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Rye Bread

Rye Bread

Delicious bread with deep rye flavour - earthy, warm, malty, moist and slightly chewy.

Rye bread is a fantastic, full of character, addition to meals. Enjoy toasted slice with Irish cheddar cheese or with a splash of Ricotta/figs/drizzle of honey. Slice of rye bread can also become a flavourful addition to soups or stews.

Rye is a popular grain used to make traditional breads in Eastern and Northern Europe. Rye grains are gray/green/blue-ish in colour, low in gluten, high in vegetable gum which makes the grains sticky and able to absorb high proportion of water. Rye is also high in nutrients and fermentable sugars - this why it’s often used to start or maintain sourdough cultures (you can read here on how to start sourdough cultures from scratch). In breads, it brings warm, tangy and earthy flavour. Rye also produces breads which have low GI index, helping to slowly release energy during the day (i.e. 1-2 slices will fill you for a number of hours). All these qualities produce nutritious bread with interesting, mature flavour palette. On top of that - the bread stays fresh and moist for a number of days.

Rye Bread

Baking excellent rye breads is an art on its own. In today’s post I will share with you 3-staged fermentation approach with an overview of the process and things which have worked for me when baking rye breads in home environment. The recipe below is for a standard Polish rye bread. It’s a nice introduction to the world of rye and if you are interested in rye baking - it will give you a good understanding of the grain and the impact on the bread baking process.

For a good bake:

1. Rye and the impact on baking approach - rye does not develop gluten, absorbs water well and due to high content of fermentable sugars it likes higher fermentation temperatures. Hence, baking rye breads requires different approach. There is no ‘regular’ kneading, bulk or stretch and folds. The success of this bake relies heavily on:

  • Hydration - this grain loves water. Rye dough should be looser in order to bring out the flavour potential of rye. However, if you go overboard with water you will end up with heavy, dense, most likely acetic bread. On top of that - there is a high risk you will end up with a large empty pocket of air underneath the skin (in the final proof the skin will lift up but the wet dough will hold the dough intact, preventing proper rise). This is why it’s important to adjust hydration according to the type of rye flour you will be working with. As you notice - in this recipe - first two stages rely on wholemeal rye flour (coarse rye) and in third stage, sifted wholemeal rye is introduced (it’s the same flour but coarse bits are sifted).

  • Gentle handling - there is no kneading or stretch and folds. This grain will not develop gluten. Flour is mixed with water only until combined. The texture comes from proper fermentation which should be hitting right temperatures and timings. As fermentation is done in stages, you will be adding portions of flour/water/add ons in stages. It’s important you add lukewarm water first and let the dough relax. After that - flour is gently folded in. Try to keep as much of that airy texture as possible.

  • Fermentation process - adjust length and temperature to balance lactic and acetic cultures. Hitting higher temperatures (26C in Stage I & II and 30C in Stage III) will encourage break down of sugars and airy texture. Rye will become ripe, light in texture and in colour (light-brown) with warm and earthy aroma. Ok - but - unless you live in Mediterranean region there is only a number of days your room temperature would hit 26-30C! So - what’s the fix for home bakers? We use two solutions. First - proofing box (Brød&Taylor). Works a charm at keeping steady temperature during proofing process. We also use it for homemade kefir and yoghurt. Second - short bursts of warm air. How does this work? Preheat oven until lukewarm (if you have oven thermometer - great, if not - well, go with the flow and turn it on for few seconds or so). Then, after every 60 minutes, switch the oven on (fan forced if you have that option, if not - regular is fine too) and for few seconds blow warm air. A note of caution though! If you end up with pronounced sour bite given by acetic acid (like vinegar) in your bread it will most likely mean that you pushed fermentation stage (II) for too long or didn’t hit temperature, hydration was too high or the starter wasn’t strong enough. The flavour should be warm, earthy, malty and only slightly acetic and tangy.

  • Baking temperature - bread from this recipe loves the initial burst of hot air. We bake it at 245C in the first 15-20 minutes, with steam on. The last 20 minutes of baking is done outside of the tin, to crisp up the skin and to bake thoroughly.

2. Staged fermentation - in this rye recipe, flour is fermented in 3 stages, using about 64% total pre-fermented flour before the final rise in the tin. We are using here an adjusted Detmolder approach where portions of flour are introduced to the dough in stages. In our dough, the first part is not overly hydrated and slightly longer. The second part is relatively shorter (6hrs only, to decrease acetic acid load). In first part, you are building sour cultures, second phase encourages build up of acetic acid cultures (‘basic sour’ stage). The final, third stage (‘full sour’), develops the lactic acid and rounds up loaf flavour. Rather than bulk stages - think of it - as ‘sponge’ development stages.

3. Starter - you can use your regular starter for this bake. However, there are few considerations here - which hopefully will help you to decide on starter preparation for this bake. The general take is that as long as your starter is strong and has a good balanced bacteria culture, it will produce a good bread. In my family though, there were always two starters - white (with some portion of rye) and pure rye. From the flavour perspective - mature rye cultures coming from pure, ripe rye starter will create deeper rye flavour. You will simply get more out of the ingredients/time put into the baking process. Jeffrey Hamelman in his book ‘Bread’ notices that this deeper and superior flavour may be due to microorganisms in the mature rye cultures having thorough familiarity with metabolising rye flour. If you have wheat-based culture and you are not up for maintaining yet another culture - you may opt to feed a portion of your regular starter for 3 days with rye flour (1:5:5, once a day, starting with water at 26C, keeping at 21C room temperature).

Rye Bread

4. Add ons - if you are using this recipe, stick with toasted seeds (2-4% in baker’s percentages), coarsely chopped dried fruit (2%). Soaked seeds are bringing great flavour but require adjustment in ratios (different recipe/hydration, seeds are soaked at the beginning of Stage II for as long as stage 2 lasts). What seeds to use? My favourite add ons here - coriander, caraway seeds, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame seeds, dried prunes, dried figs.

5. Barley malt extract or honey - we are using barley malt extract in this bake for deeper, sweet malt flavour. It brings out warm and earthy rye aroma. If you don’t have it at hand - replace with honey. If you are unsure whether you should buy barley malt extract - you can use it in various bakes. It’s an excellent addition to cookies and chocolate bakes.

6. Baking tins - invest in tall loaf tins suitable for sourdough baking. You will notice immediate improvement. In the worst case scenario, if you are using regular baking tins, acetic cultures from the sourdough may react with metal in your tin. It may be visible (tin will discolour) or not. Tins manufactured for sourdough baking have special coating which prevents from this reaction. On top of that - this coating, after few uses, will make these tins non-stick. Wholemeal and wholegrain breads are usually highly hydrated so the issue of sticking is a valid one. Proper, tall, well coated tin will bake beautiful tall loaves, which will be easy to remove from the tin. When baking rye breads, this aspect is really important as rye does not develop strength (gluten). It will proof as high as your tin allows it to (given, the dough portion is correctly adjusted to suit the tin dimensions). It won’t spring too much above the tin and any excess will simply overflow (muffin top). Hence, it’s a good solution to choose tall tins which will help expanding dough to keep its shape.

Rye Bread

Rye Bread Recipe


- 90% rye, 10% spelt

- 87% hydration, 64% pre-fermented flour

Yield: 1 loaf

Time: 21-22 hrs + 12hrs rest

Tin: loaf tin, 10x20x6cm or 15x8x8cm

Ingredients and method:

Stage I (@26C), 12 hours

  • 150g water (@32C)

  • 20g ripe starter

  • 150g wholemeal rye

Pour water into your main mixing bowl. You will be adding flour/water in next stages to the same bowl so choose medium-large bowl. Add starter, gently mix in, then add wholemeal rye flour and mix just until combined. Cover tightly and move to warm place (26C) for 12 hours.

Stage II (@26C), 6 hours

  • All sponge from Stage I

  • 170g water (@30C)

  • 200g wholemeal rye

Pour water into sponge from Stage I and let sit for 5 minutes. Add wholemeal rye flour and using spoon gently mix in only until combined. Cover tightly and move to warm place (26C) for about 6 hours.

Stage III (@30C), 3 hours

  • All sponge from Stage II

  • 160g water (@30C)

  • 1 Tbsp barley malt extract (or honey)

  • 14g coarse sea salt

  • 150g weak rye (wholemeal rye, sifted to remove coarse bits)

  • 50g wholemeal spelt

+ reserve 1 Tbsp coarse rye (leftover from sifting) and mix in with 1 tsp rice flour

Mix water with barley malt extract and salt until combined. Pour slowly into sponge from Stage II and let sit for 5 minutes. Add weak rye flour, wholemeal spelt and using spoon gently mix in only until combined. Brush tin with butter, line bottom with parchment paper. Transfer the dough onto the tin - 2/3 -3/4 high and gently even out. Sprinkle the top with 1 Tbsp coarse rye mixed with 1 tsp rice flour. Move the tin to a warm place (30C) for about 3 hours. The dough will rise slowly. Start preheating oven after 2hr 30min. After 3 hrs the dough should be reaching the rim of the tin, the surface should show minor cracks - these are all visible signs that the bread is ready for the oven. There is no need to score this bread.

Bake at 245C (225C fan forced) with steam on for 15 minutes (if you have DO large enough to fit the tin, bake covered in the first 20min, preheat DO for 1hr before the use), then lower the temperature to 220C (200C fan forced) and bake for another 30 minutes. After that time, take the loaf out of the tin and bake for another 15-20 minutes outside of the tin at 200C (180C fan forced). If you see the top is browning too much - cover loosely with aluminium foil. When baked, let the crumb set for 12-16 hours before serving. This time will allow the crumb and flavour to set. This bread is moist and rich - the rest time after baking is a part of the recipe.

Rye Bread

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