Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sour Rye Starter

When I was growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, good bakeries were everywhere.  You could get wonderful ethnic breads fresh and warm on just about any day. Two of the breads that I remember were “Jewish Rye” and Russian Rye”  One was light brown, with a soft moist crumb and a crisp crackled crust that  glistened.  The other, Russian Rye, was deep brown like black coffee. It, too had a shiny crackled crust and a very soft crumb. Both were treats that my father would bring home from work after he stopped at the Arlington Bakery on the near East side.  I only actually visited that Bakery once or twice, but I still remember the tiny, cramped store front and high racks piled with loaves and rolls!  The aroma coming from the mysterious “back room” was almost overwhelming!  Much later in life I decided that that room MUST have looked exactly like the basement bakery in the movie Moonstruck with Nicolas Cage sweating away in his sleeveless T-shirt!
I left Cleveland when I was nineteen and have lived in Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Florida ever since, searching for that bread!  I NEVER found even a reasonable facsimile! 
For ten years, I’ve been trying to bake it myself and now I think I can bake something that is, at least, better than anything I have found commercially available.
Today we will start with the first step - the Starter! DUH!
This procedure will give you enough starter to bake two good sized loaves with a small amount left to keep it going for next time.

Day One – at least 48 hours before baking day.

1/2 Cup Rye flour
1/8 Teaspoon Active dry yeast
1 Cup of warm water -110F
1 Tablespoon crushed caraway seeds
1 Teaspoon minced yellow onion

Combine everything in a bowl large enough for ten times this much stuff.  You should end up with a thin watery mixture that doesn’t look anything like dough!

Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm spot until it is all bubbly and fermented - at least 8 hours and up to 24.


Day two – at least 24 hours before baking time.

Now it’s time to start turning the starter into sour rye dough.

Step One

1 1/4 Cups Rye Flour
1/2 Cup water
All of the starter
1/4 Cup Stone Ground Rye Flour

Stir the rye flour and water into the starter until it becomes a smooth paste. It will be thicker than the starter and pull away from the bowl.  Use a wet bowl scraper to clean the sides of the bowl and to smooth and shape the sour into an even mound.

Sprinkle the 1/4 cup of coarse Rye Flour evenly over the top. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in an out of the way warm spot.

As the sour grows, the surface will begin to take on the appearance of a dried lake bed with wide cracks and fissures. This may take from 4 to 8 hours.

Step Two
1/2 Cup warm water
1 Cup Rye Flour
1/4 Cup Stone Ground Rye Flour
Add the rye flour and water to the step one Sour and stir until it is smooth and pulls away from the bowl.  Again, clean the sides of the bowl and shape the sour with the bowl scraper and sprinkle 1/4 cup of stone ground flour over the top. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until it again looks like a dried lake bed.

Step Three
1/2 Cup warm water
1 Cup Rye Flour
1/4 Cup Stone Ground  Rye Flour
Stir the water and flour into the step two starter and finish the same as  steps one and two.
Step Three fully risen
Step three sour can be mixed the evening before you bake, or if there is time the next day, step two can be refrigerated overnight and step three can be mixed in the morning. If so, use warmer water, about 115⁰ F.  You should be ready to bake in about 4 hours.  If you want, or need, to bake early the next day, mix step three before bed and allow to rise slowly overnight for use in the morning.
When the third step sour is fully risen, it is ready to make bread.  Before beginning, take 1/2 cup of the sour and place it in a container, cover the top with water, close the container and refrigerate for the next time you want to make Rye Bread.  It will be your starter!  It will last for months – if the water turns dark, just pour it off and cover with fresh water. If the top of the starter turns dark, just scrape it off and use the rest.

On Day Three, we will use the starter to BAKE the bread!