The best rye sourdough recipe

This recipe is practically foolproof – a 100% rye bread, made with a rye sourdough starter, and baked to a dense, dark, and chewy loaf that tastes delicious.

rye-crumb
The crust is cracked and dark, despite the low oven temperature. The crumb is dense, moist, and chewy

This simple recipe came about as a result of my oven breaking. I’ve made rye breads before, but needed a straightforward loaf that I could bake at a reasonably low temperature, as my oven has recently taken a dive and now only reaches 180-200˚C.

rye-proofing
Two rye loaves proofing in floured bannetons

It doesn’t get much simper than this – three ingredients, no kneading, and excellent results.

100% rye sourdough

  1. Refresh the rye starter for a couple of days prior to baking. This loaf will not rise much, but the starter will add complexity to the finished flavour.
  2. Combine all of the ingredients and mix thoroughly to combine. Divide in two, shape into rough rounds and place into bannetons floured with rye flour. This bread does not require kneading, or a bulk ferment. Proof the loaves at room temperature for 4-6 hours, or proof for 4 hours then refrigerate overnight.
  3. Preheat oven to 200˚C with a lidded cast iron pot (“Dutch Oven“) on the middle shelf. Bake loaves one at a time for 45 minutes with the lid on, then reduce the temperature to 180˚C and bake for 15 minutes with the lid off.
  4. Cool on a wire rack for two hours before slicing. Slice thinly.
rye-loaves
The two finished rye loaves
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pugile_and_rye

Pugilese – a ciabatta style bread with a sourdough starter

As I mentioned in my previous post, my oven – a long suffering little gas thing – has finally started to give up. The maximum temperature varies, but recently hasn’t topped 200˚C on the middle shelf. This means it isn’t much good at the moment for baking dark sourdough loaves with blistered crusts like porridge sourdough or fig and raisin sourdough.

cracked_crust
This dark multigrain loaf was baked in a very hot oven… This won’t work for me right now

Still, I’ve resisted biting the bullet and heading down to the shops for bread, and instead have been working on some recipes that will get good results at medium temperatures. Rye bread, for example, works very well at a low temperature. It’s hardly an “every day” bread, however, so have also been experimenting with how to make a ciabatta style loaf at home in my dying oven.

The pugilese - "ciabatta" style loaf - proofing in a banneton
The pugilese – “ciabatta” style loaf – proofing in a banneton

I’ve made ciabatta before, using whey as part of the liquid. That post also includes instructions on the stretching and folding of the dough, which is very elastic and can be difficult to manage. The word “ciabatta” refers to the shape – a slipper. These loaves are slightly different. Leavened with a mix of sourdough starter and a little instant yeast, these round ciabatta style loaves are more like “Pugilese”, another Italian bread from the Puglia region. The major difference is the round shape, which needs a well floured banneton due to the slackness of the dough.

pugile_and_rye
Two rye loaves and a pugilese – some of the breads to come out of my “broken” oven

Pugilese – makes 2 small loaves

Firm Starter

Dough

  • 300g firm starter
  • 285g white bread flour
  • 11g salt
  • 3g instant yeast
  • 255g lukewarm water
  1. To make the firm starter, refresh a sourdough starter with white flour to 130% hydration (130g water for every 100g flour). On the day before baking, combine the firm starter ingredients. Knead for a few minutes to combine, then place into a lightly oiled bowl. Allow to rise for 4 hours, then refrigerate overnight.
  2. The day of baking, remove the firm starter from the refrigerator an hour prior to making the bread, and cut up into about a dozen small pieces.
  3. Combine the firm starter with the remaining dough ingredients. The dough will be very wet and “slack”. Autolyse for 20 minutes. Stretch and fold the dough a dozen times, then bulk ferment for four hours. Perform stretch/folds several times during the first two hours of the bulk ferment.
  4. Flour a work surface, two lined bannetons, and your hands. Divide the dough into two equal portions. Try to work quickly but gently, so that the air in the dough is not squeezed out. Shape the dough into rounds and place into the well floured bannetons. Dust the tops with flour and cover loosely with cling film or a tea towel.
  5. Proof for 1 – 1.5 hours. Preheat the oven to 200˚C with a lidded cast iron pot (“Dutch Oven“) on the middle shelf.
  6. Bake the loaves one at a time in the cast iron pot, for 30 minutes with the lid on, then 15 minutes with the lid off.
  7. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for one hour before slicing.
pugilese_and_oil
The best way to enjoy this kind of loaf – with a dish of good quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar
pugilese
One of the finished “Pugilese” loaves

Fig and raisin sourdough

I have tried a lot of different recipes for sourdough fruit breads, and with varying degrees of success. Some call for the fruit to be mixed in right at the start, others for it to be folded in or rolled like a Swiss roll; each method has its positives and negatives, and I have tried to blend the best bits together in this recipe.

The first fruit sourdough recipe I tried was from Yoke Mardewi’s Wild Sourdough – an excellent recipe book with a wide range of sweet and savoury breads. It was a fig and walnut sourdough, made from a blend of spelt flours and with a swirl of fruit and nuts through the centre. Although it tastes fantastic, I have had a few problems with the recipe in the past. The biggest problem has been that the fruit and nuts in the centre, if the dough is not rolled tightly and evenly, tend to spill out  – something which is an issue when you throw a couple of slices in the toaster. Also, it can be hard to ensure that the very centre of the dough is cooked through, surrounded as it is by a thick layer of fruit.

Roughly chopped figs melt into the finished bread
Roughly chopped figs melt into the finished bread

The flavour, however, is worth the trouble, and is the inspiration for this bread. For the method, I have continued playing around with my current favourite – a mix of Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s “quick knead” and Ken Forkish’s overnight sourdough.

The finished loaves are full of fruit
The finished loaves are full of fruit

Fig and raisin sourdough makes 2 large loaves

  • 400g rye starter @ 150% hydration
  • 400g wholemeal spelt flour
  • 400g strong white bread flour
  • 700g lukewarm water
  • 375g figs, roughly chopped
  • 100g raisins
  • 20g salt
  1. Refresh the starter 8 hours prior to making the bread.
  2. Combine the starter, flours and water. Autolyse for 20 minutes.
  3. Add the fruit and salt. This is a very wet dough, so dip your hand into a bowl of water and begin “stretching and folding” the dough to incorporate the fruit and salt. Rotate the bowl with your free hand as you do so – knead like this for a few minutes until well combined.
  4. Rest for 10 minutes, then repeat the stretch/fold 10 times. Rest for another 10 minutes and repeat.
  5. Rest the dough for 30 minutes. Dip your hand into the water and stretch fold another 10 times. Repeat this process every 30 minutes twice more. (So, by this point you have done a stretch fold at 0, 10, 20 minutes, and then 3 times more over an hour and a half.)
  6. Bulk ferment for 2 and a half hours.
  7. With a wet hand, scoop the dough onto a very well floured surface. Prepare two bannetons or bowls by flouring well with rice flour. Divide the dough in half and gather each half into a loose ball. Rest for 5 minutes.
  8. Gather each half into a ball again, flouring with the excess flour from the work surface. Transfer each to a banneton or bowl, place into a plastic bag, and refrigerate overnight.
  9. Preheat the oven to 240˚C with a Dutch Oven (Le Creuset style pan with lid) on the middle shelf.
  10. Transfer the first loaf to a floured peel or baking sheet. Remove the Dutch oven, remove the lid, and slide the dough inside. Replace the lid and place into the oven.
  11. Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on, reduce the heat to  230˚C and bake for 15 minutes with the lid off. Cool on a wire rack.
  12. Repeat steps 10-11 with the remaining loaf.
The finished fig and raisin loaf
The finished fig and raisin loaf
The inside of the fig and raisin loaf is filled with fruit and the crumb is extra moist
The inside of the fig and raisin loaf is filled with fruit and the crumb is extra moist

 

The crust is dark, thick and crisp, with fruit poking out randomly
The crust is dark, thick and crisp, with fruit poking out randomly