The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

sour rye

Franko's picture

The first time I made and tasted a rye bread with toasted sunflower seeds I was hooked. It was based on Jeffrey Hamelman's 80% Sour Rye with a Rye Flour Soaker from his book 'Bread' . I adapted it slightly by adding some toasted seeds to the mix and ended up with one of the most delicious breads I've ever made. As much as I enjoy eating a high percentage rye bread it's not something I like having on a regular basis. With this bake I wanted to see if a 25%-30% rye would do as well as a high ratio rye in terms of complex flavours. I was happy to discover that this bread is every bit as flavorful as the 80% but with a lighter texture, making it more suitable for my everyday bread. Quite often now I find with lean breads such as this one, that Chad Robertson's 'Tartine' method for making his Country Bread gives me the kind of crust and crumb that I prefer. I don't always use a Dutch oven for the baking, but on this bake I did, hoping to maximize as much of the flavour from the toasted seeds as possible as well as have that lovely burnished crust typical of Dutch Oven bakes.


The hydration and salt percentages were kept close to Robertson's Tartine Country Rye however I changed everything else in the original formula, but basically kept to Robertson's procedure as much as possible. The dough was hand mixed, then bulk fermented @ 76F-78F over 3 hours with stretch and folds in the bowl done every 30 minutes for the first 2 hours. The last S&F was done on the counter before a 30 minute rest and eventual shaping. The final rise was done in a floured banneton over a 3 hour period and then baked in a 500F pre-heated Dutch Oven for the first ten minutes, then at 470F for the remaining 45 minutes bake time. After 30 minutes I took the loaf out of the DO and placed it on the baking stone for the last 15 minutes of the bake, then turned the oven off and propped the door open for an additional 20-30 minutes before removing it to rack for overnight cooling.



The final proof was more than it needed by 20-30 minutes to give it a higher profile, but the crust is fine with a good crunch to it. The scoring is a bit wonky I'm afraid and I really have to remember to keep to a few straight slashes when the dough has a high percentage of seeds like this one. The blade simply catches on too many of them during slashing to get any good, clean cuts for an attractive pattern. Cosmetic sins aside, the crumb I like...a lot, and the flavour is wonderful with a long lasting medium sour tang and a rich nutty taste from the toasted seeds that goes well with everything I've pared it with so far.

 The bread matched particularly well with a smoked salmon and shrimp pate that I'd made the day before, one of the results of my new interest in charcuterie. To my surprise our normally aloof feline has suddenly become my new best friend when the salmon pate comes out of the fridge for a snack. I'm not sure which of us enjoys it more spread on a piece of the toasted bread, but I know our dog is not happy with this turn of events one little bit.

Formula below and a link to the spreadsheet for anyone who'd like to download a working copy for themselves.



25 % Sour Rye Bread with Toasted Seeds%Kilos/Grams

Organic AP Flour50.00%29
Dark Rye Flour50.00%29
Mature Rye Starter -100%12.50%7
Total weight212.50%124
DDT- 65-70F 12-16hrs  
Toasted Seed Mixture  
Sunflower Seeds80.00%77
Pumpkin Seeds20.00%19
Total weight100.00%97
Final Dough Weight
Final Dough 
Organic AP Flour75.0%403
Dark Rye Flour25.0%134
Toasted Seed Mixture18.0%97
Sea Salt2.3%12
Total weight223.3%1200.00
DDT-75-78F BF- 2.5 hrs with 2-3 S&F  
Overall Formula Kilos/Grams
Total Flour100.00%596
Bread Flour72.56%432
Dark Rye Flour27.44%163
Mature Rye Starter-100%1.22%7
Toasted Seed Mixture12.99%97
Sea Salt2.08%12
Total weight 1200














Franko's picture

This bread took a few weeks from first concept to final bake but I'm glad I hung in there to get what I think is a good bread with a savory flavour and aroma. I'd been wanting to make a sour onion rye bread for a while but couldn't find any recipes that really appealed to me. As I was leafing through Jan Hed's 'Swedish Breads and Pastries one day I found a recipe for a Pain Dijonnaise that included mustard in the formula, something I hadn't considered using till this point but thought that adding some mustard along with caramelized onions in a sour rye would be an excellent flavour combination. I had a bake planned for the following day of a Pain de Campagne using a wheat levain so I decided to split the mix and use the onion mustard combination in one loaf to see how the flavours worked in a finished loaf. While it turned out OK it didn't have quite the punch I was looking for, lacking the intensity of overall flavour I was after, but promising nonetheless.

If I was going to make this properly I needed to start a new rye sour from scratch since the one I had wasn't a pure rye sour anymore from letting wheat based sours gradually creep into it over the last year. It took a few tries to finally get an active starter going, but that eventually worked out by keeping it wrapped in towels on top of the hot water tank, the one consistently warm spot in our house during the day while we're away at work.

When I got home from work this past Saturday I mixed the levain/sour for the next days mix leaving it to ripen over 17hours, and then getting the caramelized onions prepared as well as roasting some mustard seeds to include in the mix. The formula I'd worked out would use a dark rye sour, combined with medium rye and bread flour in the final mix, not wanting to overpower the final flavour with any more dark rye and hopefully allow the onion mustard combination to have it's say. Once I had everything in the mixer and started mixing I realized right off that I'd have to add more bread flour to get any sort of a workable mix, using an additional 100 grams to achieve a wet but manageable dough. The rest of the mix went fine after that resulting in a soft but developed dough. Formula, mixing notes, and bake profile to follow.

Once I had the bread out of the oven I had some serious doubt as to whether it was fully baked since it just didn't sound right when I tapped the bottom of the loaf. I don't normally check the internal temperature, but because of the size of this one I thought it would be wise. The reading showed 209.5F from the center so I put my trust in that and hoped for the best. When I sliced it this morning I found that it was fully baked except for one very small area in the bottom center that's barely noticeable. The crumb is chewy and moist, with a solid flavour of sweet onion, a bit of sharp from the mustard, and a pronounced sour character overall. The onion itself seems to have almost completely dissolved into the dough, but now and again you hit a pocket of lovely roasted onion flavour ...which I wish there was more of. Next time I bake this I'll increase both the onion and the mustard percentage, but for now I'm fairly satisfied with the result.


If anyone was wondering what this bread might be used for, the photos below show what I had in mind for it right from the beginning.

Montreal smoked brisket sandwich

Vancouver Island smoked sockeye salmon on toasted onion rye with onion and capers....and yes, no cream cheese!


  1. Mix the levain/sour and let sit for 16-18 hours at 70F

  2. Add all the ingredients of the final dough *except the levain/sour to a stand mixer bowl and mix on 1st speed for 2-3 minutes until combined, then add the levain/sour and continue mixing for 2-3 minutes longer, scraping the bowl down as needed. The dough will be sticky, and show little development.

  3. Transfer the dough to a large mixing bowl and begin folding the dough over itself, rotating it a 1/4 turn for each fold and continue till the dough is cohesive and moderately developed. The dough should be soft and supple.

  4. Turn the dough out onto the counter, and using a minimum of dusting flour continue working the dough, kneading it for 3-4 minutes until the dough can hold a shape without slumping.

  5. Place the dough in a lightly dusted bowl and cover. Bulk ferment at room temp of 68-70F for 2 ½ hrs. Stretch and fold twice in the first two hours.

  6. Gently preshape in a ball, cover and let rest for 15 minutes.

  7. Shape as desired , cover, and final proof for approx. 1 ½ hrs at room temperature.

  8. Preheat oven and baking stone to 485F and have steaming system prepared in advance of loading the bread.

  9. Slash as desired, *note: if making a batard, a chevron style of slash will help give the loaf a higher, rounder, finished profile.

  10. With steaming system in place, load the bread onto the preheated baking stone and bake for 20minutes at 485F. Remove the steam system and lower the temperature to 440F and continue baking for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature to 400F for an additional 15-20 minutes. Check for an internal temperature of 210F. Turn off the heat and leave the bread in the cooling oven for 15 minutes. Remove and cool on a wire rack for 8-9 hours or overnight before slicing.


Caramelized Onion

Two large sweet onions, coarsely sliced and mixed with the olive oil, then baked in a covered pan at 250F for 30 minutes. Remove the lid, stir the onions and continue baking for 30 or more minutes until the onions are a medium brown colour. For a future bake of this bread I would increase the ratio of onion to 35% and the mustard to 10% of the overall flour in the mix for a more pronounced flavour effect.


Sour Rye with Caramelized Onion & Mustard












Dark Rye Flour






Mature rye starter-100%









Final Dough



Medium Rye flour



Bread flour






Sliced sweet onion-cooked



Olive oil



Sea salt






Grainy mustard



Mustard seeds-toasted






DDT- 72-74F



Total kg



Total flour weight



Total Hydration



pmccool's picture

While I have been baking in the last several weeks, most of it has been geared to sandwich loaves.  Don't get me wrong; that is some pretty important baking.  While it has been nourishing to the body, it hasn't been anything to stir the soul.  I've had some old favorites: Clayton's Honey Lemon Whole Wheat and plain old honey whole wheat.  I gave Beatrice Ojakangas' Granary Bread a try.  Lovely stuff, but not at all anything that qahtan or others who have had the real thing would recognize as such.  Essentially, it's honey whole wheat (um, I'm beginning to see a theme emerging here) with golden syrup subbed in for the honey.  I'm going to digress for a moment.   For all of you in the U.S. who have been wondering what on earth golden syrup is, here's the inside scoop: it's molasses.  Yes!  Really!  A very light, mildly flavored grade of molasses, but molasses none the less.  There.  Now you know.

I've also been experimenting with some rye breads.  The most noteworthy was a spectacular flop of the Sour Rye, year 1939, which came to my attention via Shiao Ping's blog.  It looked and sounded so lovely in Shiao Ping's post and I'd been wanting to venture further into the rye world, so I thought I would give it a try.  The first bad decision (I won't bore you with the entire list) was to opt for the free-form loaf, rather than the panned loaf.  Being in full "never say die" mode (not readily distinguishable from denial), I soldiered on to the bitter end and was rewarded with something that had the general dimensions and texture of a 1x8 pine board, albeit somewhat darker.  The flavor was worlds better than pine, but the amount of chewing necessary to extract the flavor made the whole enterprise unrewarding.  Hence, my retreat to Ms. Ojakangas' book and the selection of her version of Granary Bread.  A man's gotta eat, after all.

This weekend, still smarting from last week's debacle and still wanting rye bread, I hauled out Mark Sinclair's formula for Sour Rye bread.  This I've made before, and in quantity, so I know how it works and how it is supposed to turn out.  There are some differences between my execution and Mark's.  First, he's a professional baker and I am not.  Second, he uses dark rye and what I had on hand was medium rye.  Third, he has some really big and really cool toys, while I was doing all of my mixing by hand.  Since my use of Mark's formula is by his permission and a consequence of my internship at his Back Home Bakery, I'm not at liberty to share it here.  If you really, really want to make this bread, sign up whenever Mark offers opportunities to intern with him.  If you want something very close to Mark's bread, look up Eric's Fav Rye on this site.  Mark started with that and made some adjustments that suit his selection of ingredients and production scheme.  Both are excellent breads and they are very nearly the same bread.

As noted, I have medium rye flour on hand, so my bread came out somewhat lighter than Marks.  Since I don't have a mixer here, I mixed by hand.  Initially, the mixing was primarily to combine the ingredients uniformly.  Since Mark relies on the mixer for kneading as well as mixing, I continued to work the dough in the bowl in what was essentially a stretch and fold maneuver to develop the dough's gluten network.  As the dough became more cohesive, I dumped it out on the counter for some "slap and fold" or "French fold" kneading, a la Richard Bertinet.  This worked very effectively to finish the dough's development.  The dough was then gathered into a loose boule and placed in a greased bowl for the bulk ferment.  After the dough had approximately doubled, it was divided in three pieces of about 710 grams each and pre-shaped.  After resting a few minutes, the dough was then given its final shape and placed on a Silpat-lined baking sheet for final fermentation, lightly covered with oiled plastic wrap to prevent drying.  As the dough was nearing the end of the final fermentation, I pre-heated the oven.  When the oven was ready, the loaves were uncovered, brushed with egg wash, liberally sprinkled with poppy seeds and slashed.  The baking sheet was put in the oven and hot water was put into the steam pan on the lower rack.  Half-way through the bake, I rotated the loaves so that they would bake evenly, even though I was using the convection setting.  I also pulled them off the baking sheet and let them bake directly on the oven rack so that they would bake and color evenly.  They were a bit closer together on the baking sheet than I thought they should be for optimum results.

And the results?  Well, I'm a happy baker today.  Here's the finished bread:

Sour Rye, Back Home Bakery

I won't have a crumb shot until tomorrow, but the exterior is encouraging.  Slashing can definitely improve and I might have allowed the final proof to go a bit longer, but I'm pretty pleased with how things are looking so far.

Maybe I can get back on that 1939 horse again...


Here is a picture of the crumb:

Back Home Bakery Sour Rye crumb

As I surmised from seeing how the slashes opened during the bake, the bread could have been proofed a while longer.  However, it's rye bread; it is supposed to be hefty rather than fluffy.  The crumb is very moist and surprisingly tender.  The interplay between the earthy rye and the pungent/astringent caraway flavors is balanced so that each complements the other, with neither dominating.  It makes a wicked base for a ham and swiss sandwich.  The lighting for this photo was an overhead fluorescent fixture (sheesh, I almost spelled that as flourescent!), hence the greyer tone of the crumb


dmsnyder's picture

Craving crackly crust (Sour rye bread)

February 24, 2008 - 6:10pm -- dmsnyder

Norm (nbicomputers), in response to my question in his introduction topic, suggested I start a new topic. The question is: How do you get a crackly crust on a sour rye bread?

The sour rye I bake is based on George Greenstein's formula in "Secrets of a Jewish Baker." The formula below is what I actually made, though. The changes from Greenstein are: 1) I used instant yeast rather than active dry yeast, 2) I used whole rye rather than white rye to feed my rye sour, 3) I used 1T rather than 1/2 T of caraway seeds and 4) I used 2 1/2 tsp rather than 3 tsps of salt.

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