The Local Food Report: Rein's Real Rye

In 1973, Rein Ciarfella found the perfect loaf of rye bread. It was round, boule-shaped, with a thick, leathery crust and a chewy, toothsome crumb. It had a deep rye flavor with subtle undertones of caraway, and it was excellent plain, and with butter. Toasted alongside a bowl of soup, it took his breath away.

It was from a bakery in Guildford, England, just south of London, where Ciarfella was living at the time. He bought a loaf every day for two years, but then it came time to move home. When he came back to the states, he couldn't find a similar loaf of rye anywhere. He thought about the bread all the time—for thirty-five years, he thought about that bread—and finally, last May, he decided to do something about it.

He found a recipe online—a deli rye bread from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois—that he thought looked pretty similar. He played with the flour ratios—rye to all-purpose, even adding a little high-protein flour in, toyed with and abandoned a sourdough starter—in his attempt to get a loaf that was perfect. It took three months—three months of recipe testing and not-quite-up-to-snuff breads—but finally, he got it right.

When he did, he was ecstatic. He was so pleased with his bread, in fact, that he decided to start selling it, as a business: Rein's Real Rye. He bought a 20-quart Hobart mixer and two mini fridges and started mixing up big batches every few days. The bread he developed was a wet bread—one of those no-knead breads that develops its gluten through moisture and time, rather than the stretching action of your hands—and so he mixes it in the afternoon, then leaves it overnight in the fridge.

In the morning, he pulls out the dough to cloak it (a process that involves sprinkling the surface of the dough with flour and stretching it and tightening it in order to give it a strong crust and hold the moisture in), slash the top of it (this helps the loaf expand in the oven), and finally, place it on a cornmeal-covered stone to bake. Then, while it bakes, he uses an expertly jury-rigged steaming system that involves ice cubes in cast iron pans and a hand pump spray system. This helps the loaves get good oven spring, that final rounding rise that takes place in the oven.

It's a lot of work for each loaf, but after thirty-five years without a good rye, Ciarfella thinks it's worth it.

You can find Rein's Real Rye at the Sandwich Winter Farmers' Market, Cotuit Fresh Market, and Amber Waves Natural Foods in Falmouth.


Ciarfella sent me the link to this recipe, which is the recipe I mentioned above that he started his quest with. Full disclosure: I'm pretty sure I did not make this recipe the way the author intended, but I do not care. It was WONDERFUL. The directions were somewhat confusing, but I think the original idea was to divide the dough up into four parts and bake one part per day over four days, keeping the other chunks in the fridge. I misunderstood that, though, and baked it all at once. It formed a massive country-style loaf, the kind you can buy at PB-Boulangerie & Bistro as a "Farmhouse Loaf," and it lasted us a week. It was fantastic.

3 cups lukewarm water
1 and 1/2 tablespoons yeast
1 and 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 and 1/2 tablespoons caraway seeds, plus more for sprinkling
1 cup rye flour
5 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
cornmeal for sprinkling

Mix together the water, yeast, salt, and caraway seeds in a large bowl. Let sit five minutes. Whisk together the flours and mix them in until completely combined. Cover the bowl with a wet dishtowel and set aside to rise at room temperature for two hours.

Sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal. Form the dough into a ball and dump it out onto a floured surface. Roll the surface of the ball in flour so that it is very well coated on all sides. Transfer the ball to the prepared baking sheet and let it rest, uncovered, for about 45 minutes.

In the meantime, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Fill your oven's broiler tray with water and have it ready to place on the bottom shelf when it comes time to bake. Slash the top of your bread diagonally three or four times—making about 1-inch deep cuts—with a very sharp bread knife. Bake for roughly 30 minutes, refilling the steam tray as needed, until the crust is golden and sounds hollow when tapped.


Alexandra said...

Hi Elspeth,

This recipe sounds great - I've never made rye bread before but will definitely be trying it this weekend!

Nurse License Protection said...

Thanks for the recipe! I love rye bread but don't know how to make some.

Anonymous said...

This looks fabulous, and easy. I am off to buy some rye flour... ~XO, Mama

Unknown said...

GREAT BREAD and it's so simple to make. Just takes some advance planning.

Gretta Hewson
Apollo Luxury Architecture

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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.