In WITF's Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

Review - The Rye Baker: Classic Breads from Europe and America

Written by Chef Donna Desfor | Jan 17, 2017 3:26 PM
The Rye Baker

The Rye Baker: Classic Breads from Europe and America, by Stanley Ginsberg

Copyright © 2016 by Stanley Ginsberg. Published by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Our Summary:

Toss out those stale notions rye bread!  Whether you are a fan or not, you'll find the recipes in The Rye Baker to be about as far removed from those dense, caraway-laden loaves we all remember from parents and grandparents get-togethers.  Stanley Ginsberg's The Rye Baker is a handbook for homemade artisanal bread.  From classic rye loaves to sweet, crisped cracker-like bread to aromatic or robust breads, each of the 76 recipes is written to give even a first-time-bread-baker excellent results in their home kitchen.  And, whether you are looking for a simple yeast-risen dough or ready to dive into the week-long process of making your own sour culture to help leven your loaf, there are options - and many of them, in this book that will keep you interested and cooking a variety of loaves throughout the year. 

What you need to know:

Get it:  The Rye Baker: Classic Breads from Europe and America, by Stanley Ginsberg.  Published by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., September 27, 2016; $35.00 Hardcover (Amazon $22.43, Kindle $16.05)

See it:  416 Pages. Each section contains about 3 or 4 color photos of recipes in that section.  About 40 finished recipe photos in all.

Make it:  76 artisanal bread recipes from mild to robust, sweet to aromatic, from every region of Europe and Immigrant America, plus about 7 basic sponge recipes that are used throughout the book.

Our Review:

When you first open The Rye Baker, it's easy to skip right past the first 60 pages or so and start skimming the book to stare at the mouthwateringly-beautiful photographs of the breads.  But those first pages are as interesting and important as any recipe you'll find - and fall in love with - throughout the remainder of the book.  Unfortunately, though, if you're like most (and me) you won't discover the brilliance in those pages until you stumble upon a recipe that requires you to go back and start at the beginning - and you won't be disappointed.  You'll most likely find yourself compelled to dive into the week-long project of making your own rye sour culture.  Soon after you'll be on your way to baking bread you never thought you'd produce in your home oven.  And, trust me, on your first attempt at any of these recipes, you will likely produce the picture-perfect results. 

Most surprising is how quickly Ginsberg dispels our common notion of what rye bread is!  Picture after picture invites you into the world of light, tender-crumbed, mild, aromatic and even sweet-flavored bread that just happen to have a rye flour or rye sour culture base.  Even the robust, dark, and intensely flavored loaves are compelling photographed with serving suggestions of proteins, spreads, and victuals.  And for those loaves that didn't make the photo edit?  Ginsberg offers suggestions for serving or pairing. 

You'll find yourself wondering where the rye is when you see the photographs of the Breton Folded Rye, the Honey-Flaxseed Crispbread, and the Ginger Plum Bread.  And, then, while undeniable that the dark loaves like the Westphalian Pumpernickel, the Austrian Country Boule, or the Ammerland Black Bread contain rye, there's nothing about their appearance that suggests they share the same bitter, dense grocery-store-bought-rye-bread flavor profile.

But it's the varied regional loaves that Ginsberg shares from France and Spain, Holland, Denmark, Germany and Poland that might get you to start baking.  With recipes such as the Galician Rye Bread, or the Pumpkinseed Rye, or even the Sunflower Seed Rolls it's hard to resist reading the recipe and thinking "I could make this!" 

That said, if you've never baked artisanal yeast breads before, you may feel a bit worrisome as you wait for the rise to show "broken bubbles or fine cracks," or manage some of the doughs that are wet and tacky.  Still, if you lack that intuitive sense for doughs and bread that really comes only from bread-baking experience, Ginsberg's straightforward approach gives anyone a matter-of-fact sense of confidence.  You'll know what to expect both intellectually and visually.

Ultimately, that is what makes The Rye Baker an essential addition to any home library - not just as an ingredient specific tome, but as a bread-baking book period.  Ginsberg's straight-forward recipes that explain what to expect and look for while making the bread, weights and measures in both grams and cups, and a thorough primer on bread baking essentials, including equipment, ingredients, and resources helps anyone regardless of bread-baking experience successfully produce artisanal bread in their kitchen.

 The Recipes (Images and recipes from The Rye Baker: Classic Breads from Europe and America by Stanley Ginsberg. Copyright © 2016 by Stanley Ginsberg. Reprinted with permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.):

Old Milwaukee Rye

Galician Rye Bread

Breton Folded Rye

Rye Sour Culture

Published in Donna Marie Desfor

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