The secret to great deli-style rye bread (and some Super Bowl ideas!)


This is the New York-style rye bread that got me interested in baking bread when I left New York for Minneapolis in 1987. It continues to be very hard to find–pretty much anywhere in the US. Why? It’s too complicated (and for commercial bakeries, expensive) to create the rye sour that defines the taste of this loaf. And while two of my books include a true sourdough recipe that you can make from rye (see this link if you want to go that route), in general, I simply let a batch of part-rye dough age long enough for the sourdough flavor to develop right in the batch itself. Seven days is perfect but you can use it for up to fourteen with a dough this wet (stored dough is the basis of this method). All rye breads need some wheat flour in order to properly rise, because rye is low in air-trapping gluten, so the real question comes down to the ratio of rye to white all-purpose flour.

You can play with this recipe just by starting with the Master Recipe for a white country loaf that I put up on the site last week. All you need to do is swap in rye flour for some of the white. Swapping a cup of rye flour (4 1/4 ounce / 120 grams) is about right, though sometimes I prefer a little less–half that. Really, no other changes are needed, except for adding 1.5 tablespoons of caraway seeds (if you like them–to me, it’s not rye bread without them). If you go for a full cup of rye you may need a little more water–2 to 4 tablespoons. Shape ovals as in this video:

To clarify a couple of things from the video:  I said to turn and shape the loaf pulling around on three sides– I meant “on four sides;” turn the loaf in quadrants and pull the top around to the bottom to create a “cloak.”  And of course, rest the loaf on on cornmeal or parchment, not on the board where you shaped it or you’d have to lift the fully proofed loaf, which isn’t a good idea.

Let the dough rest after shaping for 60 to 90 minutes, preheating a baking stone to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C) in the last 40 minutes of that time, with a metal broiler tray on any other shelf that won’t interfere with rising bread (do not use glass for this purpose or it will shatter).  Using a pastry brush, paint the loaf with water or cornstarch wash and sprinkle with additional caraway seeds.

Slash at least 1/2-inch deep with a serrated bread knife, making perpendicular, not angled cuts, as in the video. Slide loaf onto the baking stone and pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray and close the oven door.  Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown.

And then, it’s Super Bowl tomorrow–some ideas:

Sheet Pan Taco Pizza for Super Bowl Sunday

Chili Bread Bowl for the Super Bowl

TV spot on Pittsburgh’s CBS affiliate, making “Pain du Football” for Super Bowl Sunday (and eating raw bread dough with host Jon Burnett!)

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20 thoughts to “The secret to great deli-style rye bread (and some Super Bowl ideas!)”

  1. I use your rye bread recipe from the Healthy Five Minute book and it calls for 2 cups of rye flour. I absolutely love that recipe and have dough in my fridge constantly. Question: the bread comes out with a very hard crust initially but as it cools the crust softens significantly. Why and how do I keep it crusty?

    1. In general, the more whole grain you use, the more difficult, I’d say impossible, that it is to get a crisp crust that stays such. In addition to the whole wheat, most rye products available in the United States are whole grain as well, and that’s what I assumed when the recipes were tested for rye in that book. The only other culprit is a humid environment. And I’m assuming you’re not putting in a plastic bag. Once cut, the crust will stay better if you just store the bread in the open with the cut side down on some non-porous surface. Trapping the moisture helps keep the crumb nice, but it definitely softens the crust. Just curious, which edition of that book are you using, the 2009, or the 2016?

    1. You sure can use dark rye flour. Depending on the level of bran in the product, you may need to increase the water a couple of tablespoons to achieve the moisture level in my method.

      1. Yes, that’s what was tested for that recipe. You can use higher-bran rye flours, but sometimes you need to add a bit more water than I called for.

  2. I have a 1/2 batch of your deli rye recipe from the book on my counter right now. I mixed it 5 minutes ago. I am using sourdough starter with 1/4 t yeast. I make sourdough pizza dough every week using your master recipe and 1/2 t yeast. I spent a few years just using the master recipe and finally broke down and bought the book. So worth it. Now I need the second book and the pizza book. 😉

  3. Two questions…

    1) Can you bake this in a Dutch oven?

    2) If I wanted to do rye rolls, would I still slash them?

    1. You can definitely do this in the Dutch oven, just put the words that you’re oven in the search bar above. You don’t absolutely have to slash the rolls but I do, I like the effect.

  4. Can you tell me how many days the breads will stay soft and fresh after baking if I leave it out on the counter – cut side down?

    1. Really, not that long, a day or so. If you use a lot of old dough in the batch and it’s become more sour, maybe two days. Especially if you use more whole grains and rye.

  5. I have some rye berries from a local mill. I’ve seen recipes for kneaded rye that add cooked berries or sprouted berries into the dough. If I were to add them to your no-knead version, should I add them in when I shape the loaf like you recommend for your whole grain onion rye? I’m going to take your recommendation and let the dough sit in the fridge for at least a few days.Thank you!

    1. That will work, but the way I do it is to put it in with the initial mix. . I do cook them before I mix them in, draining the water and using that in the initial mix as well, measuring it with the water, if that makes sense

      1. Thank you! I wasn’t certain about the shelf life, so to speak, once they were cooked. Putting them in at the beginning will be easier and using the cooking water makes sense. I’m looking forward to trying it. Cooking looks to be a lot less of a production than sprouting them.

  6. “All rye breads need some wheat flour in order to properly rise, because rye is low in air-trapping gluten, so the real question comes down to the ratio of rye to white all-purpose flour.”

    Proper rise depends on the bread style. You’re forcing wheat mentality onto rye. Proper whole pumpernickel rye or Vollkornbrot doesn’t rise much. It’s not expected to. It relies on pentosans, not gluten, for its leaven. You can add gluten, like with American Jewish Ryes (which aren’t legally ryes most places) using things like First Clear Flour, but those breads are a pale imitation of their Baltic and Eastern European parents, which typically had well over 40% rye, and other local rye breads quite often were devoid of any wheat gluten.

    1. Are there any rye breads (made with US rye flours which are low in pentosans) that you know of that are 100% rye? Other than crackers? The problem with US-made rye flours is that virtually the readily-available brands are mostly whole grain, which makes for a very dense loaf if you start using the rye percentages you are quoting here. Even so-called “medium” rye has quite a lot of bran and germ, which really makes for a dry doorstop if you try to use it 100% in a rye bread recipe. I have seen recipes with more rye, but the rye flour needs to be completely refined, white rye (no bran or germ), and very very finely ground, otherwise you end up with a dry loaf. Most of my readers are looking for more (not less) whole grain, so I haven’t gone in this direction. Plus, the very refined, very finely-ground rye–is very difficult to find in the U.S., where most of my readers live.

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