This sourdough rye bread, in the style of Finnish ruisleipä, is hearty, flavorful, and perfectly textured. It’s ideal for both those who are new to baking with rye and those who’ve been working with it for years!
When I first started attempting to make rye bread, I dove in, assuming that rye flour would behave exactly like white bread flour. Turns out it does not. Most of my first rye loaves were bone dry and hard or gummy with a burnt crust. Not very appetizing! Fast forward awhile, I’ve done a great deal of experimenting and learning about how to use rye. One of my favorite results of these experiments is this sourdough rye bread!
This recipe makes two medium, round, flattish (but not flat!) loaves of sourdough rye bread. It’s kind of an unassuming looking loaf (in my hubby’s words, “it’s not the sexiest”) but it’s crazy good.
What’s different about rye flour?
Even within the rye flour category, there are different options. In this recipe, I use dark rye flour. Rye flour has its own distinct flavor that makes your bread delicious. It’s also a nutritionally dense flour! In terms of how it behaves in bread, though, the main differences stem from rye’s very low gluten content. Gluten is responsible for the structure and the height in bread, so breads that contain a lot of rye can be dense, without a lot of structure or air pockets. Rye bread can also be hard. Many rye breads, including mine, contain a mix of rye and white flours, which mitigates some of the trickier aspects of rye. 100% rye breads are not easy to do well! My sourdough rye contains 50% rye flour and 50% white bread flour, by weight. You’ll also notice that compared with a lot of sourdough recipes (especially others that use a preferment), this bread calls for a lot of starter. Without a lot of leaven, rye bread recipes rise VERY slowly.
Tools & Equipment for Sourdough Rye Bread
- Kitchen scale: all the measurements in this recipe are given in grams.
- Medium & large mixing bowls
- Measuring spoons
- Liquid measuring cup
- Wooden spoon
- Bench scraper
- Baking sheets
Ingredients for Sourdough Rye Bread
- Ripe sourdough starter: I don’t have a special rye starter, though some bakers do. I feed my regular starter with about 1 part rye flour to 3 parts white flour every day, so it does always contain a little bit of rye, but I use this for everything I bake! If you haven’t fed your starter a little rye flour yet, try it.
- Dark rye flour
- White bread flour
- Fine sea salt
- Filtered water
I’ll include times, so you can see an example of how to schedule this bake. Of course, adjust to your needs! This recipe uses a preferment (levain). More on this method here, if you’re curious! Begin by feeding your starter so that it will be ripe and bubbly when you’re ready to begin.
9 pm: Make levain
In a medium mixing bowl, stir together 150 g ripe sourdough starter, 200g dark rye flour, and 200 g room temperature filtered water. This is a fairly large preferment, and it will bubble a bunch, so make sure your bowl has some room. I have found that rye bread does very well when a good chunk of the rye flour is pre-fermented!
Lightly cover your bowl and leave it at room temperature for 12 hours.
9 am: Mix dough
Check your levain for ripeness: it should be super bubbly throughout and have a sour scent. When it’s ready, mix the dough: add the remaining rye flour, all the white bread flour, the sea salt, remaining water (slightly above room temp), and the entire levain to a large mixing bowl. Mix well. I often mix sourdough with my bare hands, but in this case I usually use a spatula- this dough is quite sticky.
When your dough is mixed, use the back of a wooden spoon to work the dough a bit, in lieu of kneading. This is quite a sticky dough. Fight the urge to add flour. If you do, you’ll end up with dry bread.
Cover your dough and leave on the counter for bulk fermentation.
9:30 am-1:30 pm: bulk fermentation
Set a timer for one hour into bulk fermentation. When it goes off, lightly oil your hands with oil or cooking spray and do one thorough set of stretch and folds. Re-cover your bowl and leave on the counter for the remainder of bulk fermentation.
1:30 pm: pre-shape
Check your dough at the end of bulk fermentation. It should have risen significantly and have many visible small bubbles.
Lightly oil a clean work surface and use a bowl scraper to turn the dough out onto it. The dough will deflate. Divide the dough in half and form each half into a loose round, using your hands and a bench scraper to turn up the edges of the dough into a round shape. Let rest about 30 minutes.
2:00 pm: shape and proof dough
Prep a baking sheet or sheets with parchment paper. Use a bench scraper to form your dough into tighter rounds, then transfer them to the baking sheet, pinched side down. Lightly cover dough with plastic wrap and leave on the counter to proof for 1.5 hours. Toward the end of the proofing time, move the oven rack to the middle, and preheat oven to 425 degrees Farenheit.
Steam the oven to create a nice light crust on your sourdough rye! Some do this by filling a baking pan with soaked kitchen towels and pouring more boiling water over them before adding bread to the oven. This works well, but it always stresses me out to have towels in the oven, so I usually just place a baking pan of boiling water on the bottom of the oven.
Place the bread in the oven and set a timer for 20 minutes. When it goes off, remove the steaming pan from the oven and decrease the heat to 350 degrees Farenheit. Bake for 15 more minutes.
Remove the bread from the oven to a cooling rack. Resist the urge to slice it: rye bread takes a while to set, and if you cut it too soon it will be gummy. I let it sit until it’s completely cool, 2 hours or more.
Enjoy! This bread is the ideal companion for deli meats, smoked salmon or gravlax, or butter and cheese.
I think this bread shines with just the basic ingredients of starter, flour, water and salt, but if you like to add seasonings, there are some that compliment rye flour very well! Optionally, add 2 tsp caraway seeds, coriander seeds, or aniseed.
If you like a more structured shape, you can bake this in a cake pan, following the same instructions.
- 150g ripe sourdough starter (or rye starter)
- 200g + 175 g rye flour
- 200g (room temp) + 356 g (room temp or slightly warmer) filtered water
- 375 g white bread flour
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- Make the levain: in a medium glass bowl, mix the ripe sourdough starter, 200g rye flour, and 200 g filtered water. Mix thoroughly, cover lightly, and leave on counter to ferment for 12 hours. Use a big enough bowl: this levain gets bubbly!
- After 12 hours, check your levain for readiness. It should be very bubbly throughout with a mild sour scent.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix together the ripe levain, 175 g rye flour, 375 g white bread flour, salt, and 356 g filtered water.
- This dough will be sticky! Don't add more flour: you will wind up with dry bread if you do. Make sure you scrape the sides of the bowl.
- Once mixed, take a wooden spoon and use the back if it to work the dough a bit.
- Lightly cover the mixing bowl and leave on the counter for bulk fermentation.
- Set a timer for one hour into bulk fermentation and perform one thorough set of stretch and folds. You might want to lightly oil your hands first.
- Re-cover dough and leave to sit for the remainder of bulk fermentation, three more hours.
- At the end of bulk fermentation, the dough should have risen substantially and be quite bubbly. Don't intentionally deflate the dough, it will happen naturally when you turn it out.
- Lightly oil a clean work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Divide the dough in half.
- Pre-shape the dough: use a bench scraper and your hands to lightly form each dough into a round. Leave on the counter to rest for about 30 minutes.
- Prep a baking sheet(s) by lining with parchment paper. Use a bench scraper to form the dough more firmly into rounds, then transfer to the prepared baking sheets. I place them gathered-side-down so that the top is smooth. Typically, the loaves can share a baking sheet, if you want.
- Lightly cover the loaves with plastic wrap and leave on the counter at warm room temp to proof for 1.5 hours.
- Near the end of the proofing time, place an oven rack in the middle of the oven (leaving enough room below for a pan) and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Create steam in the oven. I do this by placing a pan in the bottom and pouring in boiling water. You could also throw ice in the bottom, or soak some dishrags, place those in the pan, and pour the boiling water on top of them (this works really well, but I can't quite get over my fear of putting cloth in the oven). If you have something intended for this purpose like lava rocks, use that.
- Place baking sheet in the oven and set a timer for 20 minutes. When the timer goes off, decrease oven temp to 350 degrees and remove steaming pan. Bake for 15 more minutes.
- Remove finished bread to a cooling rack and allow to cool COMPLETELY (at least 2 hours) before slicing. It will be gummy if you slice early.
- Enjoy! Delicious on its own, with butter, with soup, as a sandwich..
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How did it turn out? Let me know in the comments!
More sourdough fun here!
When you’re ready for your next sourdough rye adventure, check out Sourdough Marble Rye!
Or for an easy rye flour recipe, try these Rye Scones.