Make Ahead

Whole Grain Sourdough Rye Bread

October 30, 2017
2 Ratings
Photo by Stephanie B.
  • Prep time 48 hours
  • Cook time 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Makes 2 loaves
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.

What You'll Need
  • 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
  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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Elise Senkerik
    Elise Senkerik
  • Stephanie B.
    Stephanie B.
  • Cindy

7 Reviews

Cindy February 20, 2021
Hi, I am about to mix things together. I could only get rye berries and my spice grinder would not crack them, it turned some to powder and left some whole. Now they do not seem soft enough to go into the final dough. They are already mixed with the cornmeal, quinoa, and oatmeal. What would you suggest? Should I try to cook the mash more by steaming it using the water for the recipe? Cook another set of rye berries in my pressure cooker separately and add them to additional ingredients and just toss this other mash to my chickens? This recipe was posted so long ago that you may not notice this in my time frame. I am excited to finish this bread.
Cindy February 20, 2021
In the end I started a new batch of mash with fully cooked rye berries, added them to carefully calculated amount less of water, plus oatmeal and cornmeal.

This was not a dough, this was a very thick pasty batter. I found that when it was time to get it into the bread pan I was trying to fold it a little bit to make a loaf shape and it was impossible. I had to pretty much lift it, drop it, then smooth it into the bread pan. I wish that I had done the bulk ferment in the bread pan because there seems to be no reason to do it in a separate container—unless you need to move it form container to counter to pan to compress some air out. I think I have seen some other breads of this type that explicitly state that they are more of a batter.

It fermented well so we will see what happens as it retards and rises in the pan.

A video would be helpful.
Stephanie B. February 21, 2021
Hi Cindy, some of my rye berries pass through my mill whole and soften just fine in the final bread (same when I used a spice grinder in the past). I’ve also done whole oat groats and they softened well too-next time I may try whole rye berries because I liked the texture of the whole oats so much. The mash should hydrate overnight without having to cook the grains, though I’ve seen plenty of recipes with cooked grains added.

Hmm you may have a point on fermenting all in the pan, I’ll have to give that a try! I just ferment in the bowl I used for mixing since it’s already covered in dough.

I can’t comment on the hydration of your dough, sorry! For me it always forms a dough, albeit a wet and sticky dough, but I wouldn’t call it a batter (I can turn my bowl upside down and the dough won’t fall out for example). I recommend holding back some of the water when mixing the final dough and if it doesn’t feel like it needs more water, no need to add it all. Flours absorb water differently so I always find hydration to have some flexibility in breads. Also is it possible the cooked grains added to the hydration?

I agree videos are nice! But as I’m a private citizen so to speak (not a food professional and working full time) I’m not sure I have it in me to make and edit a video. I hope the loaves turn out for you!
Cindy February 21, 2021
Hi, thanks for your response. The dough, true, would not have spilled out of the bowl. I have worked with 100% hydration rye/wheat and also a Volkornbrot dough. Never a rye this soft and airy on the counter. I only used oil on the counter, not wanting to get unmixed rye flour into the dough. If you can’t comment much on hydration, not knowing our flour differences, can we talk about dough texture? When mixing, I used a Danish dough whisk (with the wire shaped like the @ sign), and it was moderately easy to whisk. When you take it out of the bowl after mix time, you say you can ball and oil it. I could not pick up the dough. I had to scrape it out, push it into a round with a two scrapers, scraping dough off each scraper with the other, and then oil the top, scrape it upside down and oil the bottom, then scrape the mass into an oiled bucket. When you form the loaf, does the dough feel like a very sticky drop biscuit or dumpling dough? Super airy and soft?

What kind of flour do you use? I use organic Champlain Valley dark rye I get wholesale. The reason I am so curious about this is that my other rye recipes come out very hydrated.
Stephanie B. February 21, 2021
I sprinkle my counter with flour (rye or wheat) and since its patted into shape and not handled much I find I don't get lines of flour or dry bits in the bread.

I use my hands or a wooden spoon to mix, I haven’t used a danish whisk but I’m assuming they’re sturdier than ball whisks? I don’t think I’d have an easy time mixing this dough with a whisk unless it was a strong whisk! After mixing (and the first ferment) the dough is very sticky and shaggy, maybe more like thick drop biscuit dough. I used to use a bowl scraper to scrape onto the counter, oiled the bowl and my hands, picked up dough with my hands, and rolled it around in the oiled bowl to ferment. Now I just mix and leave in the bowl without any oil, either way I use a bowl scraper to loosen the dough from the bowl before dividing. The dough is soft and airy, but I divide with a bench scraper and I’m able to use flour and my hands to pat/form into loaves and pick up by hand to place in loaf tins. I’m not saying my hands are completely free of dough, but I can handle the dough.

When I wrote this I used hodgson’s (spelling?) mill because that’s about the only thing grocery stores carried. Now I use a Mockmill to mill organic rye berries. The store brand was a coarser rye flour so I tried to mill a similar texture. When I tried a finer grind I found I was more likely to get a “starch bomb” texture. When you say your other recipes come out very hydrated do you mean they’re less soft/airy or more batter like? I’m sorry this dough gave you so much trouble! If you care to share a few recipes you’re referring to, I’d love to check them out!
Elise S. November 18, 2019
I made this bread and it turned super tasty and really good. I made a few changes but otherwise, once you are used to making 100% rye bread, this bread will not be too much trouble. When making the mash, I simply boiled the rye berries with cracked rye for about 10 minutes and took into account the water I used. I decided to using rye flakes instead of oat flakes. And I didn't use the cornmeal, only millet flour to replace it. I also didn't use the cocoa powder. I have not added cocoa to any of my rye breads yet, as I like the taste and colour as is.
I added the following spices: 1 tbsp each dried orange zest, fennel seed, anise seed, caraway seed, cardamom. The spices were not that strong after all, so I might add a little more next time.
I also added ¼ cup veg oil into the dough once it was formed and ready to cover with plastic.
Lastly, to simplify, I didn't use my hands in the dough as it gets really sticky and I don't want to waste any dough. It was just as good to stir it with a wooden spoon and to scoop it into two parchment lined pans for the final rise.
Stephanie B. November 18, 2019
I'm absolutely thrilled you like it! The couple recipes I've posted are not exactly speedy weeknight meals so I don't expect them to get much traction lol. I love your changes! I can't believe I never thought to add orange zest to this, sounds wonderful.