A Good Rye

I spent the first few decades of my life believing I did not care for rye bread. Clearly I had a bad experience somewhere in my childhood, and those early associations are nothing if not tenacious. It’s a bread that’s fairly easy to avoid in this country, if one is so inclined, and I was.

The breakthrough came when we made a version of this lovely simple rye bread in my first class at SFBI. At the end-of-the day tasting, not wanting to eschew it completely and risk exposing myself as a bread wimp, I opted for the smallest piece on the cutting board. Happily, I found myself won over by its rich, earthy flavor and chewy texture, and kicking myself for all those wasted years of rye abstinence.

Rye flour can make a dough difficult to work with. To begin with, it has less gluten than wheat flour, and the gluten is more fragile. Rye also contains a high proportion of pentosans, a type of sugar that absorbs lots of water and can inhibit gluten development and make the dough sticky. Further, rye’s amylase (the enzyme that breaks down starch into sugars) stays active to a higher temperature than that of wheat, and prolonged amylase action can make a bread gummy.

Some tips on working with rye doughs (over about 40% rye flour):

  • Mix gently. If you’re using a stand mixer, do most of the mixing in low speed, and don’t mix too long.
  • Sourdough acidifies the dough, which contributes to its strength and reduces gumminess.
  • Slashing the loaves before proofing helps maintain the definition of the slashes.
  • Slashing the loaves at at a least a 45-degree angle to the long axis of the loaf encourages upward rather than outward expansion during baking, so the loaf’s round cross-section is maintained.
  • Take care not to overproof the shaped loaves. When proofed, they will not look like they have expanded very much.
  • Allowing the bread to rest for at least 12 hours after baking reduces gumminess of the crumb.
  • Trying to wash gluey dough off your hands is an exercise in futility. Instead, rub a small amount of flour between your hands and the dough will crumble away.

I always get a great result from this recipe. It has about 47% rye flour overall, which is enough for the rye’s character to shine through but not so much that the dough is excessively unruly. It can be sliced very thinly, makes an excellent platform for soft cheeses, ham, or smoked salmon, and stays fresh for several days.

This photo goes to jugalbandi’s Click! Crusts.

47% Rye Bread
(Adapted from SFBI)

Yield: 1700 g (3 loaves)


  • Elaborate starter: variable, depends on your starter
  • Mix final dough: 10 minutes
  • First fermentation : 1 hour
  • Divide, rest, and shape: 30 minutes
  • Proof: 1 hour
  • Bake: 40 minutes
  • Cool: several (preferably at least 12) hours

Desired dough temperature: 76F



  1. Place all ingredients (holding back a little water) in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low speed until combined. Adjust the water as needed to achieve a medium consistency.
  2. Continue mixing on low speed for about 5 minutes, then in medium speed for another 2 minutes or so, to a medium level of gluten development.
  3. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled container. Cover and ferment for 1 hour.
  4. Turn the dough into a lightly floured counter and divide it into 3 pieces. Preshape each piece into a cylinder by pressing gently into a rectangle, then folding tightly in thirds, letter-style. Let rest, covered and seam-side down, for 20 minutes.
  5. Shape the dough into fat batards by turning the dough seam-side-up, degassing gently, and rolling the dough up tightly, perpendicular to the direction of the rolling when you preshaped. Place the batards, seam-side-down, on a linen couche.
  6. Sift flour over the tops and score each loaf in the pattern of your choice.
  7. Proof, covered, for 1 hour.
  8. Meanwhile, preheat the oven, with baking stone, to 485F. You will also need steam during the initial phase of baking, so prepare for this now.
  9. Once the loaves are in the oven, reduce the temperature to 460F. Bake for 8 minutes with steam, and another 20 minutes or so without steam. Then turn off the oven and leave the loaves in for another 15 minutes, with the door ajar.
  10. Cool on a wire rack, preferably for at least 12 hours.

CommentsLeave a comment

  1. says

    FABULOUS loaf – and thank you for so many helpful hints for those of us who have little experience with rye flour.

    Just like you, I thought I didn’t like rye bread, but now find I like the taste of rye flour above all others. I’d eat it daily if it weren’t for my family … the children all like white flour, my husband likes wholemeal, but will tolerate the occasional rye loaf.


  2. says

    Wow, looks great! I just made a dud from Dan Leaders Local breads, Siegle de Augverne. Described as looking like the landscape bursting..etc., ended up being a rock for my book stand! So I will slug at it again and try my hand at some other rye recipe, like this one.


  3. says

    I recognized this rye bread immediately! It was also one of my favorites at SFBI. Thanks for the notes and hints, I am going to give this recipe a try in a few weeks.

  4. says

    Great! Another rye to try. I have been trying to find time to do my write ups, but time is not on my side. So, I have a pile of great ryes building up. I’m having fun discovering all these new rye breads.
    Your looks stunning and the crumb perfect.

  5. says

    Haha you got me with your first paragraph, seeing as I was sitting here think too bad she did rye this week since i don’t care for it. Now I wonder if I need to try it….

  6. says

    Absolutely gorgeous! …Especially the scoring patterns. I will have to try the technique of slashing before the final proof. I made my first rye in a long while this past week. As the cool weather sets in I find the heartier ryes to be a nice change of pace to the lighter summer breads.

  7. Kristen says

    I fell in love with rye (and “black” bread) while travelling in Eastern Europe. Never got the courage to make my own. I may now. Thanks!

  8. says

    I always have had the same idea that I didn’t like it. I’m just starting to add some rye flour to my wheat breads and I love it. Can’t wait to try this recipe.

  9. says

    Oh this one looks beautiful, especially the slashing and the crumb! I’ve long loved rye. Tell me it slices thing and holds things well and I know it’s great rye!
    I would so love to go to some of those classes! What a joy.

  10. Sledet says

    Susan, I was inspired by the pictures and your detailed explanations and decided to make one today. While looking gorgeous and all, mine does not look so brown but rather greyish looking compared to yours. Perhaps the flour? I used Hodgson Mills, which is the only one available in my little town. Mine has good oven spring and rounded up after baking.

    Thanks for your wonderful recipes, as always

  11. says

    A beautiful loaf and great tips!
    I am always careful to wash doughy hands and bowls with cold water. If you wash with hot the starches gelatinize, like making gravy, but if you keep the water really cold then they break up and rinse away a lot easier.

  12. says

    I also used to have it in my head that I didn’t like rye, and then for no good reason, just decided to try it…boy did I feel dumb for ignoring it all these years. I’d like to work more with bread and I’d love to try this, so I appreciate the tips. Also, that loaf looks fantastic!

  13. says

    i am eating this right now. fantastic crust and very flavourful crumb. 12 hours? are you kidding me? i waited just 12 minutes after it came out of the oven. :D

  14. says

    bee, I have no doubt that your version came out wonderfully.

    Angelica, it’s a wheat starter.

    Joanna, thanks, and you’re welcome!

    Jeremy, I had the same experience with the Siegle de Auvergne. I’m going to try it again, though.

    Aparna, thanks!

    sue bette, I hope you’ll post yours!

    Jane, thanks! It is so hard to find time to bake everything, isn’t it?

    Chavi, I think you will love baking with rye.

    Laura, yes you do.

    Boaz, thank you!

    Faythe, please do give it a try!

    Claire, I agree the heavier breads are wonderful for the cooler months.

    farida, eggplant caviar sounds delicious!

    Kirsten, I hope you do give it a try.

    Susy, I agree, even a small amount of rye in a wheat bread can add so much.

    Tanna, the classes are indeed great but Michel Suas’ book, Advanced Bread and Pastry, is the next best thing.

    Sledet, hard to say — could be the lighting in my photo, could indeed be differences in flour. Did your oven have plenty of steam at the beginning of the bake? How did yours taste? That’s the really important thing.

    Maggie, I didn’t know that about cold vs. hot water. Thanks!

    Mike, that’s how I felt too!

  15. says

    The slashes are stunning, Susan – particularly the herringbone pattern. I didn’t know to slash before proofing rather than after – I must try that on the next rye loaf I make – if I can ever find some rye flour (rrrrrrr).

    Is it rye or wheat flour that you have sifted over the shaped loaves?

  16. Moriah says

    Your bread’s beautiful! Thank you for being so generous and sharing so much information with us. I’ve learned so much…

  17. karen says

    I love this rye and bake it often. Keep meaning to say thanks for the recipe, but like ground-hog-day keep forgetting! Today however it would seem is not a ground-hog-day, so THANKS Susan! It is so great with anything on it – marmalade, sliced tomato, avocado, just butter! Brilliant :o)

  18. aznninja says

    I can never get this recipe to spring as much as yours. I wonder if it was my shaping (it’s been a few months since I baked this loaf, and I’ve learned more in that time) or if I over-proofed?

    I’m assuming overproof, because it hardly expanded during the baking!

  19. says

    the more i read about your techniques and the science behind bread baking, i am falling in love with your blog. will for sure give a try on this “very Good Rye bread” soon……

  20. phil says

    Hi Susan,
    hope you see this post & can offer some advice..
    This is my first attempt at rye bread & unfortunately wild unruly cracks appeared across the surface of the loaves, and also along the side &base area. my slashing is also poor as there was not much definition of the ‘grins’….:(

    Is the cracking caused by underproofing..my kitchen was quite warm that day and if anything 1st rise was 1hr over ( included a strecth/fold after 1 hr), but proof time was 1 1/4 hr.

    NB I scaled the % down to 66% as I only wanted 2 loaves – used a rounded 1/4 tsp of IDY as I thought this would be approx right…perhaps not?


  21. Mark says

    I want to try this recipe this weekend. I have everything except a stand mixer. What would be the best way to mix this dough without a mixer?


  22. says

    lovely blog and beautiful bread. great tip regarding scoring before proofing. scored my two light rye loaves just as you did, can hardly wait to see if they turn out half as gorgeous as yours!

  23. Dganit says

    this looks GREAT! would love to give it a go but i have a few q.. if you could find the tine to answer them i would be most grateful.
    1. what is “letter-style”?
    2. What is the best replacement for a “linen couche”
    3. What can i do if i don’t have room on my oven for all 3?
    2. the shaping of the dough into fat batard… any chance there is a video of that somewhere?

    Thank you for the inspiration.

  24. RosieV says

    I tried your sourdough bagel recipe: hands down the best and most genuine bagels that I have eaten outside of NY (I now live in Europe and miss those very much). Those will become a standard weekend staple at my household for sure. So now I am giving your rye sourdough a go, but I was wondering if you use also a rye flour starter, or plain wheat, or a mix?


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