What makes our Jewish Rye Bread so great?
Excerpted from the new Zingerman’s Bakehouse Book
In order to open Zingerman’s Bakehouse, we had to be able to bake great Jewish Rye Bread for Zingerman’s Delicatessen, which was our first (and at the beginning our only) customer. It’s not possible to have a superb Reuben sandwich without authentic Jewish rye bread. We wanted our Jewish rye to be an essential part of the sandwich, not just a structural element that didn’t really add to the flavor. So right from the beginning, we used and further evolved the excellent recipe and techniques we learned from our first teacher, Michael London.
First, we use a sour starter, which is unusual these days.
It adds a little bit of leavening to the recipe, but mainly it provides depth and complexity of flavor. We created the starter in the fall of 1992, and we’ve been feeding it every day since to keep it healthy, with just the right amount of tang. This version of rye bread was the one made most often by the Polish Jewish bakers in New York and was called sour rye. It later became known as Jewish rye.
Second, we use “old” rye bread from the previous day’s bake.
We slice and soak it in water and then add it to the dough. It adds a layer of texture, flavor, moisture, and color to the bread. It’s also a tradition for Jewish bakers to take something from yesterday and put it in today’s recipes, representing the continuity and interconnectedness of life.
Third, there’s actually some rye in the recipe.
Many rye breads are made from white-wheat flour with a touch of rye added. We use lots of medium rye (rye flour that has some of its bran) in our sour starter.
Finally, we create a real crackly crust.
We brush each loaf with water before it goes into the oven and then again when it comes out. The contrast of the cool water on the hot loaf causes the crust to crack in a distinctive way that is characteristic of Jewish rye.
Bread care 101
What to expect when you’re expecting bread
We ship our breads using two-day service. Each of our breads comes wrapped in a paper bread bag ready to eat for a few days, or to be wrapped in plastic and frozen for longer storage.
Do not be alarmed if the bread seems hard or dry… our crust is the best (and only!) preservative in our bread! It’s almost magical how well it returns to that “fresh-baked” status with a little time in the oven. Crispy, thick crust; soft, chewy crumb inside.
How to store your bread
Store your loaf in its paper bag on the counter – out of reach of hungry husbands, wily wives, clever kids – for a few days. Don’t put it in the fridge, it’ll wreak havoc on the texture. If your loaf is sliced it’s best to wrap it in a plastic bag so it doesn’t dry out.
If you don’t plan on eating your bread right away, double bag the loaf–or part of it–in plastic and freeze. When you’re ready to enjoy it, remove the plastic bags and follow the heating steps below.
How to serve your bread
All of our breads are completely baked all the way so reheating is not necessary. You can eat the bread right out of the bag (ripping pieces or cutting slices – no judgment here). If it’s frozen, you can leave the bread to thaw fully on the counter and then eat it. We only suggest that the bread will give you the “just out of the oven” experience… if you reheat it in the oven..
Starting with frozen bread? Let it defrost on the counter for 30 minutes, then follow these same directions.
- Heat your oven to 350 degrees
- Take the bread out of the bag
- Throw the whole, half, or part of the loaf on the oven rack naked
- Leave it til it’s hot the whole way through — about 15-20 minutes
- Take time to smell the roses, or better, the amazing aroma coming out of your oven
How long will my baked goods last?
All of our pastries and coffee cakes are baked without preservatives, so you’ll want to eat them soon. Each baked good will have an “eat or freeze by” sticker that is about two weeks from when the package started its lucky journey from us to you.
If enjoying soon, keep them at room temperature.
If you’ll be enjoying the treats soon, they can be kept at room temperature in the packaging they arrived in or in a plastic bag. Avoid the refrigerator, it can ruin the texture.
If you want to save some treats for later, keep them in the freezer.
For longer term storage, all of our baked goods freeze well for up to three months. You can store them in the freezer in their original packaging or, if they’ve been opened, double wrapped in plastic bags.
After the freezer, it is best to allow frozen pastries and coffee cakes to defrost slowly at room temperature in the packaging. That’s all you need to do–though with some pastries like scones, a little warm up in an oven will make them extra delicious.