“Levy’s” Real Jewish Rye Bread

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes: one

    3½ pound

    if baked in La Cloche)

Appears in

Both my parents were raised in the Bronx, but when I was growing up, we lived in Manhattan. Whenever my father had an excuse to return to the Bronx, he never came home without a freshly baked loaf from his favorite bakery. My favorite was the rye bread, studded with constellations of caraway seeds. (I always complained when he brought home the seedless variety, which he would only do when they sold out of the caraway one.) My grandmother, who lived with us, would serve me slices spread thickly with unsalted butter, then paved with rounds of sliced red radishes and lightly sprinkled with kosher salt that she crushed between her thumb and index finger. To this day it is my favorite way to eat rye bread with one possible exception: When I bake it myself, I can have the first slice while it is still warm from the oven.

It has taken me years to get my rye bread to taste and feel just right. I like a wheaty flavor, with not so much rye that it becomes bitter, and a chewy texture that is not so dense it becomes pasty. I love using La Cloche, a large, unglazed, earthenware platter with a dome-shaped top. During baking, the bread rises to fill the dome, which gives it a lovely shape, moist texture and very crunchy top. The bread is still delicious when made free-form.

I like making bread entirely by hand because half the pleasure lies in the feel and touch of kneading it. But the quality will be equal if made with a heavy-duty electric mixer.

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Sponge time: at least 4 hours; up to overnight
Rising time: 3 to 4 hours
Preheat the oven to: 450°F.
Baking time: 1 hour 20 minutes
room temperature volume ounces/pounds grams/kilograms
fresh yeast* or 1 packed tablespoon 0.75 ounce 17 grams
dry yeast (not rapid-rise) teaspoons 0.25 ounce 6.75 grams
sugar, divided 3 tablespoons 1.3 ounces 37.5 grams
water, divided 3 liquid cups
bread flour, divided 5 cups (dip and sweep method) + about cups for kneading pounds 1 kilogram
rye flour 2 cups 6.75 ounces 190 grams
caraway seeds ¼ cup 1 ounce 28 grams
salt 1 tablespoon 0.70 ounce 20 grams
vegetable oil 1 tablespoon
cornmeal about 2 teaspoons
OPTIONAL: unsalted butter, softened radishes, sliced kosher salt

*Fresh yeast causes dough to rise faster.

First thing in the morning or the night before


Proof the yeast: Crumble the fresh yeast into a small bowl and add ½ teaspoon of the sugar and ¼ cup of the water, warmed to a tepid 100°F.; if using dry yeast increase the temperature slightly to 110°F. Stir until the yeast is dissolved. Set aside in a draft-free spot for 10 to 20 minutes. The mixture should be full of bubbles; if not, the yeast is too old to be useful. Discard it and start again with fresh yeast.

Make the sponge: In a large bowl, combine the yeast mixture, 3 cups of the bread flour, 2 tablespoons of the remaining sugar and the remaining cups of water. Whisk until very smooth, about 100 strokes. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to stand for 4 to 5 hours at room temperature or refrigerate overnight.

In a medium bowl, combine the remaining 2 cups of bread flour, the rye flour, the remaining teaspoons of sugar, the caraway seeds and salt. Stir into the sponge, add the oil and mix just until smooth. Mix in enough flour so that the dough is not sticky; then scrape the dough onto a lightly floured counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, adding bread flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. It should be very elastic, smooth and cool to the touch and jump back when pressed with a fingertip. If the dough is too difficult to knead in one batch, divide it in half and knead one portion at a time until smooth, keeping the remaining dough covered. Then knead the two portions together until combined.

Form the dough into a ball and place it in a large oiled bowl. Turn to coat, tightly cover with plastic wrap (preferably Saran brand) or a damp towel and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in bulk (it can take as long as 2 hours if the room is cold). Punch down the dough, knead it lightly and allow to rise a second time until doubled. (The second rising takes about 45 minutes.)

If time allows, give the bread a third 45-minute rising before the final shaping.

Sprinkle the La Cloche bottom or a rimless baking sheet with about 2 teaspoons of cornmeal (or enough to cover lightly).

Roll the dough into an 8-inch ball and place it on the La Cloche bottom or baking sheet. Cover with a large inverted bowl or plastic wrap sprayed with nonstick vegetable shortening. Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes.

At least 30 minutes before baking, soak the top of La Cloche if using it. Preheat the oven to 450°F., and preheat a baking stone or cookie sheet.

Slash the top of the dough with a sharp knife or razor blade. (I like to make two long slashes about 6 inches apart in one direction and a second two long perpendicular slashes through them.) Place the soaked La Cloche top on top of the base if using and place on the preheated baking stone or sheet or slide the dough directly onto the baking stone.

Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 400°F. and continue baking for 65 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when rapped. (The baked bread will stay warm for 2 hours.)

NOTE: Do not use parchment on the bottom of the La Cloche unless it is greased or the bread will stick to it.

Electric Mixer Method

To make the sponge, place the ingredients in the mixer bowl of a 5-quart or larger heavy-duty mixer and, with the whisk attachment, beat for about 1 minute or until very smooth. Remove the whisk attachment, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 4 to 5 hours or refrigerate overnight.

Using the dough hook paddle attachment, gradually stir in the remaining 2 cups of bread flour mixed with the rye flour, the remaining teaspoons of sugar, the caraway seeds and salt. Add the oil and mix just until smooth. Add additional bread flour, if necessary, and mix to form a soft rough dough. Change to the dough hook, scraping off any dough that clings to the paddle, and mix on medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. After the first 3 minutes, if the dough still appears sticky and has not begun to clean the sides of the bowl, add some additional bread flour a few tablespoons at a time. If the dough seems dry, add water 1 tablespoon at a time. Form the dough into a ball and proceed as above.