The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

rye breads

pmccool's picture

This past Friday, I taught a class on rye breads at the Culinary Center of Kansas City.  The class was scheduled to run from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.  Three different breads were featured: the rustic pumpernickel from ITJB, Eric's fav rye (compliments of the late Eric Hanner), and a vort limpa.  That gave a nice sampling of the diversity of rye breads.  We were able to bake both the pumpernickel and the vort limpa during class; students then took the dough for Eric's fav rye with them to bake at home.

I had had some concerns about the drawing power of a full-day class on a week day.  As it turned out, all 20 slots were taken, with a waiting list in case of any cancellations.  So, yes, there is enough interest, in spite of the schedule.  No doubt the inclusion of a $20 gift certificate for Pryde's of Westport, a local kitchen supply store, figured favorably, too.

A number of the students were familiar to me from previous classes, which makes for a pleasant time.  Based on what I saw and heard, and what came through on the feedback forms, it was a fun day for the students as well as for me.  Most were new to rye breads and to sourdough, so they were pleased to gain some new experience and to receive some starter to take home to use for future baking.

One of the Center's requirements is that the instructor provide food for the students.  In the case of an evening or half-day class, that is typically something to snack on; usually whatever is being made in the class.  In the case of an all-day class like this one, it is lunch.  It was a no-brainer to plan lunch around the three breads being taught.  That led to cold cuts and condiments and pickles/olives/peppers, with fresh fruit for dessert.  

Consequently, I needed to bake bread ahead of time to have it ready for the lunch of Friday.  That worked well, since it also did double duty as object lesson so that people could see the finished product, too.

If you have baked the rustic pumpernickel from ITJB, you know that it is dark and dense and fragrant with rye.  There's no molasses, coffee, cocoa, or caramel color in it, nor does it have a prolonged bake.  My belief is that the scald contributes strongly to the dark coloring and the moistness of the finished bread.  Then, too, all I can find in local supermarkets is Hodgson Mills stone-ground rye flour, which is pretty hearty stuff in its own right.  Even with heavy steam, the loaf experienced some cracking but no blowouts.

The vort limpa is a party in a compact loaf.  It is redolent of molasses, orange zest/juice, anise, fennel, cardamom, and beer.  With a smear of sweet butter, it's practically dessert.  And it still makes for some darn good sandwiches and toast, too.

Many, many of you have made Eric's fav rye and know that it is a stellar example of a deli-style rye bread.  It makes a magnificent base for a wide range of sandwiches.  While I enjoy the bite of the caraway, my wife often prefers it when I substitute either fennel seeds or dill seeds for the caraway.  No matter how you tweak it, this is a seriously good bread.

With those out of the way, I needed to build up my starter to have sufficient for 21 batches (20 students + 1 instructor demo) of the pumpernickel and Eric's fav rye, plus enough to give away.  That turns out to be a lot of starter.  Really, really, a lot.  Keep in mind that this class was initially planned last summer.  At that time, I was focused more on pulling together the bread descriptions for inclusion in the advertising and the formulae to go into the student's class booklets.  There should have been some thought given to the amount of prep.  I know that now.  Yes, I do.

For instance, this is what all of the scald for the pumpernickel looks like with half of the sponge incorporated.  You can see that it occupies most of one end of my kitchen's island:

The lighting isn't very good; it's all down light from the ceiling and island light fixtures.  There isn't a lot of ambient light at 6 a.m. in January here in Kansas.

This is the second half of the pumpernickel's sponge, ready to mix in with the scald; nothing but rye flour and water, and it smells wonderful!:

Sponge and scald, ready for the final mix (I could have used a big spiral mixer right about now).  Note that the sponge is lighter in color than the scald, even though both are made with the same flour:

Needless to say, it took a number of trips to schlep all of the ingredients from my kitchen to the car, and then again from the car into the teaching kitchen.  I suspect that we will rerun this class at some future date but there may be a change in the lineup that reduces the amount of prep I have to do.

There aren't any photos of the actual class.  I didn't think to grab my camera on the way out the door and there wasn't time to use it, anyway.  

My students were an interesting group.  The youngest may have been in their late 20s or early 30s.  The oldest were, well, older than me and I'm 57.  One couple took a day off from work to attend.  All were alert and inquisitive, with lots of good questions.  We had a lively discussion about how to begin and maintain a starter, which would have been shorter if I hadn't misunderstood a key part of one inquiry.  ;0  During the course of the day, there were a lot of questions about dough consistency and how it was affected by the amount of flour or water people worked into their doughs.  I had talked at length about how sticky some of the doughs would be and not to try to kill the stickiness with flour.  A few still wound up with some stiff doughs that needed more water.  Some students were almost completely new to bread making while others had some good skills.  Tips on shaping and docking and slashing led to another flurry of questions.  These are all areas where the hands-on aspect is hugely valuable, since a book just cannot provide that tactile feedback.

It was very satisfying to share these breads with such an eager group of learners.  And it was a very full day.  I was happy to climb into bed that evening.

Since one student was a no-show, and since I had intentionally made more starter than I expected to use, I wound up making a double batch of Eric's fav rye on Saturday and a double batch of Hamelman's sourdough walnut raisin rye on Sunday.  We have happy friends.


dmsnyder's picture

Rye topics and content for the Handbook

January 20, 2009 - 4:59pm -- dmsnyder

There has been discussion of having a Handbook "chapter" on rye baking. Given the current outline, it seems more appropriate to have sections on rye in several places - ingredients, methods, recipes, etc.

So, I created this topic as a place to discuss material pertaining to rye that should be in the Handbook.


CountryBoy's picture

Is Reinhart's 100% Rye Hearth Bread Possible Without A Starter?

July 12, 2008 - 12:49pm -- CountryBoy

Is it possible to bake the following Reinhart recipe, from his Whole Grain Bread bk., p. 175, without using a rye sourdough starter?  Yes, I know a starter is much better, but is it at all possible to work around that and still deal with the acidity of the rye flour and get a reasonable loaf of this bread?




Single Loaf


holds99's picture

I had baked this bread and posted some pics of this recipe (from Daniel Leader's Local Breads book) a week or so ago.  The crumb on the previous post was not as open as it should have been and the loaf, as MiniOven said, was not nearly "ugly" enough.  So, a couple of days ago I decided that the problem I was having was a result of my starter not being active enough before introducing it into the dough mixture, and I had not baked it long enough.  Anyway, I received some good critiques from a number of TFLer's and greatly appreciate the advice and suggestions I received.  I gave it another try a couple of days ago with better results.  It could, as MiniOven and Jane said, use some more "ugly" but I believe I'm making progress.  I doubled the recipe. I divided it into 3 pieces, 2 smaller loaves and one larger loaf.  Here's pics of the larger loaf.  I froze the 2 smaller ones without cutting them but assume they're fairly similar to this one in crumb. They look about the same as far as crust and color.

I left my K.A. on the shelf and mixed it completely by hand, as MiniOven suggested, in a large bowl using a large rubber spatula with more of a folding technique than a mixing action and followed Mr. Leader's recipe to the letter.  I retarded it for 18 hours before baking.  That, I think, gave it greater flavor. It tasted really good.

Pierre Nury's light rye no. 1

Pierre Nury's light rye no. 1

Pierre Nury's light rye no. 2

Pierre Nury's light rye no. 2

Thanks to:

Mike Avery for his refreshment/feeding instructions for my starter.

Janedo for her suggestions about handling the dough and baking.

MiniOven for her advice on mixing by hand and making them more "ugly".

David Snyder for his numerous posts showing what it should really look like.

Howard - St. Augustine, FL


Windischgirl's picture

"old dough" rye starter

April 28, 2008 - 2:25am -- Windischgirl

I am looking for info on an unusual rye "old dough" 75 yo dad (born in Hungary/Slovenia) recalls his mom starting her rye breads with a hunk of old dough that was permitted to dry out.  A day or two before she was ready to bake, she would crumble this dried dough into water and once it started to form a "sponge" she was ready to bake.

I will have to check with him if the bread was 100% rye, but I suspect so...they were poor and wheat was hard to come by.

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