Two-Fifths Sourdough Rye


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 hours.  Myth: 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 water.  Myth:  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.


(Originally posted on my own blog here.)


lenohbabe's picture
lenohbabe 2012 February 11

Thanks Lilith, Ive learned so much from this blog. Firstly I now realise WHY  every time i use rye flour in  my dough it gets gloopy and flatish. It wont be the first time i have had to discard a dough as it was floating all over my counter and stuck to me like glue.  I will now have a new found respect for the dough  next time I  bake with rye. I gave up on using  rye sometime ago as i felt i always got it wrong. 

I am  now going to try is your rye recipe as it looks amazing, I now also realise that rye bread is a denser loaf.  I always thought the dense crumb was something to do with what I did wrong. However I wasn't worried as I loved the dense rye loaves I made.  In the beginning every loaf i made had some rye flour in it.  I kept looking at the pictures of sourdough bread on websites  and wondered why my loaves did not have holes in them. I so wanted to post a picture of my sourdough loaf with this tight crumb but thought i would be banished from the Artisan bread club forever.


Like yourself I have realised that my starter wont die if i don't feed it every 12 hours, and i always only  use tap water in it  also if I don't do certain procedures in a recipe my bread will  not fail, some of my best loaves have been when i totally change the recipe ( by mistake) or S & F's, fermenting, or proving times to suit my life.  I have left loaves in the fridge 24 hours longer than the recipe directs and the bread has still baked to perfection.  My starter is 8-9 months old and it seems to get stronger every day.  I have also left lt  in the fridge for up to 3 weeks unattended and it came back after a few feedings.

I dont use fancy cutting tools or peels my trusty serrated knife does the trick and two flexible plastic cutting sheets together make a great peel as I get two loaves on at one time.  

Looking forward to your next blog




Cielkaye 2012 February 11

 I know that there are a lot of purists out there who might scorn this approach, but I think it is fantastic. I am an artist and we are building a studio and house in he country this year, AND starting a garden from scratch, so less effort is wonderful for me. Good bread is 40km away, and I want to have access to fast and fabulous bread. For anyone in the Melbourne area you might be interested in a good cheap flour supply. Conga foods (UCG) in Preston have 12.5 sacks of 13% baker's flour for about $12. It is working really well. Sorry for the typos as I am tapping on the iPad and it does not like revisions.

SlackerJohn 2012 February 11

Seriously, Lilith, a great post and I couldn't agree more.  Your bread will not fail if you cut a few corners, in fact the process is extremely forgiving.  However, I don't think you will find any Bread Nazis on this site.  Posters are extremely open-minded and supportive.  On the other hand, many do go to great lengths to produce the best possible loaf.  I will never reach such levels of refinement, but I can still learn from them.  I enjoy the bread I make but don't discount the possibility that, by taking more care, my bread could be even tastier. 


Another "myth" you will no doubt get to explode is that of Stoneground, Organic Flour.  There's no place close that sells it, and the cheap stuff from the supermarket seems fine anyway.


Finally, I will see your Myth #1 and raise you.  I take my starter from the fridge, transfer it to a bowl, feed it and set in a warm place.  Bubbles start to appear immediately and inside 1/2 hour I'm baking.



lenohbabe's picture
lenohbabe 2012 February 12

 Wow !! Your starter  must be turbo style .  Going to try that and see if my starter has the power ( i doubt it ) yours does. I always thought it had to be a room temperature to work. I love this site it's so I informative and I agree with you everyone just seems to want to help you. 

Lilith 2012 February 13

First of all, thank you all for the lovely comments!


I have to say that my smacking about of myths in the blog was not directed at this site (or else posting it here would be just silly).  I have found this community extremely helpful in my time of learning how to bake with sourdough.  No, this was directed at a few other sites and books which I really do not want to name.  The perfectionists on this site are both, nice and helpful and sometimes precise recipes and steps are important for achieving precisely specific results.  It is more the bread elitists that I dislike, that say that unless you are prepared to baby-sit your starter and spend tons of money on expensive ingredients, you shouldn't even bother as it is not worth it.  That sort of attitude discourages too many from baking at home, and makes me rather put out.


I think my starter usually bubbles 2-4 hours after I pull it out of the fridge and feed it, so John's is not alone in the activity - and I do have a cool kitchen in the winter if I open up the vent.  I have also left mine in the fridge without feeding for close to 2 months.  It looked pretty bleh and had hooch on top after, but I dumped that off, took a bit of it out, and fed it afresh in a clean container - and it is fine.  About once a month when I bake with it, I refresh it by putting a portion of freshly-fed starter into a clean jar into the fridge and that works very very well.


As to flour - I have baked with regular supermarket and major-brand flour here in Sweden (local Swedish wheat, I think Swedes don't import wheat but export it), and have bought organic supermarket brand on occasion - they all appear to be very good.  I would have to bother with a side by side comparison to really see if I can even tell the difference, to be honest.  There are a couple of fancier brands here, including one grown and milled and packed according to antroposophic principles (I kid you not!), which I may try just for kicks.  But in general, I find any reputable bread-quality flour has produced pretty good results for me, provided it was fresh and not close to its best-before date.  As a food professional, I know all too well that flour quality deteriorates a lot faster than the dating on the package would suggest.

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