The Reason for Rye

There are a lot of bread blogs out there. Many of them are excellent sources of information for both the home baker and the professional, and I am a member of a number of online communities that I find vital when fine tuning a recipe or troubleshooting flat loaves. So, when I decided to start writing this blog, I had to think what makes this any different from all of the others?

After scratching my head for a while, I came up with the answer. There are still far too few sites out there that bridge the gap between amateur home baker and die-hard professional (at home or otherwise). A quick glance across some of the aforementioned blogs demonstrates the fantastic technical skill of many home bakers out there, but is a daunting sight to a person just starting out.

barley_wheat_miche
A barley and wheat bran sourdough, made with a rye flour starter

I have been baking bread now for a number of years, so I am finally fairly confident when faced with terms like autolysedough hydration, baker’s percentages, levain, and so on, but, when I recently started handing out portions of my sourdough starter to colleagues with recipes and instructions, I was quickly taken back to a time when most “artisan” bread websites seemed like they were written in another language.

The aim of this blog, then, is to help take the edge off for absolute beginners. Baking bread is not always an easy process, but it is a very rewarding one. There is a glossary for some of the more technical terms, but I intend to keep all of the instructions and recipes as simple as possible.

Which brings me to the rye… I make all of my sourdough breads with a rye flour ‘starter’. This is a form of yeast that naturally rises the bread, whilst also giving a complex flavour. Starters can be made from almost any flour, and all have different qualities. The reasons I use rye are simple. The complexity of the flavour in a loaf is always my main goal, and I find that the rye flour ticks that box more than any other. Rye is also a very high quality source of food for the yeast – yeast is alive, and needs to eat! This means that a rye flour starter will be strong and long-lasting – something that I find crucial as a home baker where I am limited to storing my starter in a jar at the back of the fridge.

So, for the first recipe on this blog, here is my rye flour starter. In my experience it usually takes about a week to activate, but this may vary:

rye_starter
Rye flour sourdough starter, started in 2012

Rye Flour Starter
Day One

  • 100g rye flour
  • 150g water
  1. Mix flour and water in a sterilised container (I use a tupperware).
  2. Rest, loosely covered, overnight

Day Two – Five (or seven, or eight…)

  • 100g rye flour
  • 100g water
  1. Mix additional flour and water into the starter.
  2. Rest, loosely covered, overnight.
  3. Repeat each day, “feeding” the starter with flour and water at roughly the same time each day. If it gets to the point where you have too much, discard half, or give it to somebody else.
  4. The starter is active when it is bubbly. For the first time, I would feed it once more before using it in a recipe.

Storing, feeding, and using the starter

Now that the starter is active, all that you need to do is maintain it. I will explain further in later recipes, but your starter is now full of “wild yeast” and can be used to bake bread. The amount of starter in a recipe differs, but in all cases you will need to “feed” your starter once or twice over a couple of days prior to using it. I store my starter in a jar in the fridge (pictured) and when I want to bake I put about a tablespoon into a clean tupperware, feed with 100g each of flour and water, leave overnight, and repeat once. Any leftover starter from the recipe goes back into the jar in the fridge. I have found that my starter will last in the fridge for at least 3 weeks without being fed, and can be frozen for up to 6 months.

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15 thoughts on “The Reason for Rye

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