Stanley Ginsberg. The Rye Baker: Classic Breads from Europe and America. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2016. ISBN 978-0-393-24521-9. Available on Amazon.

Roll up your sleeves and knead into Stanley Ginsberg’s The Rye Baker as it covers rye history and—even more importantly—how to get into good dough terms baking rye.

The handling of rye can be a very unpredictable business. A dough made with rye flour can be sticky, wet and runny or, alternatively, hard and crumbly. Trying to understand what went wrong can test the patience of anyone. Even if rye may not be your first choice in grains, if you are a keen baker, you will appreciate the insights The Rye Baker shares on different grains and flours, hydration, sourdough cultures, pre-doughs, sponges—ever wondered what a Detmold sponge or a Monheimer sponge is?— soakers and scalds, bulk fermentation, benching, proofing and more! These are all useful technical aspects to get to grips with.

The first part is an interesting look into rye’s history. For example, rye was the only grain to flourish during “the Big Freeze” some 12,000 years ago when Earth entered its cooling period. The rise of nordic countries as a social infrastructure is attributed to the sustainability of rye’s hardiness as a food crop. There is also a dark side to rye which potentially makes it the cause of the many witch hunts in the past…

The final part of the book is an appreciative collection of interesting recipes curated from around the world. I have enjoyed reading the prefaces of the regions covered and the introductory snippets to each rye recipe. All the recipes have a clear matrix on ingredients and quantities. It doesn’t matter whether your preference is metric or imperial, weight or volume, it is all there, along with the baker’s percentage, which is great if you want to scale the recipes in any way. The baker’s percentage is also clearly explained in the technical section of the book.

Apart from bringing rye recipes from around the world to your kneading fingertips, The Rye Baker is filled with baking lore and knowledge worth its weight in gold. Regardless of whether you are a novice or a seasoned baker, it is definitely a must have bread book for all self-respecting bread heads. I for one will be referring to it over and over again. The Rye Baker is witness to the fact that rye is an ancient wild grain with a sophistication of its own that is often under appreciated.

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