The Hunt for Great Corn Rye Bread

It's a story of memory and betrayal, of old ways replaced by new, of tradition lost, found, and smartly refreshed. As farago tells it on Chowhound, it's also a story of unforgettably delicious corn rye bread. The setting is Orwasher's, an uptown bakery established in 1916 to feed the Hungarian community that once surrounded it. After a nine-decade run, its founding family sold it to an artisanally inclined baker who kept most of the Old World favorites but also made changes that didn't sit well with some longtime devotees: dropping the familiar waxed-paper bags, experimenting with wine-grape yeasts, and—most unforgivable to farago—discontinuing the beloved corn rye that he'd grown up with.

Last week, corn rye bread reappeared on Orwasher's shelves, leaving farago thrilled and then deflated, once a glance revealed that it was not the loaf of his childhood memories but a smaller, lighter thing. "I was spitting bullets and feeling betrayed," he mutters. And then he tasted it. "The first few bites from the heel mellowed me, the second slice made me grudgingly admit that this was not a bad bread even if it wasn't Louis Orwasher's corn rye; by the third I had to admit that it was a hell of a bread, possibly, in some ways, better than the master's." It's a subtle pleasure—pleasingly dense, if not as dense as the original, with a more intense caraway note and a distinctive sourness owing to rye stout in the starter. (Orwasher's shop will carry it only through March, though savvy 'hounds say the bakery also supplies the corn rye sold year-round by Zabar's.)

"If you are a corn rye fanatic, it's a killer," farago promises. "If your roots, like mine, tendril back into Austro-Hungary and Central Europe, it's your DNA. If you are skeptical about the way contemporary artisanal bread making has diverged from adherence to traditional recipes, it may be enough to make you born again."

Orwasher's Bakery [Upper East Side]
308 E. 78th Street (between First and Second avenues), Manhattan
212-288-6569

Photo by Mark Hokoda