Two-Fifths Sourdough Rye, and Some Baking Myths

This week, winter has finally and properly come to Stockholm.

We have -15C in daytime, sparkling white snow everywhere – it only really sparkles when the temperature outside is way below 0C – and the city is bright and beautiful and inviting to wander out and around in, now that there is no more horrible wet and dark November muck that lasted entirely too long this year – about two months too long if you ask me.

This sort of weather calls for comfort food, but not the heavy rainy-day fare, no – this calls for satisfying textures and earthy flavors; and the fact that there is NO way to overheat the apartment (all it takes is opening the kitchen vent and the problem is solved!), it is also a fantastic excuse to indulge in baking.

Rye bread is both, healthful and enormously satisfying to eat, and I happen to adore the flavor of it – nothing, nothing beats real and heavily buttered rye bread for things like pickled herring, Skagen seafood salad, charcuterie or smoked salmon.  Unfortunately, good sourdough rye is not that easy to find in even an average Swedish supermarket (it’s easy to find average quality there, heh!), and I can imagine that in most English-speaking countries it is a specialty item, and many people consider wholemeal rye flour difficult to bake with.

I know, I have been there myself when I tried to make the 100% wholemeal Finnish rye.  It turns out great, but it is a pain in the head dough to work with, really.  Now, that one is a traditional recipe so not up to me to change (I may well come up with a better way to make a high-percentage rye bread later), but this specific recipe I came up with on my own the other day.  And, guess what?  It is easy to make.  Really really easy.

Two things which gave rise to this recipe are my incessant reading on the subject of food, and my recent experiments (the failed and the successful) with no-knead bread.  I wanted rye bread.  I have read that rye flour works far better after a long sourdough fermentation, and I have seen how well and easily gluten develops in long, sourdough no-knead method fermentation.  The difficulties with bread that has a large part of rye are normally:  1. that it does not rise very well because rye gets in the way of gluten development, so you get a brick or a doorstop; and 2. that the dough is awful to work with and even look at – it is unattractively grey, gloopy and it is sticky above and beyond all reason, to the point of resembling actual carpenter glue.  So the problem is that you really don’t want to knead rye bread – and you have to knead to get the gluten to develop… oh wait – the no-knead method… Eureka!  And so this recipe came to be.

As the name suggests, the recipe is two-fifths rye and three-fifths wheat, although that is approximate.  I will test a half-and-half one at some point later and let you know whether that works as well, which I think it will.

The method used for this bread is simple, and is described in detail in the (successful) no-knead post.  I suggest you read that once as then you will not have to ever read it again (it makes sense).  The only things I can add that are specific to the rye bread are that:

  • I was really really generous at covering the banetton with wheat bran (fearful of the stickiness).
  • The first rise for this much rye is longer than I suggest for wheat – this bread was left for approximately 18 hours (from late afternoon and overnight till next morning).
  • The 2nd rise (in banetton after folding) can also take longer than the 1.5 hours for wheat – I left mine for 5 or so hours in a cool kitchen and then baked it.
  • The baking time after the 30-minute mark removal of lid or bowl (whatever you are using), is minimum another 20 minutes, but I watched the bread for about 10 minutes after those 20, and simply took it out when it reached the right color for my liking.  Since the ovens and baking dishes vary, so may your mileage.  My advice is that if this is your first rye bread, watch it.  It should get beautifully deep chestnut-golden brown (rye bread color), and if it is too light it is underbaked.

The recipe is even simpler – and here is where I would like to kick a few of the things you commonly read on the internet, and even in reputable baking books about baking bread, where it hurts.  Why?  Because among a lot of good and useful advice, there are also sites and books (no names or links as usual, you will know them when you see them), that tell you that unless you do X in exactly Y way, your bread will not work and it’s your own fault for being a bread sinner not doing it as the holy internet church of bread bakers preaches.

In my opinion, all four myths mentioned below (I think I will probably point things like this out as I go along, but only four of them make an appearance in this recipe) are so much of what comes out the back end of a cow.  If you do one of those and your bread does not work, something else is wrong (weak starter, wrong flour, etc.).  It is not because you have sinned against the holier-than-thou principles which are nothing but so much hot air being blown where the sun don’t shine.

So, recipe!

  • 100-150g sourdough starter, (I feed mine with mix of about 2/3 rye and 1/3 wheat flour before baking rye, half-and-half for wheat breads).  100% hydration (1:1 ratio of flours to water).  It should have been taken out of the fridge and fed at some point within the past 48 hoursMyth: a lot of baking purists say you should feed your starter every 8 or 12 hours or oh god oh god it will die and nothing will work… that’s a load of [unmentionable substance].  If you have a strong and healthy starter (one that wakes up and rises within 12-24 hours of being taken out of the fridge and fed), then it is more than fine to do like I do:  I keep my starter in the fridge, and a day or two before I want to bake, I take some and mix it up and let it rise.  It is then fine to bake with the next day or two.  No, I am not hallucinating all those well-risen breads on this blog.
  • 350ml cold tap waterMyth:  you must gather the first morning dew from the petals of lilies, or get the purest mountain spring water you can find, because the chlorine in tap water kills your yeast!  No, it doesn’t.  Your water does not need to be bottled, brought in a wooden pail from a mountain spring, or filtered unless you live in an area where it is otherwise not safe to drink (like London).  But if you can enjoy drinking your tap water, so can your starter.  People who go on about how you should use bottled water for baking bread are… let’s not go there.
  • 500g flour (200g wholemeal finely ground rye and 300g bread-quality high-protein wheat flour).  Myth:  you must always sift your flour.  No you don’t need to sift any of it for bread-baking – weighing it and dumping it into a bowl, adding salt and spices, and swirling around a bit with a dry whisk or a spoon before adding liquids is also just fine.
  • 2 teaspoons salt.  Use a measuring spoon.  Myth:  you should use un-iodized salt of one fancy and expensive variety or another or it kills your yeast!  Truth – no; regular iodized table salt is fine.  The trace amount of iodine in it is not enough to kill the microorganisms in the starter.
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds.  If you don’t love caraway as much as I do, use 2 teaspoons.  Or none, if you don’t want any.  (No, I do not feel the need to toast mine before adding it, but you can if you like.)

Method (the post linked above details it better, but here is the summary):

  • Mix starter and water.  Mix all the rest in a bigger bowl.  Mix liquid into flour mix.  Cover with clingfilm and let stand for 18-20 hours.  Dump out onto a VERY well floured board.  Fold, rest 15 min, stick into banetton to rise.  I left mine to rise for nearly 5 hours but it may have been ready before I came home from my walk, so when it is puffed up, it is ready.  May be as little as 1.5-3 hours for the rye.  Bake, cool on rack, do not cut until completely cooled (more important for rye than wheat breads for flavor development).

Enjoy.  And don’t take [manure] from those who tell you baking bread must be difficult.  It really, really does not have to be.

Submitted to Yeastspotting.  :)


17 thoughts on “Two-Fifths Sourdough Rye, and Some Baking Myths

  1. I love your descriptions! So flowery, so poetic (not), so prim and proper (not) :D … perfect!
    I can’t remember if I’ve had rye bread … I must have … maybe like a ton of years ago, in Europe, some kind of smorgasbord type where I took every single type of bread to try … did I mention I love bread? Rye flour here is absolutely stupid to buy. Maybe one day, I’ll do a splurge. Meanwhile, all I can do here is drool.

    1. Smorgasbord should have had rye bread, considering that it is a traditional Swedish service! And rye bread is wonderful – it has a naturally full and sour flavor that is only refined by sourdough fermentation. And to top that, it is really, really good for you (tons of fiber without tasting grainy or rough!), and it is a total shame that rye flour is expensive there – I imagine the shipping is expensive as it has to come from way North, but surely the importers ought to have better deals on postage than I do! Scalpers I say, scalpers!!!

  2. I love your bread posts (though I quite enjoy all your posts); I absolutely agree with your mythbusting. I’ve been making some kneaded bread, and can’t for the life of my understand why you’d need to sift flour when it gets pummeled that much and then risen with yeast. And I use tap water and table salt without any problems at all :-)

    1. Hi and thank you – glad to hear you are enjoying reading this! As to sifting – yes, exactly – flour goes through so much mixing and hydration when making bread that it really never stays in clumps. I only make sure that spices and salt are somewhat evenly distributed (no thanks to a clump of unmixed seasoning in bread!), and then go on to add liquids in, whether it is for kneaded or no-knead varieties.

      As to the “don’t use tap water” and “only handmade X fancy salt is ok!“, all I can think of is that the people who write things like this want to give their products the extra fancy-sounding exclusive edge. Me, I prefer to teach people how to actually make the recipe, not stop them from doing so because they think bottled water from Fiji or salt hand-gathered by Tibetan monks are too expensive to even bother. Mind you, when using salt as decoration, I am all for flaked salt – but the amount one would use to decorate with is negligible enough that it can be either bought for that purpose (and last forever), replaced with some mortar-pounded coarse salt for glitter, or just skipped altogether.

  3. I’m a good Jewish girl, so I luuuuuuurve good rye bread, preferably with caraway seeds. The supermarkets around here sell a halfway decent Jewish rye that my mom uses to make the French toast I blogged about. I never thought to combine rye and sourdough, though–what a fabulous idea!

    1. American Jewish Rye is very good (and also isn’t full rye, I believe it is an about 30% blend), and I used to buy it a lot when I lived there – but trust me, sourdough+rye=food heaven! It takes the rough edge off the rye like magic! And being sourdough, it keeps for days on end without even a bag (I just wrap the cut end in some foil and set it on the board that side down). And if you love caraway seeds, you need to try this – the long fermentation really gives the chance for the flavor to permeate the dough!

  4. I’m glad you’r dispelling these myths. I’ve read them before and thought “well that’s total bollocks” but never found anyone with written assertations of my beliefs that those myths were piles of lies and old wives tales!

    1. Hey and glad to hear I am not the only one who has been reading all of that and going “huh? are you for real?!” at them. My particular peeve is the people who say that unless you do X every Y hours, and get up in the middle of the night to feed your starter, it will not work.

      One of my degrees is in biology. A starter is a microbial culture (yeast and bacteria), and while it does need feeding, it is pretty damn resilient. So food writers who scare people away from sourdough baking by telling their readers that unless they treat their starter like a sickly child who needs attention every 3 hours, it will not work, really need to get a grip. Hm, may actually write a separate rant about it now that I think…

  5. I have a fabulous recipe from the seventies that simply tells you how much to use of each kind of ingredient and leaves it up to you to choose what kind of bread you want to make. For flour, it says “13 dl flour of any kind but at least 5 dl must be wheat”. I’ve stuck to this percentage for years and it always works out well.

    1. Anneli, hi and thanks for stopping by! The recipe sounds really interesting – would you consider sharing the basic proportions with me? 5/13 is roughly 40% wheat, which should be enough to bind non-glutenous flours quite well. What else does the recipe use, if it is not a secret?

  6. Veronika, great looking bread. I love a good rye bread and yours sounds awesome.
    Can you tell me if your starter is made from white wheat flour (all purpose or bread flour) or Whole wheat flour combined with the rye flour?

    Can’t wait to try your recipe.
    I have a Jewish Style Rye posted on my blog if you want to check it out.

    1. Ian, hi and thanks for the kind comments!

      My starter was originally, months ago, started with a mix of half stone ground whole wheat and half white plain flour, at 100% hydration. I had been feeding it white flour only for two weeks, after which I refrigerated it. These days I take it out of the fridge only when I want to bake, refresh it, and use half and store half again in a clean jar. The feedings now are plain white flour combined with rye flour, no more whole wheat.

      I will have to take a look at that, I loved Jewish Rye breads when I lived in the States!

      1. Thanks for getting back to me. I usually keep a 100% white flour starter and convert it to a rye or whole wheat starter when the mood strikes to try a rye bread. I recently made a semolina bread with roasted red peppers and mozzarella cheese. I made a starter using my white starter and added durum and whole wheat flour. I posted this recipe this week if you are interested. I am traveling right now, but when I get home I am definitely going to give your recipe a try. Regards. Ian

  7. Tried your rye/ wheat combo with great success – will do the sourdough starter thing next.
    Also myth – preheating your pot – I do second rising in my (cold) Le Creuset pot – when risen, pop it into cold oven & bake @450 – begin your 30 minutes of cooking time when temp reaches 450 – works a charm every time!

    1. Hi and thank you for stopping by! By all means, do try the sourdough starter – in my opinion, rye turns out far better after a sourdough fermentation.

      Regarding the preheating of the pot – that, specifically, is not at all a myth, but a preference. Some breads do better with a cold start, while others (rye, quite often) turn out far better with a preheated pot for the purpose of simulating a steam-oven environment and facilitating oven spring.

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