The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Day 5 Jewish Corn Bread - which is actually a rye

varda's picture

Day 5 Jewish Corn Bread - which is actually a rye

One of my goals in learning how to make bread was to be able to recreate a bread I ate as a child called tzitzel.   As I understand it, tzitzel mean caraway in Yiddish, and tzitzel is a rye bread with caraway and covered with cornmeal.   So far, despite many attempts and many different formulas, I have not come very close to recreating this memory bread.   Perhaps one can never recreate memory bread.    In any cases, my searches on this site, with its many rye bakers, led me to Greenstein's Secret of a Jewish Baker.   I have tried making his Jewish Rye (p. 136) a couple of times, and not very successfully given beginner's errors.   I have also made Jewish Corn Bread (p. 155) actually a rye bread with caraway wrapped in cornmeal, several times,  and despite many  beginner's errors, this bread is delicious enough to make me (almost) forget about some elusive memory of tzitzel.   The problem with Jewish Corn Bread, at least as I make it, is that while I can get it to taste good, I can't for the life of me get it to look good.   The instructions call for the following:  "[after kneading] Transfer the dough to a prepared clean wet bowl...pat the dough down and cover with a film of water....Allow the dough to rise until doubled in volume, 45 to 60 minutes."   This is the only rise for this bread.   And within minutes after it's done rising it goes straight into the oven.   I suspect that this treatment is what causes it to taste so great, and what makes it so addictive (to me anyhow).   However, it's a bloody mess when it comes out of the water, practically unshapeable, soggy in parts and so on.   And to make matters worse, I'm not 100% sure that his instructions mean to immerse it in water - although that's how I've read it.    Does he mean immerse the dough, or does he just mean spill water over it until it's thoroughly wet.    Also Greenstein gives all his measurements by volume, some approximately, and I just cook it that way, but my results have been pretty consistent, and pretty consistently ugly. 

I'll wait until tomorrow to post crumb photos.   I've learned on this site, that one must wait, wait, wait to cut into rye!

And the crumb...


wally's picture

I'm not familiar with Greenstein's book or with corn bread; however, by "thin film of water" he may just be calling for you to lightly brush it with water to keep the surface from drying out and developing a tough skin.  Just a guess, but for years I used to cover my breads with a damp tea towel during proofing for that very effect.

Personally, I think your picture shows a very nice looking loaf with some good slashes so far as I can see.  Looking forward to the crumb shot!


varda's picture

can afford to be nice.   But thank you.

ppschaffer's picture

Hi Vhaimo: your Jewish corn bread looks DELICIOUS.  From your pic, I wonder if it might be slightly overproofed and, if so, that might be the reason for its lack of significant oven-spring...puffiness.  George Greenstein's book is wonderful.  I, too, have made his corn bread and have presumed, perhaps incorrectly, that he literally meant to submerge the dough (which, if I recall, floats).  I have found that too wet or too dry a (internal) dough can led to a dense bread regardless of whether it is floating in water...finding the right combination is difficult.  Years ago I emailed questions to Mr. Greenstein about his sourdough rye; he has very helpful.  Lately, I have tried to find Mr. Greenstein for answers to other questions pertaining to his book recipes (but have not contacted his publisher...I think I'll do that) but have been unsuccessful.  Good luck with your corn bread!

varda's picture

Yes,  it floats.   Which is what got me to wondering whether he meant for it to be submerged or not.   Because he also writes that you should cover tightly after covering with a film of water.   I didn't cover, because the floating dough would have bobbed right up into the plastic wrap.    And I find it hard to believe that my loaf was over-proofed.   It did around double in its time in the water.   And that was in around 50 minutes - which was total rise time.   But how would I know?   Certainly no fingertip test on this dough.   And it did get some good ovenspring.   But you are right it is dense, dense, dense.   And it has been every time I've made it.   I tried switching from first clear to another high gluten flour to see if I could get better gluten development.   That helped but not much.   This time I went back to first clear.   I also have tried letting the high gluten flour ferment overnight with the water and yeast before adding the rye sour and rye flour.   That made a tasty bread, but it was basically marble since I couldn't merge the rye with the white in the morning, the white was so springy.   So maybe you are right that it is just too wet.   In Greenstein's instructions, he says the wetter the dough, the better the taste.   So I haven't tried too hard to dry it out, but maybe as you say, that is what is causing it to be so dense.   Thanks for your comments, 


Bee18's picture

Hi there,

I'm baking rye bread for many months now and after a numerous of errances and mistakes and heart breaking from the non photogenic results, I reached the point that I have to decide if I want the beauty or the tasty....

Now I stick to one way : I mix my sourdough rye with the flour and the water ( in proportion of the size I want to get my bread after baking ) which is most of the time 200gr sourdough for 500 gr. bread flour 300 gr. water and salt. I let the mix to stand on the bench in the mixer bowl for the night, or the day which is usually 8 to 10 hours. Then with wet hands I move the dough to a cast iron pot and smooth the top with very wet fingers leaving a film of water upon the surface. Then I let to ferment for as long as I feel, up to 24 hours or more on the bench when it's cold and in the fridge when it's hot. 2 hours before baking with wet hands I deflate and reform the dough inside the pot and let it rise again. With rye the rise is not very strong. I forgot to say that along the process I cover the pot with it's lid leaving a small aperture. Finally I put the bread into the cold oven and bake at 250* for 45 minutes, retrieve the lid give a spring of water on the bread and let it bake 15 to 20 minutes more at 220* to make the top crusty.

Before the baking you can spread cornmeal on the top or when you open the pot after 45 minutes if you want. you can mix the caraway into the dough with the other ingredients, the last I baked I mixed 75 grs of Zätär ( Middle Eastern mix of Thyme, Sesame seeds, Olive oil Salt, and other herbs that I don't know) and the bread got the flavour of it and turn slightly green.No need to say that I enjoy it very much as I use this Zätär for many years with Pitas Labene (sour cheese) humus etc...But never thought to mix it in the bread... The idea was given to me few days ago by someone on this site who did it.

I love the results because the bread stay flat enough to be very crusty all over, I never use this bread to make sandwiches only as a treat with good cheese, butter and smoked fish or meat, and nothing messy happened to me anymore.

I think that the people who bake rye straight in the oven put much more flour to make the dough not so sticky and can then preform it and slash it decoratively.

I stop trying to cook or bake things that I remember from my childhood, it's never the same as it is in my mind. When my mother was doing her shopping in the Pletzle in Paris where all the jewish shops were, I can remember even the smell of the street when approaching the bakery or the fish shop with a strong smell of pickles, sauerkrot and herrings, or the butcher and his smoked meats salamis tongues and sausages... I came back to it 50 years later and although it's still the Pletzle but the smells and the agitation of the people doing their Shabbat shopping have disappeared. People are shopping kosher food under plastic cover in supermarket today..

Hope my comments will help you, Bee



varda's picture

and I think I will try it.   And your  point about trying to cook memories is very well (and poetically) put.  Time to give it up.  

kdwnnc's picture

Your "ugly bread" looks pretty good.

dmsnyder's picture

corn rye is made almost the

Greenstein's recipe is clearly an adaptation for home baking, but I found Norm's description of how they really made Corn Rye in the bakery interesting and instructive.

My interpretation of Greenstein's method also led me to submerge the dough for proofing. It's a mess, as you described.

Greenstein was supposed to have another book coming out many months ago. It seems it was cancelled or indefinitely delayed by the publisher. I don't know why, but I wonder if the author became ill ... or worse. He can't be a young man.


varda's picture

Very interesting.   I had actually seen that thread previously but hadn't got that far down in it.  Thanks for pointing it out.   So not exactly submerged but pretty darn wet.   I love the thought of an oak box for rising, but I'm not particularly handy, so I'll have to see if I can come up with a wet but not submerged environment some other way.   I took a look at my copy of "Secrets..."   It is copyrighted 1993, and in the picture on the jacket, he looks to be in his 60s, so assuming the picture was taken at the time of the original publishing, he would be well into his 70s or past by now.   He doesn't have an entry in Wikipedia.   Someone who knows him should make one for him. 

AnnaInMD's picture

"a film" of water on the bread. To me that means spritz it a bit with water and then cover with plastic.


nicodvb's picture

you should see what comes out of my hands instead :-) My loaves are so ugly to give shivers down the spine, while yours looks very beautiful to me!

varda's picture

Hi, Actually this post is quite old.   I screwed up by deleting a bunch of pictures accidentally and in trying to repair the damage it got reposted.   I have since made more progress on Jewish Corn Bread aka Tzitzel and am somewhat mortified to have this old post resurface.   But in general, I agree with you - even the most delicious breads can be pretty scary looking.   Thanks so much for your kind words. 

varda's picture

Hi, Actually this post is quite old.   I screwed up by deleting a bunch of pictures accidentally and in trying to repair the damage it got reposted.   I have since made more progress on Jewish Corn Bread aka Tzitzel and am somewhat mortified to have this old post resurface.   But in general, I agree with you - even the most delicious breads can be pretty scary looking.   Thanks so much for your kind words. 

Alfred's picture

We just called it "cornbread" at the bakery on Ave X, and 75+ years later, it's still the holy grail of bread.  I guess Greenstein's recipe is the closest I've come to my memories, but I've heard tell of one made with onion juice -- anything is possible! -- that sounds promising.    Does anyone have THE recipe they think hits the bullseye?