I want to make sourdough rye bread. 100% rye, 100% sourdough. No other grains, no other yeasts. And it’s proving trickier than I’d thought…
The first bread I ever made, probably ten years ago, was a purchased (wheat) pre-mix done completely in a bread maker. Then I started making bread in the breadmaker from “scratch” – using separate ingredients of supermarket white flour, commercial dried yeast, commercial bread improver (with the associated “what does it actually do?” mystery!), olive oil and water. Then I upgraded my olive oil (to extra-virgin). Then I upgraded my water (to filtered). Then I dropped the bread improver (turns out that it helps with the rise, but it isn’t necessary and it seems to make a loaf that goes stale faster, so I started leaving it out). Then I replaced some of the white flour with wholemeal flour. (All still with a breadmaker.) Then I added in some gluten flour. Then I experimented with varying unpredictable success with white spelt flour. Then I experimented fairly successfully with triticale. I could now make bread by hand without a breadmaker. Wasn’t I clever, I thought. So, feeling on a roll, I experimented with rye. I could now make a 100% wholemeal wheat bread, a 100% wholemeal triticale bread, a 100% spelt bread without (m)any hiccups – what couldn’t I do? Feeling confident, I tried rye. And I tried rye. And I tried rye. And then I gave up and didn’t make bread at all for a very long time. (Yes, it was that traumatic!)
Every loaf, bun or roll of rye that I tried to make turned out a disaster! Hard ugly hockeypuck lumps, the lot of them, sometimes not even worthy of being fed to the ducks – they would come out too hard for even a duck to want to eat.
More recently, I discovered “artisan bread in 5 minutes a day”, with great bready success. That was white bread, no-knead method, baked in the oven, not the breadmaker. Then I tried the wholemeal version, and to my delight it still worked! Then, I did it with less yeast one day, because I didn’t have quite enough. It took longer to rise, but the bread was… well, better. More flavourful. Longer-keeping. Breadier! And I stuck with this recipe for quite a number of months.
Then someone cajoled me into taking some sourdough starter. I had tried to make sourdough starter before, several times. Each time I had ended up with something different, but definitely not anything you would want to cook and eat! If I recall correctly, the first starter I made turned bright red. The next one went black. The third one went white with little wormy white mould things growing all over it. It still makes me shudder to think about that one! The fourth one went green on top, with furry mould. At this point, you see, any reasonable person would have given up. But not I. I tried again. This time it went so putrid I ended up throwing out the whole jar, after screwing a lid firmly on! I had to admit defeat.
But then my friend gave me this innocuous, bread-dough-coloured starter that didn’t stink or wave at me or anything scary. It just smelt like uncooked sourdough.
Using a cup or two of this starter instead of a few tablespoons of yeast, I successfully got my no-knead dough to rise and it made delightful rolls. Experimenting with rising times, I could also get a decent rise on a full-sized loaf of bread, too. And I also found that if I was in a hurry, and didn’t mind compromising on the health benefits of 100% sourdough, I could kick along a sourdough mix by adding a teaspoon or two of commercial dried yeast, which got a faster rise, but still with that sour tang. (Yes, for my phytic-acid avoiding friends, I know that this isn’t likely to do the trick of neutralising phytic acid properly. However, I figure it’s still better than a shop-bought bread if I’m truly in a hurry and it’s come to that.)
So now it was time to once again Try The Rye. And try it. And try it.
And look, folks. I still can’t do it. Not 100% rye. I am happy to say I can now make a decent non-sourdough loaf using about 1/3 rye flour, and I can make a decent sourdough loaf using about 1/4 rye, but I can’t make a decent 100% rye loaf full stop, let alone a proper sourdough one. Not even if I add (shock, horror) gluten flour.
They just. All. Come. Out. Like. Hockeypucks.
But I haven’t given up yet – those who know me know I won’t until I find the answer to this. I’ve got some reading to do – there’s a book by Maria Thun that I read a few years ago which made mention of the phases of the moon strongly affecting sourdough bread – and there’s a few acquaintences I need to chase up and interview about their magic rye handling skills – and find out whether they really do 100% rye or whether I just imagined that that was what I ate all those years ago, when I ate bread that tasted a lot like rye.
And I am hoping that this blog post encourages some lurkers somewhere out there in the internet world of bread making to (at worst) come and hit me with a (bread) (preferably rye) stick and beat some rye-sense into me – or at very best, guide me gently by the hand into the land of beautiful, well-risen, delicious, sweet-smelling and perfectly-textured loaves of rye!
But whether you comment or whether you don’t… do stay tuned for the next installment of rye fun, because tomorrow I’m going to have another go, this time with a combination of hand mixing, breadmaker mixing, careful rising and oven-baking. And you just never know…