Make Ahead

Whole Grain Sourdough Rye Bread

October 30, 2017
Photo by Stephanie B.
Author Notes

This is a hearty, flavorful, slow fermentation whole grain rye bread in the style of pumpernickel, rugbrod, and vollkornbrot. This recipe is the combination of two 100% rye breads by Peter Reinhart - one from the Bread Baker's Apprentice and the other from Whole Grain Breads. Separately, neither recipe gave me the flavor or texture I was going for, but after some fine tuning, I discovered combining elements of each recipe gave me the perfect whole grain, seeded rye bread that has ruined other multigrain breads for me. The original recipes call for rye sourdough starter to yield a pure rye bread, but I use my regular wheat-fed starter with good results.

Don't be intimidated by the time it takes to make this bread! Three days is a long time to wait, but most of the time is just that: waiting. There is very little active time here and no kneading. Most of the time is letting dough ferment. On Day 1 the preferment and mash are made. On Day 2 the final dough is mixed, given its first fermentation, shaped, and refrigerated. On Day 3, the loaves are baked. This bread can be baked on Day 2 after it's shaped, but the overnight cold fermentation adds a lot of flavor.

This recipe yields a hearty, dense, flavorful bread that goes great with creamy cheese, smoked salmon, and a few capers. Or spread fresh mascarpone on it, drizzle with honey, and enjoy with a cup of coffee for a quick breakfast. But my favorite way to eat this bread is simply with a smear of good butter as snack. Both the recipe and serving suggestions are easily tweaked and adapted, so make this bread your own! —Stephanie B.

  • Prep time 48 hours
  • Cook time 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Makes 2 loaves
  • Preferment and Mash
  • 1 cup active sourdough starter (200g)
  • 2 cups whole grain rye flour (256g)
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm water (171g)
  • 1 cup cracked rye berries, or whole rye berries pulsed in spice grinder (150g)
  • 2/3 cup rolled oats (60g)
  • 1/3 cup corn meal (50g)
  • 1/8 cup amaranth, millet, or quinoa (50g)
  • 1 1/2 cups water (342g)
  • oil, for coating bowls and misting dough
  • Final Dough
  • all of preferment
  • all of mash
  • 6 cups whole grain rye flour (764g)
  • 3 teaspoons salt (22g)
  • 1 cup unsalted, raw sunflower seeds or pepitas (100g)
  • 1/4 cup molasses (60g), optional
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder (15g), optional
  • 3 cups lukewarm water (695g)
  • oil, for coating bowls and misting dough
  • Special equipment: sourdough starter, 9x4x4 loaf pans
In This Recipe
  1. DAY 1 Make the preferment. Mix the sourdough starter, rye flour, and lukewarm water together in a bowl until all the ingredients are combined. The dough should be a little sticky and slightly shaggy.
  2. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit at room temperature for about 2 hours, or until the dough has noticeably swelled. Place covered bowl in refrigerator overnight.
  3. Make the mash. Preheat oven to 200 F. Mix together the cracked rye berries, rolled oats, corn meal, and amaranth in an oven safe bowl.
  4. Bring 1 1/2c water to 165 F, and stir it into the mixed grains with a wooden spoon.
  5. Lower the oven temperature to the warm setting, cover the bowl with foil, and place in the oven for one hour.
  6. After one hour, remove the bowl from the oven and let sit, covered, at room temperature overnight.
  7. DAY 2 Take the preferment out of the refrigerator one hour before you make the final dough. Use a pastry scraper or a knife to chop the preferment into 10 pieces. Cover the pieces with plastic wrap and let sit one hour to take off the chill. Alternatively, you can take the bowl out two hours before you make the final dough and let the perferment sit in the bowl in one piece for two hours.
  8. Make the final dough. Stir together the flour, salt, and cocoa powder together in a large mixing bowl. Add the preferment, mash, sunflower seeds, molasses, and lukewarm water. Stir with your hands or with sturdy wooden spoon until the ingredients are well combined, all the flour is hydrated, and no streaks of molasses are visible. The dough will be very sticky and shaggy.
  9. Oil another large mixing bowl. Or turn the dough onto floured counter and oil the original bowl. Gather the final dough up into a ball, transfer it to the oiled bowl, and turn it around a few times to coat in oil.
  10. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let dough ferment at room temperature for 4-6 hours. The dough should almost double in size, however, rye dough does not rise in the smooth, buoyant way wheat flour rises. Rye dough will swell, and it may not seem as obvious a change in the first couple of hours.
  11. When the dough is almost ready, prepare two 9x4x4 loaf pans. Cut parchment paper to fit into the bottom of the pans, and oil the sides. Alternatively you can omit the parchment paper and just oil the pans, but you may need to run a knife around the sides to loosen the loaves after baking.
  12. Sprinkle the counter generously with rye flour. Turn dough out into the counter. You should see that the underside of the dough has lots of little holes from bubbles that formed during the rise, and the dough should smell pleasantly tangy and fruity.
  13. Using a pastry scraper or knife, split the dough into two equal portions. Use your hands to quickly shape each portion of dough to fit into the prepared loaf pans. Working quickly helps with sticky dough, but you can wet or oil your hands to decrease sticking.
  14. Spray the tops of the loaves with oil, or use your fingertips or a brush to lightly oil the tops of the loaves. Gently pat the dough so it fills the corners and smooth the top. The dough should fill the pans about 2/3 of the way.
  15. Cover pans in plastic wrap or foil, and place in the refrigerator overnight. You can also let the pans rest for another two hours at room temperature to rise a little after you shape the loaves, and bake on Day 2. However, having tried both ways, I find the last cold fermentation adds a lot of flavor.
  16. DAY 3 Take pans out of the fridge, and let sit at room temperature for about 2 hours to take off the chill. The dough will have risen a little more, and the pans will be about 3/4 full. The bread will not rise any more during baking.
  17. Preheat oven to 350F.
  18. Place loaf pans in the oven, uncovered, and bake until the inside reaches 200 F. This takes about 1 1/2 hours, but check the temperature after one hour. The bread will be a rich brown on top, and start to pull away from the sides of the pans.
  19. Once baked, turn the loaf pans upside down on a cooling rack. The bread should fall out easily, and sound hollow when tapped. Peel off the parchment paper if it stuck to the bottom of the loaves, turn right side up, and let cool completely before slicing. Ideally, the bread should sit at room temperature overnight before slicing. The bread can be stored at room temperature for a few days, and 1-2 weeks in the refrigerator, loosely wrapped. This bread freezes well.

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