James Beard’s Rye Bread


James Beard's Rye Bread

I have a horrible habit when I bake. What inevitably happens is, I come across a recipe, become very excited about it, and then proceed to make the item but almost never follow the instructions or use the exact ingredients (or amounts) as stated. I’m not talking about “adding more flour as needed depending on the humidity of the kitchen,” but adjusting proportions and sometimes even substituting ingredients. It’s not intentional, really, but what happens as I’m happily baking away. Is it just me, or is this a common thing among cooks and bakers?

The other day I went to the library to borrow My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme and stumbled upon an entire aisle of cookbookery. Hooray! One of my biggest finds was Beard on Bread by James (Jim) Beard. I had stumbled upon his recipe for Swedish Limpa on The Fresh Loaf to bake for a friend who loved both beer and bread (= bake a bread with beer in it) and it turned out really well, so you can imagine how happy I was to have found a copy of the entire collection of bread recipes.

Jim Beard describes this recipe as “a pleasant rye bread of good texture and interesting flavour…. It is rather difficult to make but worth the trouble.” This loaf was delicious despite my tweaking here and there. The following is how I’ve adapted his recipe, but do gives his a try if you can get your hands on a copy of Beard on Bread. (I will try too…)

Jackie’s take on James Beard’s rye bread

Makes 2 loaves

– 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
– 3 tbsp honey
– 3/4 c warm water
– 1 c warm milk
– 2 tbsp softened butter
– 2 tsp salt
– 1 tbsp caraway seeds
– 2 1/2 cups rye flour
– 3 c bread (also known as high-gluten, or “strong”) flour, or more if needed

– cornmeal for sprinkling on the bottom of the loaf
– cornstarch wash: 1/2 tsp cornstarch + 1/2 cup water mixed in a thin slurry and microwaved for 40 seconds or so
– caraway seeds for sprinkling on top (optional)


In a large bowl, mix in all of the ingredients except for the flour; add the flour around one cup at a time until the dough starts to leave the sides of the bowl as you stir. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, and with floured hands, knead until it becomes elastic, around 10 minutes. It’s okay if the dough still feels slightly tacky.

Place the dough in a lightly greased container, cover with a damp cloth, and let it rise until puffy, although not necessarily doubled. This can take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours depending on the warmth of your kitchen.

Gently degas the dough, divide into two portions, then let rest for 2 to 3 minutes. Shape into round free-form loaves and score – I made a tic-tac-toe pattern using my new bread knife (I know, I know… I’ve been baking for ____ months and only recently got myself a bread knife). Cover with a damp cloth or lightly greased plastic wrap, and let rise on a piece of parchment paper sprinkled with cornmeal until almost doubled in size. This took me around 45 minutes.

Right before baking, brush on the cornstarch wash and sprinkle on extra caraway seeds if desired. Bake in a preheated 400F oven for 35-40 minutes. There are many ways to get great oven spring; here’s what I do because I don’t have a baking stone, or unglazed ceramic tiles and don’t want to chuck a cup of very hot water into a very hot pan that is roasting in an oven – I tried that a few times and prefer this other way instead:

Place a pyrex bowl with a lid in the oven and preheat as usual. When your loaf is ready, take the bowl out (careful, use oven gloves!), plop the dough in, put the lid back on and the bowl back in the oven. Bake for ~10 minutes with the lid on (i.e. with steam) and then remove the lid and continue to bake the loaf for another 25-30 minutes (i.e. without steam). Of course, just make sure that your pyrex bowl is big enough to let the loaf expand.

Happy baking!

I’m sending this loaf of rye to Susan’s Yeastspotting at Wild Yeast.

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9 Responses to “James Beard’s Rye Bread”

  1. Susan/Wild Yeast Says:

    Lovely! I’m curious if the pyrex bowl part is a tweak?

  2. toxobread Says:

    Hi Susan,

    Yes ha ha, the pyrex bowl was definitely a tweak. I read about Susan from San Diego’s “magic bowl” on the Fresh Loaf –> http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/4744/first-epi-and-baguette#comment-24025

    and then I think someone had suggested using a lidded bowl on the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day forum as an alternative.

    The other major tweaks are that I used (unbleached) bread flour to compensate for the rye, instead of using all-purpose flour, and using a cornstarch wash instead of an egg white wash.

  3. Sandy Says:

    Your crust on this bread looks perfect! This is calling out for some fresh Irish butter. Mmmm! Thanks for sharing!

  4. toxobread Says:

    Hi Sandy,

    Thanks! I noticed “Irish butter” for the first time at the grocery store today – is it similar to unsalted sweet cream butter?

  5. em Says:

    I’ve never tried rye bread, but I really, really, really would love a piece of that loaf in that pic. But then again, it looks so perfect that I wouldn’t want to rip off a piece and destroy the perfection!!! 🙂
    And omg yes, I completely tweak recipes, although I really am not experienced enough to be tweaking! haha. Mostly I just reduce the amount of sugar in a recipe, or eliminate butter, or substitute one fruit for another depending on what I have on hand. Hardly anything groundbreaking, and probably completely ridiculously executed! LOL

  6. toxobread Says:

    Rye and caraway is a great combination for bread, both savoury (as in this rye bread) and sweet (like Swedish limpa). Don’t worry – this is the kind of bread that you want to enjoy whether you have a bread knife or just your bare hands!

    I remember the first time I tweaked a recipe, it was a “transformation” rather than a tweak, and as you know, transformations aren’t always pretty. Tiramisu (more like, “tiramisu”) that has not set tastes very um, not good. I think that’s the nicest way I can describe my first tweaking. Oh and don’t try to substitute whole wheat flour for all-purpose completely, unless you want to start making doorstops and paperweights that can get mouldy.

  7. A no-knead boule « Toxo Bread Says:

    […] very little cornmeal on the bottom of the loaf, and baked it on a sheet of parchment paper in my magic bowl for steam and helping promote good oven spring. It’s an alternative to pouring a cup of hot […]

  8. Roland Says:


    • toxobread Says:

      Hi Roland: my Pyrex bowl came with a lid, but you could use anything that says it’s oven safe. It’s ideal if the lid fits over your bowl. If you have a Dutch oven, that works really well too. Another alternative, which I’m tending to use more and more, is to place your loaf onto a baking sheet and then cover it with an inverted bowl (your “lid”) or disposable aluminum roasting pan. The main point is that you want the loaf to steam itself as the moisture is evaporating and getting trapped under the lid/bowl/roasting pan. Good luck and happy baking!

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