One of my favorite Bakehouse breads for as long as I can remember now. The base of so many of our Deli sandwiches over the years has been the Jewish Rye bread sans caraway seeds, but given the chance to make the choice for myself, I’d opt for the Caraway Rye each time.
A thick slice, hand-cut from a fresh loaf (I far prefer the roughness of hand-cut slices than the uniformity and “convenience” of having the bread sliced on a machine) and spread with the Creamery’s handmade Cream Cheese is, to my taste, one of the best combos one can get at Zingerman’s. Toasted and spread with butter is almost as good. Great dunked in chicken soup. Spread with chopped liver. With Willi’s cheddar and sliced apples on a grilled cheese.
Or you can make what my friend Jay Sandweiss suggested—toasted Caraway Rye spread with chicken schmaltz (we can sell you some at the Deli). Jay’s creatively witty Yiddish name for this? Chazer-rye. Chazer means pig in Yiddish. Chazerei in Yiddish means “junk” or something along those lines. I look at it as the Eastern European Jewish version of bruschetta.
Even without the bread, I have a long-standing love for caraway. There’s something about the aromatics, the small hint of anise it offers, the almost but not quite fennel-y flavor that it adds, that makes the rye all the more interesting to me. Caraway is a somewhat misunderstood spice.
A lot of consumers think that caraway is rye, but it’s not; rye is a grain, caraway is a spice. And what we all call caraway “seed” is actually the fruit of the caraway plant. It’s in the same family as anise, dill, cumin, and fennel, and it’s been used since ancient times—you can find references to it in the writings of Rome, Egypt, Persia, and the Arab world. Caraway has been used extensively in northern Europe and Russia for centuries, hence its prominence in the Jewish cooking and baking of that area. And its role in this bread.
Old superstition says that caraway gives the gift of retention—supposedly if you put caraway seeds into something, a thief who tried to steal it wouldn’t be able to leave the house. For that reason, it was used in love potions as well—people used caraway to make sure their lovers would be locked in for life.
The Jewish Rye at the Bakehouse—with or without caraway—has been pretty amazing since we started making it back in the mid-90s. Jane and Michael Stern rated the Bakehouse’s rye bread the best in the country in Saveur magazine. What makes it so good? A lot more rye flour than most bakeries use, a real rye starter (instead of something out of a can), baking on the stone hearth, steam in the oven to help develop the crust all enhanced by hard work by the bread bakers at the Bakehouse and you get some really great tasting loaves.
Two years ago we raised our own quality ante when we began buying rye from western Illinois and milling it fresh here at the Bakehouse. All of which is taken one step further still at the Deli by double baking (putting the loaf unwrapped into a 350°F oven for about 20 minutes or until the crust is crisp and center hot and steamy) and then hand slicing every loaf while it’s still warm to bring out that crust. When you double bake at home, one added bonus is that the entire house is likely to be perfumed with this great aroma.
In the context of creative connection, Jewish rye bread was the critical element in my now dozen-year project to connect anarchist beliefs with progressive business began with Jewish rye bread, and a long essay I wrote about its history. The head of the Jewish Studies Department, Deborah Dash Moore, invited me to speak and titled the talk “Anarchism on Rye.” (If you want a slightly longer version of this historian’s version of a philosophical fairy tale email me and I’ll send it your way. Ironically, or maybe not ironically at all, this is the bread that many of the early 20th century anarchists I was so intrigued by would almost certainly have been eating. Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Joseph Ishill, and others of their group would have enjoyed it regularly.)
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