By special request, here is the latest and greatest version of my homemade rye bread – a light Jewish-style rye. I’ve been tweaking the recipe and trying out different baking methods, and I think I’m finally happy with it. (Every version I’ve tried has been really good, but this is the best so far.) If I’d planned on doing a blog post, I’d have taken a picture of the loaf when it came out of the oven, instead of when it was mostly gone.
But first, an explanation of the recipe and process, because the methods are as important as the ingredients.
I started out with Jeff Hertzberg’s Deli-Style Rye as the base recipe, which was really good, but I had a few issues with it: It doesn’t develop it’s best flavor until it’s been refrigerated for a couple of days, it makes dough for multiple loaves (good in theory, but didn’t work so well for me in practice), the loaves come out a bit flat because of the wet dough and no-knead method, and pouring boiling water into a hot pan in a hot oven scares me to death every time I try it.
To improve the flavor and use a less scary baking method, I borrowed from Jim Lahey’s No-Knead bread method, using a tiny amount of yeast with a long rise, and baking the bread in a dutch oven or similar pot (inside the oven) to provide moisture for the crust, rather than water and steam. To get a slightly taller loaf, I used America’s Test Kitchen’s suggestions to use a little less water, and to knead the dough about 15 times.
I also scaled the recipe down to make one large loaf instead of four smaller ones. I haven’t tried doing it, but I’m sure you could cut the dough in half to make two smaller loaves. The second half of the dough would probably be fine in the refrigerator for a few days. The baking time would need to be decreased, but be sure to leave the loaf covered for a minimum of 15 minutes to get a good crust.
The methods: I’ve listed three different baking methods – inside a dutch oven, on a baking stone with a stainless steel bowl over it (the largest bowl from my mixing bowl set), and in a loaf pan.
(Since someone will probably ask… I’ve used a 1950’s era heavy aluminum dutch oven [shown above], and a couple of different stainless steel dutch ovens/stockpots. They all worked fine, but be sure that whatever you use is oven-safe to 450F, especially if it has any sort of non-metal handles or knobs. A cast-iron or enameled pot would be great, but I don’t have one.)
The results with the dutch oven and baking stone were pretty similar. The only problem I had with the dutch oven was that this loaf is large enough that it barely fits in my pot with the parchment paper around it. It bakes fine, but tends to get a slightly scalloped edge from the folds of the parchment paper as it rises a little more in the oven. The dough could be dumped directly in the pot without the parchment paper, but that gets tricky if you’re using the cornstarch wash and seed topping. But you could omit the topping, or of course, just bake half the dough at a time for smaller loaves.
Because of the larger loaf not fitting well into the pot, I tried baking the bread directly on a baking stone and covering it with a metal bowl. That worked out really well – but you do have to make sure that the dough won’t stick to whatever surface you let it rise on, so that you can transfer it to the stone. I used parchment paper liberally sprinkled with cornmeal.
The loaf pan method was an attempt to get a taller loaf for sandwich bread while I was still experimenting with the recipe. Although it gives a more rectangular shape to the slices, the crust is not quite as good. I think the other methods give a much better result, and I don’t really recommend it – but it’s an option if you don’t have an appropriate dutch oven or baking stone.
OK, enough with the yadda yadda. On with the recipe.
** Start the bread about 22-24 hours before you plan to eat it. **
Cheryl’s Almost No-Knead Rye
Makes 1 large loaf (about 1.5 lbs)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup bread flour (or all-purpose flour)*
1/2 cup rye flour
1/4 tsp instant yeast
2 1/4 tsp kosher salt
2-3 tsp caraway seeds for dough, plus an additional 2-3 tsp for topping if desired
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water minus 2 Tbsp
olive oil or other vegetable oil or spray
cornstarch wash (see below)
Cornstarch Wash: Using a fork, blend 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch with a small amount of water to form a paste. Add 1/4 cup water and whisk with the fork. Microwave or boil until mixture appears glassy, about 15-30 seconds.
Mix dough the day before: Mix the flours, yeast, salt, and 2-3 tsp caraway seeds in a medium bowl. Add water (add the last few ounces a little at a time – use as little as needed to get everything mixed – the dough will get wetter as it rests) and mix by hand or with a spoon for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add a little more water only if necessary to get the flour incorporated into the dough. Lightly coat the inside of a large bowl with olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Turn it over so that the top of the dough is lightly greased. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap (prevents the dough from drying and forming a skin), and let the dough rest at least 12 hours (preferably 18-20) at room temperature. Dough is ready when the surface is dotted with bubbles.
Shape and preheat: Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Knead about 15 times to improve rising. Cover loosely and let rest for 10-15 minutes. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball or oval, using floured or wet hands.
Proceed with rising according to your desired baking method below.
Top and Slash: Regardless of the baking method, after the dough has doubled but before putting it in the oven: Using a pastry brush, paint the top crust of the loaf with the wash (you may not use all of it) and sprinkle on the additional caraway seeds. Slash a couple of 1/2″ deep parallel cuts across the loaf with a sharp knife or razor blade.
Baking Note: Bread is done when the crust is dark brown and the middle of the loaf is about 205-210F. (Yeast breads must be baked to a minimum of 190F.)
Dutch Oven Method: Place dough on parchment paper; cover and let rise about 1.5 hours or until doubled (I cover mine with the large clear plastic bowl that’s part of my salad spinner). About half an hour before it’s done rising, preheat oven with the pot and lid to 450F. When dough has doubled, top and slash as above. Remove pot from oven, pick up the parchment paper and dough and lower it into the pot. Cover with lid. Bake 30 minutes. Uncover and bake another 15-30 minutes until done. Cool on wire rack.
Stone Method: Place dough on parchment paper or a bread peel sprinkled liberally with cornmeal so it won’t stick. Cover and let rise about 1.5 hours or until doubled. About half an hour before it’s done rising, place stone on lowest rack of oven and preheat to 450F. When doubled, top and slash as above. Transfer loaf to hot baking stone with bread peel. Cover with a large stainless steel bowl. (I didn’t preheat the bowl, because I forgot, but it worked fine.) Bake 30 minutes. Carefully remove bowl (watch out for steam!) and bake an additional 15-30 minutes until done. Cool on wire rack.
Loaf Pan: Grease the loaf pan well with oil, butter, or shortening – even if it is a non-stick pan. Shape dough into cylinder, place it in the pan, cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until it’s just starting to crest over the rim of the pan. Preheat oven to 450 about 20 minutes before baking. Top and slash. Bake for 35-40 minutes until done, turning pan once halfway through so it bakes evenly. Shake the loaf out of the pan and cool on wire rack.
Please let the bread cool (difficult, I know). Bread should not be cut while it is still hot, or the texture will be a little gummy. It needs time to rest.
* I decided to use 1 cup of bread flour in place of one of the cups of all-purpose flour, but if you don’t have it, just use an additional cup of all-purpose flour instead.