser than Kosher salt, as it does not dissolve into the crust when baked. If pretzel salt cannot be found through your usual sources, try a bagel shop. If you use charnushka (black caraway) seeds, it becomes Russian Rye.


  1. In the starter, the caraway seeds can be ground in a coffee or spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. In the bakery we crush the seeds with a rolling pin. The crushed seeds disappear in the ferment and add a distinctive flavor to the sour. The minced onion helps to hasten the fermentation and adds flavor.
  2. Starter:
  3. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix until smooth. The mixture should have a thin, soupy consistency.
  4. Cover and allow to stand in a warm spot until bubbly and fermented. It can be left up to 24 hours.
  5. *Note: Save the rest of the packet for the first dough.
  6. Rye Sour, Developing and Fortifying: In making sour use approximately ¾ to 1 cup flour to each ½ cup water. (Notice that Stage One calls for a higher ratio. This is done to adjust for the initial consistency of the starter.)
  7. The object is to make a thick consistency as close as possible to that of a soft dough. It is not necessary to thicken to the point that the mixing becomes burdensome. If the mixture is too soupy, add more flour ¼ cup at a time. Mix until smooth.
  8. ***
  9. Stage 1:
  10. In a large bowl or container, combine the water, 1 ¼ cups of the flour, and the Starter; stir until smooth. The dough should pull slightly and may start to come away from sides of the bowl. Wipe down the sides of the bowl with wet hands or a bowl scraper.
  11. Sprinkle ¼ cup flour over the entire surface of the sour. Let stand, covered with a cloth or clear plastic wrap, until doubled in size and the floured top appears cracked with fissures spread widely apart. This may take 4 to 8 hours. Avoid letting the sour collapse.
  12. ***
  13. Stage 2:
  14. To the Stage One sour add the water and ¾ cup of the flour; mix until smooth. Wipe down the sides of the bowl.
  15. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup flour over the entire surface of the sour. Allow to rise in a warm area 4 to 8 hours.
  16. ***
  17. Proceed with Stage Three:
  18. As the sour begins to rise, you can refrigerate it at any stage for later use or overnight for mixing the following day.
  19. Refrigeration retards the rate of growth of the sour, which continues to rise slowly. Whenever time permits, I prefer to make two stages the day before, refrigerating the second stage overnight and preparing the third stage the morning of baking.
  20. If the dough is to be mixed first thing in the morning, the third stage is prepared the evening before, so it can rise slowly all night and be ready in the morning.
  21. To the Stage Two sour add the water and the 1 cup flour. Mix until smooth. Additional flour can be added to attain a dough-like consistency. The sour, when fully risen in Stage Three, is ready for use in the dough.
  22. When the third stage is mixed, set aside ¼ to ½ cup and refrigerate in a covered container with a light film of cold water floated over the top. I have kept sour under refrigeration for months at a time.
  23. *Note: Use warm water if the sour has been refrigerated.
  24. It is best to stir down the starter every 3 to 4 days if unused. Periodically (every 10 to 12 days) dispose of half and refresh it by mixing in equal amounts of flour and water. If there is some discoloration on the top, it can safely be skimmed off and the sour used as normal.
  25. When going away for long periods of time, I freeze a small amount of sour. When preparing a new starter from scratch, I add the frozen sour to preserve my original culture. To ensure the proper strength of the sour, in each stage you can only double the amount of starter you begin with.
  26. For example, if beginning with ¼ cup starter, you can add up to ½ cup water plus flour to thicken. If Stage One contains 1 cup sour, Stage Two can be prepared with up to 2 cups water plus flour. If a large amount of sour is required, extra stages can be added.
  27. Sometimes the process goes awry. Perhaps there is insufficient sour left to start the next batch, or the sour might have been forgotten and was left standing to get old or dry. There is a remedy.
  28. The bakers call it an einfrisch, meaning to refresh. A small amount of sour is thinned down with water to a soupy consistency. Swishing ¼ cup water around in what remains clinging to the sides of the empty bowl can yield enough to restart the sour. Let this einfrisch stand, covered, at room temperature or in a warm spot until bubbly. If desperate, add a pinch of yeast.
  29. When ready, add enough flour to make a first stage, allow to rise, and proceed with two more stages.
  30. ***
  31. For the Rye Bread:
  32. In a large bowl dissolve the yeast in the warm water and add the sour. Add the altus. Without stirring, add 3 cups of the flour and salt. Gently stir the dry ingredients with your fingertips to incorporate, then stir with a wooden spoon, adding more flour as necessary until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.
  33. Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and knead. If the dough is moist and sticky, add more flour ¼ cup at a time. Knead until the dough feels soft and silky (5 to 8 minutes). Rye dough will be softer than usual and tend to feel sticky.
  34. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and turn several times to coat. Cover and allow to rest for 15 to 20 minutes. Punch down, sprinkle with the caraway seeds.
  35. Shaping:
  36. Shape the balls into 2 free-standing pan loaves.
  37. Place on a rye flour- or commeal-dusted baking sheet.
  38. In the bakery we proof the leaves and bake them on the oven hearth using a wooden peel. Cover and allow to rise until doubled in size. Brush with the cornstarch solution, then cut 3 horizontal slashes on the top of each loaf.
  39. Baking:
  40. Bake with steam in a preheated 375 degree F oven until tapping the bottom with your fingertips produces a hollow sound.
  41. Specifically, the loaves are done when the crust is very firm, the internal temperature is at least 205 degrees and the loaves give a “hollow” sound when thumped on the bottom (35 to 45 minutes).
  42. When they are done, leave them in the oven with the heat turned off and the door cracked open a couple of inches for another 5-10 minutes.
  43. The top and sides should feel hard to the touch. Brush again with the cornstarch solution, then let cool on a wire rack. Cool completely before slicing.
  44. Yield Makes 2 loaves.
  45. Notes:
  46. Altus — is European in origin, and little known outside of the bakery establishment. Newcomers to the bakery think of it as a method of using up stale bread.
  47. However, as with many old-fashioned techniques, bakers find that it enhances the desirable qualities of certain breads. Its use seems to have begun in the making of pumpernickel doughs, and the best of these breads often contain altus.
  48. Altus is a mash made by slicing and trimming the crusts from leftover sour rye bread, soaking the trimmed bread in water for several hours or overnight under refrigeration, squeezing it dry, and adding small amounts to the bread dough.
  49. Altus intensifies the distinctive flavor of pumpernickel and rye bread and helps them retain moisture. When using altus, allow for a little extra flour in the recipe. The mash keeps well, covered, in the refrigerator.
  50. Common flour — called first clear or clear flour, must be obtained from a bakery. You can substitute 3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour plus ¾ cup cake flour, but the bread won’t taste as good. 2 cups Rye Sour can be used instead of 3 cups for a milder taste.
  51. Cornstarch solution is used before slashing the top of the bread and placing it in the oven. Bring 1 cup water to boil dissolve 2 tablespoons cornstarch in ¼ cup cold water; then whisk into the boiling water until it thickens. This solution may be kept for several days. For a high shine, brush a second time as soon as the bread emerges from the oven.

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