This post is dedicated to all those well-meaning bread-baking books and blogs which I have consulted regarding baking rye bread. They have all been full of good and helpful (no sarcasm) tips and explanations, and the result of my efforts has been lovely and very, very worthwhile.
In fact, these worthy sources have even mentioned, offhandedly, that rye dough tends to be sticky but that I should not add more flour because it will not become any less sticky from it. That’s fair enough. There is just one thing none of them thought important enough to mention – and that is, that by “sticky”, what they actually meant is – it’s a bloody glue!
No, I am not exaggerating. If you’ve made wheat bread, or even part-rye bread, you have no idea what this means. Allow me to elaborate: the dough will be sticky and it will remain sticky. And it will stick to your bowl, utensil, stainless steel mixer dough hooks, your (floured) kitchen counter, and yes, your hands. And gods forbid you let it set on your hands for a few minutes while kneading it, because – get this! – it will then be difficult to scrub off even with liberal use of dish soap and a nail brush under running (cold) water. I’ve never encountered anything like this short of superglue – paint and regular wood glues are normally easier to get off hands than rye dough! In the end, I had de-ryed my hands with just that bit of extra effort and scrubbing, however. So, here’s your warning – by floured surface and hands, all those helpful sources mean: cover that counter with a thick layer of flour when you do the final forming of the dough, and drown that sucker in flour, else you will never be apart from your kitchen counter, bowl or utensil you happened to grab again!
Now, if this has not
made you run away screaming discouraged you, I will, by all means, share my other insights (other than the “don’t try this at home unless you do own a nail brush”) into making a 100% rye bread. All in all, glueing self to items aside, it is both, doable and rather worth the while.
The bread is absolutely fantastic – it fills the entire apartment with a wonderful fresh rye bread scent while it bakes. It is aromatically sour (both from the sourdough which I fermented for approximately 20 hours, and from the rye and caraway), dense and, to abuse a buzz phrase, literally packed full of flavor. A friend of mine, after having tasted it, said that most of all it reminded him of Finn Crisp, only in softer bread form (they actually have a caraway version which really does taste similar!). The texture and density allows it to be sliced into very thin slices with a sharp serrated bread knife without breaking. We’ve eaten it lightly buttered with Serrano ham, heavily buttered on both sides and toasted for breakfast, and simply sliced with dinner. If you like sour rye and strong flavors, this is the bread for you, and I can’t recommend it enough!
This recipe for Finnish Sourdough Rye is adapted from Jan Hedh’s “Bröd” (“Bread”) book, which I can happily suggest to anyone who wants to bake bread and can read Swedish, or, failing that, Danish or Norwegian. Sadly, the book is not translated into English (that I know of), but this is what I am here for (tonight, anyway)!
Before I list the recipe, a few notes regarding 100% rye bread in order not to confuse expectations:
- Rye has a low gluten content, and therefore cannot develop the typical elastic dough texture the way wheat flour does. The dough will remain dense and somewhat chunky, with a slight wet-sand texture even when it has risen.
- Pure rye will never rise as high as wheat or wheat-blend dough does. The loaf will not be a “brick”, but it will be fairly dense, with close crumb and small pores. It will be heavy for its size compared to wheat bread. This is a recipe of Finnish origin – those of you who know what traditional Russian breads are like, this will be similar to those.
- This recipe requires a 12+ hour fermentation period, so it is best to prepare it over the course of two days, unless you want to be baking in the middle of the night at the end of day 1.
Yield: 2 breads
Ingredients: Day 1
- 250ml water, finger-warm
- 125g active rye-fed sourdough starter (wheat starter will do if it rises properly after a feeding of rye flour)
- 400g fine wholemeal rye flour
Ingredients: Day 2
- All the dough made on day 1
- 30g fresh yeast
- 180ml water, finger-warm
- 500ml sourmilk or buttermilk
- 675g fine wholemeal rye flour
- 30g sea salt
- 1 heaping tablespoon caraway seeds (entirely optional but I like)
Instructions: Day 1
- Place flour into a large mixing bowl and mix in starter and water. I use a handheld mixer with dough hooks on low speed, but I am sure a larger mixer or a spoon and putting one’s back into it will work.
- The dough will be pretty thick – add more water by a spoonful if the mixture is too obviously dry.
- Cover with cling film and allow to ferment for 12+ hours (from midday to morning the next day in my case) in a warm non-drafty place.
Instructions: Day 2
- Mix cake yeast into water and allow to stand 10 minutes.
- Add all other ingredients except salt to dough from Day 1, and mix on low speed for 10 minutes. (You can mix with a spoon or knead with a hand in bowl, but in case of wholemeal rye, a mixer really does wonders.)
- Add salt and mix another 5 minutes.
- Place in a slightly oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and allow to rise for an hour in a warm place.
- Prepare 2 baking sheets lined with parchment. I use aluminium mesh sheets so that they can be placed directly in a hot oven, but you can preheat your pizza stone if you have one and place breads onto that when done proofing instead.
- Take dough out onto well-floured surface and cut in half. Form two round breads and place on baking parchment.
- Allow to rise at room temperature for 60-90 minutes until roughly doubled in bulk and the dough surface has begun to visibly crack.
- Preheat oven to 250°C.
- Place your bread sheet (I did this one after another, not two together in the oven) inside, or use a board or peel to transfer your bread onto your pizza stone if using, and toss a few ice cubes into the bottom of oven.
- Shut the door quickly and watch the oven for the first 10 minutes, adding ice cubes as each previous batch evaporates in order to maintain steam pressure. Make sure to keep face out of the way when opening oven with steam – this will be very hot!
- Reduce temperature to 190°C and bake another 50-55 minutes until bread is dark brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
- Cool on a rack for at least an hour before eating.
Note: After removing the first loaf, I reheated the oven back to 250°C and repeated the process with the second loaf – an extra hour of proofing harmed it not at all. Also, your bread should come out even more floured than mine in the picture if you want it not to glue you to the aforementioned counter. Trust me, I’ve learned the hard way!
The bread keeps for up to a week without any sign of mold wrapped in a plastic bag at room temperature. I’ve frozen one half of one loaf, as the book suggests it will freeze well, but have not defrosted it yet, so the judgement on that is still out. However, considering how well it kept without it and how fast we ate it, I am not sure I needed to freeze it at all.