The Fresh Loaf

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Craving crackly crust (Sour rye bread)

dmsnyder's picture

Craving crackly crust (Sour rye bread)

Norm (nbicomputers), in response to my question in his introduction topic, suggested I start a new topic. The question is: How do you get a crackly crust on a sour rye bread?

The sour rye I bake is based on George Greenstein's formula in "Secrets of a Jewish Baker." The formula below is what I actually made, though. The changes from Greenstein are: 1) I used instant yeast rather than active dry yeast, 2) I used whole rye rather than white rye to feed my rye sour, 3) I used 1T rather than 1/2 T of caraway seeds and 4) I used 2 1/2 tsp rather than 3 tsps of salt.

 Sour rye bread loaf

Sour rye bread loaf

Sour rye bread crumb

Sour rye bread crumb


1 cup warm water

2 tsps instant yeast

< span class="caption">3 cups rye sour

4 1/2 cups (maybe a bit more) KA first clear flour

2 1/2 tsps salt

1 T caraway seeds

(Note: I usually brush the loaves with cornstarch solution before and after baking, but I didn't this time.)

Ingredients were mixed and kneaded in a KitchenAid Accolade until well-developed, then hand stretched and folded until smooth but still quite tacky. The dough was rested in a covered, oiled bowl for 20 minutes. I formed the loaves and proofed them on floured parchment until doubled in size. I baked with steam for 5 minutes at 375F, then with convection at 350F for another 45 minutes.

 The crust was very hard when the loaves came out of the oven but was soft by time they had completely cooled. I have never achieved a crust that stayed crackly on this bread.


Okay, Norm. How do I get a crust that stays crackly?


rainbowbrown's picture

When I make sourdough rye I get the same thing. Crisp crust at first then progressively softer as it cools. I generally use recipes from the Germany section of Leader's book Local Breads. I don't really mind it, but its interesting to hear you mention it happening to you. Rye sourdough is the only case for me. I'll be interested to hear responses.

williamoss's picture

Jewish Corned/Sour Bread

Making the Bread

Making the 2 lbs. of Sour

½ qt of water (½ qt = 1 lb.)

1 lb. White rye (I use King Arthur)

Mix equal Parts of White Rye Four and Water in the mixing bowl of your stand mixer to make the 2 lbs. of Sour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit on counter for three days. After three days, add to the bowl with the bread kneading hook of a stand mixer running:

½ qt (1 lb.) hot water (110 - 120 degrees Fahrenheit)

1 oz of salt

2 Tbl. of yeast

2 oz Caraway Seeds

1 lb. of Clear Flour (I use King Arthur)

1 lb. of unbleached bread flour

This makes a very wet flour dough. I may use up to an additional cup of bread flour to make the proper dough under the hook.

Mix for 15 minutes and put into a greased bowl covered with plastic wrap, and put into the oven with the light bulb on to rise. (about 30 minutes - 1 hour depending on the type of yeast used). After it doubles remove from the oven, and remove the plastic wrap. Don't worry if some of the dough sticks to the plastic, you have plenty of dough to work with. Cut dough in half and form into equal 2 Rounded Balls. Place onto a wooden peel scattered with corn meal onto the peel. This allows you to slide the bread onto the hot clay sheet in the oven.

(I took a peel and cut off the handle so it fits in my oven)

Place the 2 loves on the peel and put in a warm place and allow to double in volume a 2nd time (about 30 minutes - 1 hour depending on the type of yeast used).

While bread is doubling for a 2nd. time, preheat the oven with an unglazed clay sheet on the rack which is on the lowest position in the oven and preheat the oven to 450 Degrees Fahrenheit. Slide the bread off the peel directly onto the clay sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer reads 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the peel to remove the hot bread and put onto cooling racks.

©2010 William Moss, Tigard Oregon

nbicomputers's picture

well the first thing i see is the sour

a new york jewish rye is make from white rye but the thing i see is the amount of sour.   a jewish rye has about 40 percent sour based on the weght of the flour if your sour is 8 oz to the cup you are using 12 oz of sour to about 18 oz of flour.  9 oz would be 50 percent

3 tsp of salt (i knew you said you used less) is a lot of salt. it converts to a 1/2 oz. since saly absorbs water it has to come from somewhere.

i have always baked rye in a deck ovev  so no fans like convection oven and the temp seems why to low  whe baked as 440-450

and we would only use water before baking the cornstarch wash afte 1 oz starch to 1 quart of water

i would say start with less sour and rase the temp

my formula below


yeast 8 oz---------------------------1/2 oz cake

water 8 Pounds--------------------- 8 oz

salt 4 oz----------------------------1/4 oz

sour dough 8 lbs-------------------8 oz

first clear flour 16 pounds--------1  lb

see if this helps i think the oven temp is the main issue

sorry if the numbers don't line up

it does look verv good though

 Pro Baker for over 25 years-----Ret

dmsnyder's picture

I am going to use your formula next time I bake sour rye! I can't wait to see the difference. 

Just from looking at your formula, I think it will be a much dryer dough than Greenstein's.

I feed my sour with 1/2 cup water and one cup rye flour - 3/4 cup mixed and 1/4 cup sprinkled over the sour. It is a thick paste consistency.  Does this sound right to you? 

The reason I have been trying convection after the initial 5 minutes is to vent the steam and dry the crust. I thought that might crisp it up.  


nbicomputers's picture

actualy you are very close to what i have used for every quart that is 2 pounds of water we used 2 and 1/2 pounds of white rye flour to build the sour hoever we would use it every day so we would feed it onc a day

we would use it for the bread and mix in more flour and water for the next days bake sometimes if we had a small piece of finished dough left we would throw that back into the starter

also please look back at the formula icorrected the small mix amounts there should have been only 8 oz of water not a pound bad error on the math on my part but its fixed now

since we usd deck ovens they had dampers so after the seram did its job the damper was opened and uot whent the steam  in the yome oven i block the vents and try to use just enough water in the steam pan so that it is all gone after 5 minutes then i unblobk the vents

i do not open the door to avoid the temp drop

Pro Baker for over 25 years-----Ret

dmsnyder's picture

When I typed out the formula I used, I forgot that I also added 1/2 cup of altus - stale rye bread with the crust cut off, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, soaked in water and then wrung out.

If there is any sizable piece of a loaf that hasn't been eaten in 4 days or so, I freeze it to use as above.


RFMonaco's picture

I found from




  • 2 cups of rye flour
  • 1 cup plain yogurt at room temperature (or frozen non dairy creamer)
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed caraway seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

To be added each of the last three days:

  • 1 cup rye flour
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar dissolved in 3/4 cup warm water


  • 3-6 pieces of rye bread soaked in water and squeezed dry, about 1-1/2 cups
  • 3 cups of sourdough (as made in the description above)
  • 1 package of yeast
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • caraway seeds (as much as you wish - 2 tablespoons is average)
  • 4 cups of white flour (First clear note)?

Combine first 7 ingredients in a large bowl and beat until well-blended. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.

Beat in 1 cup rye flour with brown sugar/water mixture. Let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.

Repeat previous procedure again. Let stand another 24 hours.

Repeat previous procedure again. Let stand another 24 hours after which the sourdough starter will be ready for use. You will have far too much but you can give some away and use it for other sourdough purposes.

Now that you have the sourdough, you are ready to make the bread. As you take from this supply to make the bread, you must replenish it with a mixture of 1 cup of rye flour, 3/4 cup of warm water and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar for each cup of sour you have taken.

Allow this replenished mix to sour at room temperature for 24 hours before storing in you refrigerator. A half a recipe of the sour is just enough for two modest loaves of bread.

If you do not use the sour for a month, it would be wise to replenish it even should you not intend to use it. It is a living thing and needs to be fed. If left alone for more than 6 weeks, it is likely to die and then you have to start all over again. In the referigerator, it may be stored in a jar with the lid loose to avoid pressure build-up.


In your mixer with a dough hook, place squeezed-dry rye bread, the sour, yeast, salt, the caraway seed, and 2 cups of flour. Mix for 5 minutes. Add flour 1/4-1/2 cup at a time and knead for 10 minutes. The dough will pull away from the sides of the bowl after all the flour has been incorporated and it is a tough haul for your mixer unless you have a good motor. This is dense dough. Allow to rise for 3/4 hour. Punch down, put on floured workboard, cut in half and make each half into a loaf, round or long as you prefer. Place on baking sheet prepared with corn meal. Allow to rise for 45 minutes.

Prepare oven at 450 degrees Fahrenheit keeping an empty pan in the oven while it is heating. Five minutes before putting the bread in the oven, pour 1 cup of hot water into the pre-heated pan. CAREFUL!!! There is going to be steam.

Cut top of bread with knife, brush with an egg wash, (I like corn starch wash on rye bread better) sprinkle caraway on the egg wash, and bake for approximately 40 minutes or until done.


Most people who speak nostalgically of New York sour Jewish rye bread are unaware of how easy it is to make the same bread anywhere. There is nothing special in the bread except a great secret which was rarely spoken of because it was (at least in my New Jersey neighborhood) against the law.

Specifically, it involved the use of old bread in the making of the new and, for a chemical reason that I neither understand nor know about, the bread is never really very good unless it is made with old bread. And I mean old rye bread. The bakers used to take the old loaves that had been brought back by the delivery trucks and use that bread to make the new bread. That was the illegal part.

I have found through experimentation that one can use the ordinary store-bought rye bread just as satisfactorily, though I do not eat such commercial rye bread by itself. So I keep a loaf of it in my freezer and, whenever I make rye, I take out some slices and use them.

The first time you make this recipe it will be a pain in the neck because you have to have a good sourdough and I will supply one here that is perfect for this kind of bread. It will take four days to make this sourdough and, if you are careful you will never have to do it again.

nbicomputers's picture

it was a very standard procedure tp soak the old bread in water and use it in such as pumpernickle bread  It gave the bakers a way to use some of the old bread without having to through it away.  Mostly that was done in the pumpernickl and the HEAVY SOUR rye (aka cornbread) this was not for flavor but to save money.

[Most people who speak nostalgically of New York sour Jewish rye bread are unaware of how easy it is to make the same bread anywhere. There is nothing special in the bread except a great secret which was rarely spoken of because it was (at least in my New Jersey neighborhood) against the law.]

I don't know about the law part since im in the bronx but jersy anything is possible

However i do think there is something special about rye. Back in the old days of old rye, heavy rye and pumpernickle where the only sour dough base breads baked in fact some bakeries only made rye and nothing elce.  The sour base was used every day and therefor fed every day. After a few years the sour would develop a flavor unique to the indavidual bakery absorbing flavors in the air and wild yeast that resided in the shop that it called home.  As the sour got older its flavor would deepen and get even more intense. There were bakeries with 40 and 50 year old sours where the sour would be passed on from farther to son when the son went out on his own to open his own bakery.

When a new bakery would open sometimes a baker would buy some starter from a bakery knowing that the starter was older than dirt just because he knew that the flavor he could get would take years to develop.

Orwasher's a bread bakery in mahanten opened in 1916 with new brick ovens AND NEW SOUR. The bakery is now owned by the son and grandson. The rye sour is still alive and is the same one that was started back in 1916 now over 90 years old.


Pro Baker for over 25 years-----Ret

weavershouse's picture

I love stories like that. I'm glad the NY bakery is still going but wish there were old Jewish bakeries still here in Ohio. I think there are still some on the east side of Cleveland but too far for me to visit. I still remember that bread though. All I can do now is try my best making a good rye at home.     weavershouse

weavershouse's picture

Nice job. I haven't made the sour rye for some time now but will be trying again soon. I love that recipe. nbicomputers has some interesting suggestions.                                  weavershouse

dmsnyder's picture

Now for the crackly crust!


dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Norm.

Since you mentioned it, would you share your formula for corn rye? I'd be interested in any special techniques you used too.



HogieWan's picture

Try slahing down the loaf instead of across. The slashes will cross the loaf side to side, but the angle should be more vertical than horizontal

nbicomputers's picture

corn rye is made almost the same as sour rye but there is a lot  more sour in it 100% based on the whight of the flour

water 8 pounds
sour dough 16 pounds
salt 10 oz
yeast 8 oz
clear flour 16 pounds

to make a small mix just change pounds to onces

and ounces to 16 of an ounce

8 oz becomes 8/16 of an ounce which becomes 1/2 ounce

the big diference is how the dough in handled

once mixed the dough is placed in a wooden box that has been wet with a good amount of water our boxes had 4 inch sides and about 4 feet square
another box would be put on the top as a cover

After the dough was ready we would sprinkel more water on the top till it had a very wet surface.  we would have a bucket of water for out hands.  i would put my hands in the bucket and then pull a large piece of the dough to the edge of the box. using the wall of the box i would round the dough into a lose soft bal shap it would be more like a thick disk than a ball keeping the dough the box and my hands driping wet.

i would have a peel ready covered heavy with corn meal and with very wet hands as gently as possable pick the bread up and place it on the peel. the whole trick was to shape the dough without knocking all the air out of it because it went right into the oven with a lot of steam. no more rise time.  It would jump in the oven because ot the gas it had and the steam but no extra proof.

you did not care how big or small it was you just went by eye because it would sell by the pound and people would buy a half or a quarter.  these were big breads and i don't remember enyone ever buing a whole one. Pro Baker for over 25 years-----Ret

ehanner's picture

Floyd isn't there some way to add a page in the middle of the thread as a favorite? This would be a good example where that capability would be helpful.


Floydm's picture

Floyd isn't there some way to add a page in the middle of the thread as a favorite?

No. Your best bet is to click on the title of the comment, then use delicious to bookmark it.

ehanner's picture

I don't get that at all. When I click on the title I still don't have any options for favorites. ???

Floydm's picture

You won't. But you'll have a special URL with a #comment-something at the end of it. You can then create a bookmark or use a bookmark service like to get you back there again.

ehanner's picture

OK, I get it. Maybe you should pull my last comments (off topic sorry)

ehanner's picture

First Norm I just want to repeat what a wonderful thing it is to have you here explaining the details of your experience. I'm learning so much reading your posts, thank you!

I want to ask you about the boxes used to hold the water and corn rye mix. Do you recall if those are made from a special wood? Maybe one that was tight grain? For home use the recipe I used had me covering the dough in water. Ounce the dough started to ferment it floated to the top and the water went to the bottom of the bowl. Draining the bowl and shaping the loaf was tricky and it sounds like from your description that I wasn't being gentle enough with it.

Just to clarify one thing about the sour. You are saying that the sour is a rye fed 80% hydration starter?

The questions David asked are also right on for me. I want to make a box that would be right sized for a 3# loaf. Maybe a 24 inch square frame with 4 inch sides?


nbicomputers's picture

the boxes were hard wood oak and not lacered just raw wood

we would get them very wet but not filled with water 

if you are going to make one i think 24 x24 x4 should by more than big enough.  we would use them for everything.  the made up rye and vienna  ---well almost everything.  Wthe bread on the bottom and another one upside down on the top it would make an 8 inch space for proffing the loafs.  the bread would rise nicely cause the wood would make a warm space and since the wood held moisture it would have just the right humididty level. sometimes we would have to angle them a little so the corners would be open cause thay would get to warm and the bread would rise to quickly.  the bread would go from the box to the peel and then oven. these were call bread boxes there were ones we had that were only 2 inch tall (roll boxes) anthouse were used for kisser rolls the same way rolls on the bottom and another upside down making a 4 inch space.

the sour is about 80% 2 pounds 8 oz of rye flour to every quart of water and thats makes a paste like gray colerd dough and yes it is all white rye flour. mixing it was allways hand which i hated.  this was such a sticky mess it would take 5 minutes of scrubbing to get it off my hands. if your starting from nothing it would take about 3 days and four feedings to get a final sour that can be used for bread. start with flour water and a little yeast 3 oz water 4 oz flour and cut an onion into 4 pieces and put that in also for flavor and it will increase the acidity. after 24 hours discard the onion.

feed every 12 hours the amount of feeding will depend on the amount of bread you want to make. it will be usable after 4 feadings. we would only feed once a day because we would use it every day and the older it gets the better it will be.  you can frees fome of the starter and it will last abouth a month or so and use the forxen starter to build the next sour so allways be sure when you make bread that you make enough soure to get the next batch going. 

all you want is for the box to be very wet before you put the dough in it  ad the dough should not fill the box because you shape it by sliding the around the box and agenst the side of the box.

the box should be wet enough that when you put your hand down in the empty box you can feel the water maybe 1/16 inch bot the box does not have to be water tight.

i think covering the dough in water would cause the dough to absorb to much since when the dough rises and has gassed it is very soft and sticky almost like a stiff goo,

i hope a answered your questions my phone number is on my web site for my computer business please feel free to call me with more questions if you like.

Pro Baker for over 25 years-----Ret

ehanner's picture

Thanks for the detailed description on the bread boxes Norm. I might make it a little smaller for a single loaf. Did the box have a drain hole or was it supposed to hold water? I know you said it didn't have to be water proof.

Did the boxes get rinsed out after removing the dough? I'm guessing just water, no soap?


nbicomputers's picture

Remember the dough for corn rye is rounded in the box not lifted out you must give it the shape in the box and lift it gently with both hands only to put it on the peel so make them big enough to give your self working room.
And of course you would need at least two of them. 
When making bread that did not need more than the 4 to 5 inch of space the box allowed we would stack them sometimes 5 or more high with the last one upside down as the cover. 
When making a lot of bread in this way we would rotating them once from top to bottom so that the first loafs that were now on the top and the last ones made were on the bottom.  That would make sure that the first loafs made would go into the oven first otherwise by the time we would get to the bottom box (which would have been the first loafs made) the bread would be over proof and would fall when picked up and placed on the peel. You wount have to worry about that unless you start making 4 and 5 boxes of bread.

It does not need a drain it must be wet but does not have to hold water

Take a piece pe parchment paper (or wax) and put in in a sink of water
Take it out of the water and place it flat on a counter and slap your hand down on it  it will spalsh a little ---THATS HOW WET THE BOTTOM OF THE BOX SHOULD BE

We did not rinse or wash the boxes just let any dough that sticks to the box alone and by the next day it will dry out and come out easy  if it is very stuck just take a mettal or plastic scraper and scrape out the dough like you would any wood work surface.

These boxes are great for any breads final rise so make them any size square you want as long as their 4 or 5 inch high
If you are going to use them for other breads just dust them with flour or line the bottom box only with canvis thats dusted with flour.

thats what we would use for kiser rolls when proffing upside down.

These are realy an all purpose bread tool that i have used in everyplace i have worked. They do not conduct heat so thet stay warm inside and keep the cold outside so your your bread rises nicely (on very cold days we would put the boxes in the oven for a minute or two and they would hold the heat for a hour ir so).  Their wood so they breath--your bread gets the right amount of air for the yeast. and since their wood the hold moisture making sure the bread does not dry out.

i remember that the sides were made out of 1 inch thick wood while the bottoms were about 1\2 inch thick

Pro Baker for over 25 years-----Ret

ehanner's picture

Wow Norm, I'm trying to imagine what the bakery floor must have looked like. These boxes sound like they would take up a lot of room, stacked up from the floor. The idea of being able to put them into the oven to warm them up is genius. You are right about wood holding the heat for a while and of course water will soak into the surface grain helping to hold moisture.

The size of my home oven will be the limiting factor it seems then. I need to make the box small enough to fit one at a time in the oven for warming and large enough to allow the dough to be shaped. My wife is going to love the rustic look in the kitchen lol!

One thing I have wondered about Norm is the use of Caraway seeds in Rye breads. I grew up eating the rye that the commercial bread companies made with caraway flavoring. dsnyder apparently also likes that flavor since he added it to his Rye yesterday. Was it a common thing to use caraway in these rye mixes? Everyone I know wants me to use the seeds and most people like the course salt I add to the top after a corn starch wash. What do you think about this?


nbicomputers's picture

sorry it looks like i missed the part about the seeds.  caraway is an option in rye as all seeds are.  It does add a lot of flavor to rye.

whole seeds are the best but you need to have real teeth.  many of my customers were older people and a seed stuck in a denture can be very painfull.

for the flavor without the pain ground caraway can be added with the flour for taste but be carefull.  ground seeds can be very strong in flavor and it is easy to add to much which will spoil the bread.

Pro Baker for over 25 years-----Ret

Cher504's picture

Thank you so much for sharing this formula. I've been lurking on this site and admiring all the beautiful breads for some time. I've made a few attempts at different rye bread recipes with varying results. Today, I finally made a loaf that is post-worthy! Your "heavy sour" corn rye is the best bread of my childhood memories. My parents worked in the garment center in NYC which is practically ground-zero for fantastic jewish bread…Dubrow's, Lou G Seigel's, even Macy's Cellar carried this great Pumpernickel raisin bread..those were the days!  Recently I found a good Tzitzel rye at Russ and Daughter's on the lower east side- it was as sour as I remember and chock full of caraway and nigella seeds. I was determined to try to make something like this at home.  Here's my loaf

Corn rye with 100% sourI basically followed Norm's description for the "heavy sour" rye. I also added 1 T caraway seeds (wish I had the nigella seeds too…next time) I let it rest in a large wooden salad bowl that I splashed with water and covered with another large bowl. I somehow managed to wrestle that wet dough onto a piece of parchment paper lined with cornmeal and lowered it into my preheated cast iron dutch oven. I misted with water, sprinkled with caraway, sesame seeds and a little more cornmeal, then baked at 460 for 20 min with the lid on and 20 or so more with the lid removed and temp lowered to 440 until internal temp was 210. I think it could have been baked even a bit longer to get that crust darker. Then I glazed with the cornstarch and let it cool in the still hot dutch oven. I think that helped dry it out some more. The crust is crispy, the crumb is not perfect, but my best effort so far and the taste is divine!

crumb shotThank you Norm for the stories about the bread boxes and all the water. I had a bowl in my sink and found it easy to work the dough as long as I kept my hands and the work space soaking wet. 



dmsnyder's picture

Thanks for the sour rye formula, Norm. 

How big do you think the loaves were, more or less? 4 lbs? Bigger? 

Did you bake corn rye at the same temperature as  sour rye? 

How did you judge when the loaves were fully baked? Internal temperature? The bottom sounds hollow when tapped? 


nbicomputers's picture

by eye we shot for between 4 and 5 pounds so the sales girls (not politicaly correct i know) could deal with the customers that would want one or two pounds the loaf would be cut in quarters or halvs.

the temp would be a little lower about 400-410 because the bread was dence and needed the extra time for the heat to get to the center

the only way i ever tested for doneness was the tapping  and the feel on the bread. with corn bread you could break a finger tapping on it
in fact quite a few times i was'nt watching close enough and jamed a finget testing a loaf of corn rye and it hurts.

Pro Baker for over 25 years-----Ret

RFMonaco's picture

You should see a choice to add a comment as a favorite if you RIGHT CLICK on the title of the comment. Works for me....if that's what you mean.

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Norm. 

A couple of loaves of your sour rye are rising in my kitchen. 

I followed your formula (see above), adding about a tablespoon of caraway seeds. The sour started out based on whole rye. I fed it twice with white rye yesterday afternoon and overnight. I mixed the dough,  then kneaded it in a KitchenAid stand mixer for about 10 minutes. I let it stand in a covered, oiled bowl for 20 minutes before dividing and shaping. 

The dough was considerably dryer than I'd been making. It scaled to just under 2 pounds, and I divided it into two parts and formed long loaves of about 12 inches. 

Photos will follow after they have baked.