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Run, Don't Walk -- Orwasher's Corn Rye, Only Available in March

I have been nursing a grudge against the buyer of Orwasher's bakery -- Keith Cohen -- for several years now. It started when they stopped using wax paper bags, and it escalated when the salt sticks seemed routinely to change consistency, and then it reached hysterical proportions when they discontinued selling the corn rye bread that I grew up on, but basically it came down to the fact that his last name wasn't Orwasher, and that the neighborhood bakery of my now distant childhood had become just another yuppie foodie establishment.

I was pretty infuriated when the new owner started doing things like adding a line of wine breads, and when he crowed that he had devoted himself to replicating a Parisian baguette … why would he try to do that??? It's a bakery with Austro-Hungarian roots and Kayser's pod landed just a couple of blocks away on Third Avenue.

But I have to admit that to my tastes at least, I think he's got the baguette nailed and that it is in fact the best replica available in Manhattan of what used to be ubiquitous in Paris … and it's better than by far the majority of what passes for baguettes now in Paris.

I was thrilled to see a sign this morning that announced what Wilma, the salesperson at Orwasher who used to work next door at Mr. Nemeth's bakery (when there used to be a Mr. Nemeth's bakery next door; the two co-existed without competing because they were both in their respective Hungarian traditions of separating pastry bakeries from bread bakeries -- Nemeth was a cukraszda or patisserie and Orwasher was a pekseg or bread bakery) had not lied … Wilma had intimated that they would be stocking corn rye again near Easter.

And there it was. Except it didn't look anything like what Orwasher had sold as corn rye; and tasting a small piece from the samples bowl made it clear that this was a very different recipe -- far less dense, an entirely different crumb, a smaller loaf with a slightly different shape … a kind of crown … and a somewhat different crust.

I bought a loaf, but I was spitting bullets and feeling betrayed. It's one thing to yank it from sale, quite another to return it by name but with a newbie's recipe.

I stewed, I fumed, and I walked uptown to meet my wife for a cup of tea at Pain Quotidien, whose bread is pretty pallid and not tempting enough to lure me off the wagon of my diet. I ordered an iced tea, but that corn rye was searing a hole in the stupid non-wax-paper plastic bag on the floor next to me, and I started snaking my hand into the bag and smuggling the Orwasher contraband up to my mouth, pausing momentarily at table height to smear on a bit of the butter from the bread that came with my wife's soft boiled egg.

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; and by the fourth I was alternating between recognition that it was actually channeling all that was best in the Orwasher corn rye into a loaf that is, if anything, even better than what I was weaned on, on the one hand, and fuming about the gross injustice that this wonder of old-meets-new won't be available after the month ends.

This is a bread's bread. If you are a corn rye fanatic, it's a killer. 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. This is subtle stuff, lighter and slightly different in sourness (neither more nor less sour, but differently sour, owing to the addition of rye stout to the starter, as I was told by a salesperson who was younger than some loaves of bread I have stashed away in my freezer but who seemed to know whereof he spoke), more intensely caraway-ish (from a different seed the counter guy said…black caraway? but there seems to be standard caraway in there as well). Not as dense, but pleasingly dense nonetheless, more assertively different from the standard sandwich rye than its forebear was, but less as a matter of texture and more as a result of the lingering sour rye taste under one's tongue.

Truly worth a detour.

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  1. Zabar's sells a Corn rye year round which they claim is from Orwasher. It is much as you describe the one you bought directly from them. I bought 1 about a year ago at Orwasher and they told me at the time they were considering adding it as a regular item which it seems they have done.
    I prefer the Corn Rye without seeds which was called Lithuanian Rye but is a dense Corn Rye made by Sterling Bakers in Queens and sold in Lithuanian and Polish and at one place near Columbia U. The problem was the quality was inconsistent, sometimes delicious other times over baked and dry. I haven't had it in awhile.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hoi lai

      I haven't bought the Zabar's corn rye from Orwasher in several years, but the last time I did was when it was still routinely available at Orwasher's as well, and it was essentially the same bread in both places and essentially the original Orwasher recipe. If they've been selling this new variant at Zabar's since then, I feel as though I've lost a year of my life…

      Have you tried the Black Rooster Latvian rye? http://www.blackroosterfood.com

    2. best post of 2014.

      and not just because it put me in the mood for both corn rye and salt sticks.

      1. Yes I've samples it a couple of times. It is a very dense, rich tasting bread. Not something I want everyday. I am going to try the Orwasher Pumpernickel this week which is also available at Zabar's. Have you tried the Pumpernickel?

        1 Reply
        1. re: hoi lai

          no, i'm generally not a pumpernickel fan, though Black Rooster and to a lesser extent Ruebschlager are kind of seductive … i think it's their insanely dense texture and hint of caraway that get to me; but only once in a great while.

        2. Many thanks for posting this corn rye info. I grew up on Long Island loving the dense corn rye from the local Jewish-style bakeries. No one makes it anymore. I live 2 blocks from Orwashers, will definitely visit there this week.

          1. It had always been my favorite. I think it was even available at the New Amsterdam Market during that run, and I know the Whole Foods Bowery sells a few Orawasher's breads.

            Breads Bakery also makes a very nice rye in our Jewish rye depleted town. As does Hot Bread Kitchen.