Baking Rye Bread Using a Starter

Reader Contribution by Wendy Akin
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Rye bread is a challenge for many bread bakers. So many “hockey puck” disasters. This recipe works! You’ll make a loaf with a moist, open crumb and a chewy crust, just like the best deli loaves.

You can form your dough into two fat loaves in loaf pans, a huge artisan boule or two smaller boules, or even use some for crusty, chewy rolls — fabulous for thick sandwiches. With tiny amounts of sugar and fat, this is a very low-calorie, high-fiber bread that is also delicious.

For the Starter

The day before, mix up enough starter for three batches of bread.


• 6 cups (30 ounces) bread flour
• 1 ½ tsp fine sea salt
• 1 ½ tsp instant yeast
• 2 ½ cups tepid water

Directions – the day before

You can use the mixer with dough hook or it’s easy enough to stir this up by hand, just approximate the mixer directions.

1. Whichever you choose, put the flour into a good-sized bowl, tall rather than wide, your mixer bowl is fine. Put the salt in one side of the bowl and the yeast on the other, then stir together. Never dump the salt and yeast on top of each other — the salt delays the yeast.

2. Make a little well, then pour the water into the mix. Run the mixer on “stir” until the flour is taken up. Turn the mixer off, and let it rest a minute or two, then turn the mixer on to #4 and run for 2 minutes. Rest a minute then run on #4 again for a couple minutes.  Repeat.  The dough will clear the bowl, but still look pretty shaggy.

3. Put out a large cutting board (mine is 16 by 20 inches) or a sheet pan will do. Put about a Tbsp of oil on the board, smear it around with your hands and leave your hands greased. Then dump the dough out. Pat the dough into an oval, about 10 by 12 inches.

4. Now, pick up the far edge of the dough and pull and stretch it away from you, then fold it back onto the back half of the dough. Pick up the front edge, pull and stretch it, and then fold it back onto the dough. Turn the dough over so the stretched and folded surface is now on the bottom. Repeat the pull and stretch again, and turn the dough over.

5. Walk away for a few minutes. Because the dough is oiled, you don’t need to cover it now. Go back and repeat the pull and stretch, both sides, and again let it rest a few minutes. Repeat one more time. If you pull and stretch a small area, you’ll see the “window”, a bit of dough that will stretch so thin that you can read through it. This indicates that the dough is nicely developed even though you’ve done very little work.

My hands always need care, so I usually just massage the oil into them, then wipe just my palms on a paper towel in between stretches.

6. Put the dough into a greased bowl large enough to allow it to fully double. Cover the bowl with plastic and put it in the fridge overnight to rest and develop flavor. The dough will rise nearly double, and then deflate a bit. It can rest as long as two nights if you’re not ready to bake.

Rye Bread Recipe

Makes 2 standard loaves or a huge boule, or you can mix up the sizes to suit your needs and menus.


• 3 cups rye flour, whole rye if possible
• 3 cups bread flour in all  (divided)  plus extra in reserve
• ¼ cup vital wheat gluten
• 1 Tbsp fine sea salt
• 2 Tbsp instant yeast
• 2 Tbsp Deli Rye Flavor*
• 2 Tbsp whole caraway seeds
• 16 ounces pre-fermented starter (about 1/3 of a batch)
• 2 ¼ cups hot (105 degrees Fahrenheit) water
• 2 Tbsp molasses or sorghum syrup
• Optional: a little cornmeal for the bottom of the loaf

* Note: Deli Rye Flavor is available from King Arthur Flour, or you can grind tablespoons of caraway seeds with a pinch of citric acid in a spice grinder. Even if you don’t like the whole caraway seeds in your bread, be sure to put in the ground seeds or the deli rye flavor.


1. Set up the mixer with the dough hook. You will want the mixer for this dough — rye dough takes a lot of muscle.

2. Put the rye flour and 1 cup of the bread flour plus the vital wheat gluten in the mixer bowl. Put the salt and deli rye flavor on one side of the bowl, the yeast on the other. Add the whole caraway seeds. Stir only to mix the dry together.

3. Measure out 16 ounces (1/3 batch) of the starter. With your bench knife, cut the starter into about 10 pieces, dropping them into the flour mix.

4. Measure out the hot water, spoon in the molasses or sorghum and stir. Make a well in the flour mix and pour in the water. Turn on the mixer on #1 Stir to begin incorporating the flour. When it’s mixed in, let it rest a few minutes to give the rye flour a chance to absorb the liquid.

5. Turn the mixer on to #4 and run for at least 5 minutes. Add the remaining bread flour, holding back about ½ cup. Run on “stir” until the flour is mixed in, then again on #4 for at least 5 minutes. Rye dough should be soft but firm, but it stays rather sticky. Add only enough flour for the dough to come together, but don’t let the stickiness tempt you to a dry dough.

6. As with the previous breads, a little oil down the inside of the bowl will help your dough to clear the bowl.

7. Transfer the dough to your rising bucket or bowl and allow it to rise to doubled. Rye flour has less gluten strength, so rising may take longer than other breads. Be patient with it.

8. When it’s fully risen, turn your dough onto your floured kneading board. Give it several turns, again resisting adding much flour. When the dough feels nice and smooth and elastic, form your loaves.

Decide what loaves you want and divide accordingly. In the picture, you’ll see a fat boule that I formed with about 2/3 of the dough for a company baked-ham dinner. With the rest, I made a few nice sandwich rolls for scrumptious ham sandwiches. You can also form two standard sandwich loaves for more uniform sandwiches.

For the boule, pat out the dough into an oval, then roll it up tightly. Try not to totally deflate the dough, be gentle with it. Coax the loaf into a rounder shape, pulling the edges to the bottom to create surface tension. If you like, you can put a little cornmeal on the baking sheet, then place the boule on it or put some on the board and drag the loaf through it to lightly coat the bottom.

Put boules on a greased baking sheet with the cornmeal, regular sandwich loaves into greased or well seasoned loaf pans. Optional: For a crackly crust, lightly beat an egg white with a teaspoon of water and brush the crust. Stick on a few more caraway seeds if you like.

Put the bread under your proof cover or cover it with greased plastic wrap. Allow your bread plenty of time to rise to almost doubled.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes until a thermometer inserted through the side to the center registers 190 degrees.  Take the bread off the pan(s) and cool on a wire rack until completely cooled before wrapping or cutting.

Swedish Rye Bread Variation: For a really different rye, you might try the Swedish flavoring. They use orange and fennel. A tablespoon of grated orange peel and a tablespoon of whole fennel seed would approximate this.

What to Do with Leftover Starter

If you don’t want to make three whole batches of bread and have some starter left over, you can make really nice ciabatta-style hamburger buns. I just pat out the starter on a lightly floured board and cut it with a bench knife into pieces just a little smaller than a burger. The dough will spread a little as it rises. Square is fine! Is there a rule that says burgers are round?

Burgers, Italian sausage and peppers grinders — these rolls work for all kinds of sandwiches when you want more crust than bread.

Wendy Akinis happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.

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