Deli-Style Rye Bread

Pliny the Elder had a low opinion of rye. Pliny, who happens to be one of my favorite historical sources not because of his authority but because of his Sesame Street name, said rye “is a very poor food and only serves to avert starvation” (quotation abstracted from Wikipedia, what you will). I can now infer two things about dear Pliny. He neither tried this recipe nor enjoyed a sip of rye whiskey.


Deli-Style Rye Bread
source: Baking Illustrated 


For the sponge:

  • 2/3 cup rye flakes (optional)
  • 2 3/4 cups water, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 3 cups (15 oz) all-purpose flour

For the dough:

  • 1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/2 cups rye flour
  • 2 tbsp caraway seeds
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp table salt
  • Cornmeal for sprinkling on the baking sheet

For the glaze:

  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tbsp milk


  1. For the sponge: Heat oven to 350 degrees F; if using toast rye flakes on small baking sheet until fragrant and golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Mix water, yeast, honey, rye flakes or rye bread improver, and flour in the large mixing bowl of a heavy-duty mixer to form a thick batter. Cover with plastic wrap, and let sit until bubbles form over entire surface, at least 2 1/2 hours. (Can stand at room temperature overnight.)
  2. For the dough: Stir all-purpose flour, 3 1/4 cups rye flour, caraway seeds, oil, and salt into the sponge. With machine fitted with dough hook and set on speed 2, knead dough, adding the remaining 1/4 cup rye flour once the dough becomes cohesive; knead until smooth yet sticky, about 5 minutes. With moistened hands, transfer dough to a well-floured counter, knead it into a smooth ball, then place in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at warm room temperature until doubled in size, 1 1/4 to 2 hours.
  3. Generously sprinkle cornmeal on a large baking sheet. Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface and press dough into 12×9-inch rectangle. (For 2 smaller loaves, halve the dough, pressing each portion into a 9×6 1/2-inch rectangle.) With one of the long sides facing you, roll dough into a 12-inch (or 9-inch) log, seam side up. Pinch seam with fingertips to seal. Turn dough seam side down, and with fingertips, seal ends by tucking dough into the loaf. Carefully transfer shaped loaf (or loaves) to prepared baking sheet, cover loosely with greased plastic wrap, and let proof until dough looks bloated and dimply, and starts to spread out, 60 to 75 minutes. Adjust oven rack to lower center position and heat oven to 425 degrees.
  4. For the glaze and baking: Whisk egg white and milk together and brush over sides and top of loaf (loaves). Make 6 or 7 slashes, 1/2-inch-deep, on dough top(s) with a serrated knife, single-edge razor blade, or lamé. Bake for 15 minutes, then lower oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted in center of the loaf registers 200 degrees, 15 to 20 minutes for small loaves and 25 to 30 for larger loaf. Transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Slice and serve.


Delicious, 4.5 stars. This rye tastes good enough to be eaten on its own. The crust is crispy and thick, the cornmeal dusting on the bottom makes it look country bumpkinish, like its rye loaf mother gave birth to it in a barn on a bed of cornmeal, an image which, now that I examine the metaphor, is perfect because the warm loaf does appear to be swaddled, but which falls apart when you think about eating it. Nevermind. I retract my metaphor. It is delicious and not at all like a baby.


Now all the loaves I attempt this week require pre-fermentation—Sponge. This means you have to start your bread the night before you want to put it in the oven. The point of making a sponge is to get the yeast revved up and also to develop more complex flavor profile from the yeast. Because think about it, the yeast is given all night to hang out with its favorite characters, flour and water. It has more time for bacterial shenanigans on the proteins, more time to make lactic acid and –ols. But, you might argue, why pre-ferment, Rachel, when you are already pre-fermenting by using sourdough starter instead of packaged yeast? Well, I pre-ferment because my starter lives in the refrigerator, a clime kept at 40 degrees. I think of myself at 40 degrees; I do nothing. I keep my fingers to myself, under my buns, and I read (sort of). Mostly I think resentful thoughts about people who live in the tropics and I hoard socks. Now, this is attitude is bad for bread. No flavors come of such dourness. So, you let them out into an early spring, give them something constructive to do, and the aroma of bread will smell of springtime adrenaline.

More on this to come.

9 thoughts on “Deli-Style Rye Bread

  1. It is always a joy to read your witty interpretations. My mom and I are actually reading this blog together as we sip on coffee at her bistro in Michigan and we both laughed out loud about your bread birthing metaphor. Well done sister. Looking forward to seeing your buns soon.

    1. Yes! Hello Janelle’s mom! You have a bistro!? Really looking forward to coffee with ya–I’m a little bit in bread overload here. Need help eating it all!

  2. A shout out to Uncle Ken and Auntie Carol Stewart, who I hope are reading the blog for the first time tonight. Ken is the source of the author’s starter…and the bread baked in Rochester by Rachel and in Columbus, Ohio by brother Dave. Bravo….now that your bunz are thawing, we will expect even greater kitchen tales.

    1. You should expect not only pictures of Izzy with the bread, but with our backyard chickens.. coop plans in the works as the snow melts!

  3. Izzy with the chicks will be a good test of self control for her visit to Meem’s house. I wouldn’t want her first visit to be the demise of my elderly terrier. Let me know how this all works out…and whether my chicken name is chosen! (June Cleaver…come on…it’s a great name a nod to the boomers) 🙂

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