After my last near-despairing post about my unsuccessful rye sourdough attempts, I am very glad to make this post today.
There was a light at the end of the tunnel after all!
For, the very day after I wrote the post, I decided to go and experiment in the kitchen again.
In case you didn’t know, rye breads are beautiful with the simplest, freshest toppings, or even just with a thick spreading of butter and maybe a pinch of salt. And they are addictive, in a good way!
I did not yet want to give up on my dream of making a 100% rye, 100% wholemeal, 100% sourdough loaf.
And look what happened! ↓
Above: Wholemeal sourdough rye bread – happiness
Yep, it worked!
So here’s what I did…
I ground some fresh rye berries in my grain mill, to make wholemeal rye flour.
Above: Whisper Mill – this is the grain mill I use. I’ve had it for 5 years now and I love it – never had a problem, and it can even do fine pastry flour! You can buy the Whisper Mill (also called Wonder Mill) for USA here and Australia and other 240v countries here.
Then, before I went to sleep that night, I fed my starter with plenty of freshly ground wholemeal rye flour and a little water, just enough to make it mix through so all the flour was wet. (In the past, I had made the starter runnier when I was feeding it, by adding more water.)
In the morning my starter was bubbling way up in the jar and it looked nice and thick and barely smelt sour at all. There was no hooch (the greyish liquid that collects on top of starter if the starter is runny, or if the starter hasn’t been fed for a few days).
Right: Sourdough starter made from whole rye flour – this photo was taken after the starter had sat out all day after being fed the night before, but as you can see, it was fed generously and the batter is still quite thick. I have trialled sourdough with sourdough cultures both thick and runny, and I have found that I get a better rise out of a bread made with thick starter.
For the recipe, I decided to try and adapt a breadmaker recipe I had lying around. Sourdough rye bread can be made quite effectively without a breadmaker – just mix it by hand and don’t expect to be able to knead it much (if at all – the dough can be quite wet and sticky), but to be honest, kneading doesn’t make a whole lot of difference to rye bread. Unless you are going to put some wheat gluten in (which can be done), to give it more elasticity – in that case, the dough will need a bit of kneading. But for pure rye, a breadmaker is not necessary. I was just feeling lazy, and didn’t want to get my hands sticky.
Here’s my recipe:
- 1 generous cup of thick, active, rye wholemeal starter (last fed the night before)
- 350ml filtered water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons unrefined sea salt (I have since also used Maldon salt, kosher salt and Himalyan salt, and they all work out about the same)
- 5 cups of freshly ground wholemeal rye flour – use 4 1/2 cups if the flour is not freshly ground (as flour settles and decreases in volume)
- 3 tablespoons of wheat gluten flour. Yes, I know this is cheating and I know it messes with the whole “100% rye” thing. However, it is still 100% sourdough, so that keeps me happy as I don’t have any dietary reason to strictly avoid wheat gluten. But for the purists, I will let you know that I have actually done this recipe since without the gluten, and that works fine, too. Just keep in mind that the gluten strands in rye flour are rather more delicate than wheat, so you’ll need to be very gentle with the dough once it’s in the tin to rise, otherwise you might find that it deflates on you and goes a bit gluey –
And this is the method I used.
- Place ingredients in breadmaker (remember to put the paddle in first – haha I can’t be the only one to have forgotten once or twice!)
- Set breadmaker to a dough-only cycle and set it running
- Stick around the kitchen for the first 15 mins or so and help the dough form from the mixture (with a plastic spatula) if necessary. I find that if I don’t do this, the dough forms in the middle but it misses the flour around the corners
- Let the well-mixed dough sit in the breadmaker to go through 1x rise, which in my breadmaker happens after the mixing and kneading has finished, when I’m using a dough-only cycle
- Get a bread tin ready (I use a roughly 24x12cm loaf tin, and make 2 of these at once if I want to bake a bigger batch, rather than trying to make 1x mega-loaf) – I use baking paper cut to size for my tin, but I have also successfully buttered and floured the tin. I do find that it’s easier to get the bread out, though, if there is at least some baking paper cut to fit the bottom of the tin, if not the sides – I’ve done that before, and only relied on greasing & flouring for the sides.
- Move your dough from the breadmaker panto the loaf tin, which may require pouring, scraping, and/or using your hands (or all of the above – rye dough tends to be quite wet and gloppy!)
- Above: I currently use a steel loaf tin but I admit to lusting after a cast iron one like this…
- If the dough is all rough on top, wet your palm and smooth it out a bit if you like.
- Use a razor-sharp or serrated knife to diagonally slash the top of the loaf. Because my lump of dough is usually considerably lower the the top of the tin at this point (before it rises), I hold the knife more vertically and do several cuts if need be. I make them quite deep into the dough because as the loaf rises, the cuts will join up again somewhat anyway.
- Leave the tin of doughin a place where it won’t be disturbed, and let it rise. If I want to leave the dough and go out for ages, I might leave it in a cooler place and go for a longer, slower rise. If I’m in a hurry, I might put it on a sunny windowsill. If I’m really wanting the process to hurry up I might put the oven on low until it’s warm and then turn off the heat and put the loaf in there to rise. However, I find that my sourdough always takes a minimum of 6 hours to rise to a decent height. In a cool place I have left loaves to rise for more than 12 hours, and you do get extra complexity of flavour the longer the bread rises. Also, the longer the sourdough cultures work on the bread, the more the phytic acid in the flour is reduced, which is better nutritionally.
- When the bread is risen to your liking (and keep in mind you probably won’t get a huge puffy round top on sourdough rye in the same way that you will with, say, wheat bread risen with bakers’ yeast), then turn the oven on to ~230°C. If you have a baking stone, put in on the bottom or the bottom rack of the oven now.
- Fill a metal pan (not glass or ceramic because it may crack – I can attest to this personally!!) with hot water – this will go in the oven a few minutes before you put your bread in, to fill the oven with steam. Steam helps the bread go through its final rise and it will also stop your loaf from drying out in the oven too much.
- When the oven reaches temperature, put in the pan with water, and then the loaf of bread. I usually aim to get the bread in the centre rack of the oven if possible.
- Bake for 10-15 mins, then turn down by 10°C. Then bake for another 10-15 mins, then turn down by another 10°C. Keep doing this until you reach about 180°C, and then hold it at that temperature until bread is baked through.
- Depending on the grind of your flour, the batch of rye grains that your flour came from, the freshness of the flour, the speed and amount of rise that the bread went through, the reliability of your oven themometer, and many other hard-to-pin-down things, the loaf usually takes between 30-50 mins to be cooked right through. If you have a reliable kitchen thermometer, you can check for an internal temperature of 93°C, at which the bread will be done. You can also get the loaf out of the tin and knock on the bottom, but you won’t get a hollow drum sound like you do with a whit fluffy wheat loaf – what you’ll be listening for is more like the difference between a merely muffled hollow drum sound and a wet drum sound! But this is all getting a bit existential! If you have followed the instructions pretty closely up to now, I think it would be safe to say that after 40 minutes your bread will definitely be done, and if you want to be extra safe, go another 10 minutes after that.
- Get the loaf out of the oven and gently remove it from the tin. Place it on a rack to cool.
- Once it’s cooled so it’s warm, not hot, to touch, wrap it in a tea towel. If you want the bread to stay moister, wrap it in plastic wrap or a plastic bag over the tea towel.
- Let the bread cool completely, preferably overnight, before slicing into it and eating.
- Now you can eat it! 🙂 I usually can’t resist eating the first few pieces off the end with a liberal spread of yellow butter and some firm yellow cheese, and then a bit more butter on the top depending on my mood! It’s such delicious bread, and fully worth the wait.
- Above: Homemade sourdough rye bread with butter and cheese – fully worth the wait. Yum!