Rye bread is more complex

Rye bread is more complex
Amanda Daniels

Rye bread is a bit more complex and needful of special equipment.


Sourdough starter is both a finicky pantry staple and a reliable leavening for any kind of yeasty breads you can think of. Just when I think I have to fuss and carefully keep it fed and at the right series of temperatures, I find it to be quite resilient.

A friend moved from an apartment to a house in Texas recently, and she sent pictures of her starter (more properly called a levain), which had no attention for several weeks. A scoop of flour and a couple of hours were all it took to have a jar of bubbling, happy bacteria.

I’ve found you also can improve the levain by adding different kinds of flour. Mine now feeds on a couple of whole wheats and some added dietary gluten now and then and seems the happier for it.

Last week I shared the story of the loaves of bread excavated from a baker’s oven in Pompeii, which was buried in hot, volcanic ash around 79 AD. Their horror 2,000 years ago is our priceless look into ancient daily life now.

So I made something that looks like their bread. I tied it around the middle with string before baking, as it appears the Romans did.

This recipe is for a single loaf of rye bread and is a bit more complex and needful of special equipment than I normally share with you. The single most useful thing is a proofing basket.

I got mine, which is 10 inches wide, from an eBay seller for under $10. They’re generally around the $15-$20 range and worth it if you plan to make much fancy bread. Using a proofing basket helps the dough rise into a rounded loaf marked with four-dusted rings and offers just the right environment for success.

A proofing cloth is a great help, and you can buy these premade also. I bought a yard of heavy linen cloth for $4 and cut it into squares of various sizes. Use it to cover rising dough and to shape some kinds of loaves — or just use a tea towel.

A baker’s stone is something you’ll be glad you have. Mine is used to bake bread, pita, pizza and just about anything else requiring a high temperature. Just park it on the bottom rack of your oven and leave it there. You also may want to pick up a baker’s peel. Mine is the same metal design used by pizza makers, but a wide, wooden peel also is perfect.

Sourdough needs patience and time. Allow 24 hours before you plan to eat the bread and don’t skip any of the resting times. You can use a stand mixer or your hands. Adjust flour or water as needed. Every day brings a new environment to your kitchen, and you have to be flexible.


1 1/3 cups active sourdough starter

1/2 cup water

1 3/4 cups dark rye flour

1 cup unbleached bread flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup raw wheat germ

2 tablespoons molasses.

1 tablespoon fennel seed

1 tablespoon caraway seed

1 tablespoon anise seed

2 teaspoons salt

Zest of 1 orange

In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your mixer, combine starter, water, molasses, the seeds and orange zest. In another, mix the flours and wheat germ. Gradually incorporate the flours into the liquid until well incorporated. Begin kneading by hand or in the mixer with a dough hook for 5 minutes. Cover with a cloth and rest for 20 minutes.

Add the salt and knead again for a further 10 minutes. You will feel the dough tighten and become quite springy. Rest 15 minutes and knead again for 10 until smooth and elastic, then place in a lightly oiled glass bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a draft-free spot for 12-14 hours until quite active and more than doubled.

Flour a proofing basket well inside. Remove dough from the bowl carefully and lay on a lightly floured surface. Gather the edges into the middle, pinching the center together. Turn the dough over and begin shaping into a round loaf — wrap your hands loosely around it and bump it in circles: imagine you’re moving it inside one of those old spirograph sets. Turn the dough smooth side down and place in the basket. Cover with a cloth and allow to rest for 1-2 hours. It will double again.

In the last half hour, preheat your oven to 500 F with a stone or inverted baking sheet on the lowest level. At the same time, turn the dough out onto the well-floured paddle of your peel, round side up. Slash the top 1/2 inch deep in three places. If you wish, tie butcher’s string around the middle.

When the oven is hot, quickly slide the loaf onto your stone and close the door. Again working quickly, open the oven and throw 6 ice cubes into the bottom to create steam and close the door. Reduce heat to 450 F and bake 40 minutes. Remove and cool.

Loading next article...

End of content

No more pages to load