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Tips on baking with rye

with 29 comments

After wondering what makes good rye bread, I came up with surprisingly few tips. The hints I can give are more like little tricks, that seem to make things a bit easier. There is no big theory behind it, it’s what I believe to be true from the couple of rye breads I have made so far.

Rye tips

I think a rye sourdough starter is best put into a warm place, 24-28°C so that acidity can develop quickly and the starter is ready after 16-24 hours. Letting the sourdough ferment longer than 24 hours is possible and sometimes necessary. This is in contrast to wheat sourdough (levain), if used as leavening, for example in a pain au levain. An over-acidic levain produces an excessively sour and rather unresponsive dough resulting in poor loaf volume and hard crust.

Readiness of the starter
A rye sourdough starter with a hydration of 80-100% is ready when it has risen and collapsed. A typical look at this stage is a rather liquid mass that has receded from the sides of the bowl. It should have a sharp and appetizingly fresh aroma (of ripe apples or slightly sweet and yeasty). Rye starters made with smaller hydrations should be inflated and show a network of holes. Do make the effort of waiting longer if these signs of fermentation are not yet visible.

Water content
Water absorption in rye flours varies. A fine grind yields stiffer and drier doughs. Recipes must be read with regard to a generic description of dough consistency (stiff, sticky, loose etc.). I would recommend this to a lot of authors of bread books: Describe how the dough feels, use a lot of analogies of known things from the kitchen (acts and feels like mashed potatoes, porridge, etc…)

The most common and unnverving problem in this bread seems to be the “flying top” aka “handbag”, i.e. when the top separates from the crumb forming an empty interior. Among experts (cf. Fachkunde Bäcker/Bäckerin: Praxis und Theorie by Albrecht, Ehrlinger, Welskop, Schild) the ruling opinion seems to be, that it is caused by lack of acidity. Cf. “Readiness of starter”. The “flying top” is very often accompanied by a gummy crumb, which seems to back up the above. Any way to increase acidity will help to prevent this pain-in-the-arse.

(Top hasn’t taken off completely in this loaf, but the effect of lack of sourness is quite visible in the crumb: Dense crumb towards bottom, ‘water line’ at the bottom, irregular tacky texture))

Update 23 March 2010: The pic above actually does not show the notorious “water line” caused by defective sourdough, but compression of the loaf when it was still hot.

Rye breads right after baking
Right after it comes out of the oven, the crumb of a bread made with 80% rye flour is a sticky soft mass that can be squished together irreversibly. Eating a piece of hot rye bread is almost as horrific as eating a heated mixture of water and flour. Resisting the urge to cut into the bread before 24 hours have passed, which stabilizes the crumb, is a last step in the fabrication of a delicious rye loaf.

Rye sourdough as leavening
Naturally, a mature rye starter can be used to make bread dough rise, calling upon the wild yeasts that are living in the starter. In breads made with less than 60% rye and more than 40% wheat I would not recommend it, though. It probably is because of the high acidity of rye sourdoughs, that a strong white flour in the presence of rye will lose some of its force. The resulting crumb of the bread often has a dry, “glass-like” texture. No doubt about it, what will still be called “acceptable” or even “good” is up to the reader.


Written by theinversecook

7 February 2009 at 04:32

29 Responses

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  1. Hi Nils,
    my Vollkornbrot always end-up being very crumbly.
    I always resist 3 days before cutting the bread, in the meantime I let it rest enveloped in a linen sheet. Yet, whenever I cut it I’m left with a lot of small pieces ;-(
    Can you guess what’s going wrong?


    5 July 2010 at 19:32

    • Hi nicodvb,
      try using a soaker and also include 30%-40$ of the total flour in a sourdough. If it’s crumbly, it has obviously dried out. What kind of recipe are you using?


      6 July 2010 at 00:26

      • Vollkornbrot done with:
        -soaker with 2/3 of the flour as cracked rye and same weight of boiling water
        -leaven with 1/3 of the flour, same weight of water and some rye starter
        When the starter is ripe I mix all two of them with some salt and let teh dough rise until it’s ready to be baked, then I cook it at 120-130°C for 12 hours enveloping the form in a double layer of aluminuim foil.

        Sometimes it crumbles even when it hasn’t dried out (it keeps at least 70-80% of the water in the raw dough).


        6 July 2010 at 00:49

        • sorry, the message above was mine :-)


          6 July 2010 at 00:50

        • 12 hours is excessive baking time. I’ve seen it used for pumpernickel-style breads. Pumpernickel dough has a high amount of an old-bread-soaker in it, and I’m thinking there is a reason for that. Perhaps it has to do with your problem. I would either try to include an old-bread-soaker (15% of total flour weight replaced by stale rye bread, which is then soaked in hot water overnight) or reduce baking time to “normal”, i.e. less than 2 hours for a 1.5kg loaf for example, at 210°C.


          6 July 2010 at 13:42

  2. I’ll try as you say. Reducing baking time with this heat is a real blessing.
    Thanks a lot.


    6 July 2010 at 13:50

  3. Hi Nils – What you say about home oven temperatures vs big bakery oven temperatures is really interesting. What is happening in the home oven that is different do you think? I have noticed this too and learnt not to put my home oven on for breads at more than about 235 C max and then usually only at the beginning of the bake. best Joanna

    Joanna @ Zeb Bakes

    10 July 2010 at 12:25

    • Hi Zeb,
      heat is radiation + molecule-movement, so I think the radiation plays a role in the difference of a professional bread oven to my trusty old Siemens kitchen oven. Heat seems to travel faster it radiated by metal than it does from stone or, say, coals. The radiation in a home oven has a higher energy flow, I would think. And therefore you can bake bread at 240°C for 45 minutes in a professional deck oven without the dough burning.

      I would think there are more, and eventually more important factors, like geometry of the oven, how many loaves there are in the baking chamber and so forth. So in this case, file not closed .-D



      10 July 2010 at 14:39

      • This is a really interesting topic, currently renting in a house with no oven and trying to bake with a little electric oven has really made this question more relevant. I would guess that the primary issue is heat distribution. The size and thermal mass of a professional oven allows it to achieve an evenness of temperature that’s just not possible in a domestic environment…


        20 July 2015 at 14:32

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