The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Tips on working with rye

arlo's picture

Tips on working with rye

Just today I attempted what was my second or third shot at making rye bread with higher than 40% rye flour. I've got to say, I am clueless as to what to look for in each stage of dough development. Being used to baking with wheat flours at work and at home, rye is a new beast I am willing to tackle, but after today and attempting one of Hamelman's recipes from Bread, I am rather unsure on what I should notice in the dough during bulk and final stages for higher percentage rye loaves. Unforunately I find Hamelman's write up at the beginning of the Rye Chapter to be a bit unhelpful for someone who doesn't bake rye often.

To start with, the sourdough build, will it be similar to a firm wheat based sourdough and double in size when ready? My past attempts at a sourdough culture seem to smell ever so potent after 15 hours, but do little in the way of rising, even after refreshing often.

I understand the mixing stage quite well and end up with a 'putty' style dough, sticky at higher percentages of rye and little gluten development. Now, today for instance I baked the 80% rye loaf from Bread using a soaker. After mixing it required a 30 minute bulk fermentation at 82 degrees, my kitchen was around 80 and the dough was 82, but after thirty minutes the dough looked identical to what it looked like after mixing it. Should it have risen at all? Does rye double in size during bulk fermentation?

I let it sit for about another 5-10 minutes before fearing the worst and not not wanting it to overproof. So I then shaped the loaf into a round and placed in my banneton, the recipe called for 50-60 minute final proof. So in this time I preheated my oven and stone.

After an hour of proofing, the loaf was still realitively the same size as I started. It smelt nice and had tang to it, plus felt fragile. So I loaded it into my oven, docked it and went for a 55 minute bake, 15 minutes at 470 then lowering to 430 for the remaining time. It didn't achieve much spring though. It's wrapped up and waiting till tomorrow to be sliced into.

Any pointers from rye experts?


Doc Tracy's picture
Doc Tracy

I have gotten the most help from Mini. Her write-up on Mini's Favorite rye is really great. I've been baking the 100% rye using her formula now, it's my family's favorite. I let it rise the full 8 hours and it does nearly double in size.

My experience with Hamelman's recipes, using the commercial and sourdough is that I ended up giving them slightly more rise time, until I saw some rising. I then got a very nice product. I haven't used that many of his recipes yet, although I plan to use more. I've been thinking of using them but subtracting the yeast and increasing the rise time as we prefer a much more sour rye flavor.

I use whole dark rye flour as well. Not sure how much difference that's making for me. And I usually sub out the high gluten flour for whole wheat when it's called for.

arlo's picture

Thanks for the help so far! So I should be seeing the dough in the bulk fermentation stage reach at least 1 1/2 to 2 times the original size? I guess I will be trying this again in a day or so after reading a bit more about rye! Thanks again.

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, arlo.

A 40% rye is kind of like a regular wheat bread, except stickier. When you dive into 70+ pecent rye (How's that for an image?), you're in a different world. Honestly, I think comparing the making of high-rye breads with making of wheat breads may not be the most helpful approach. I think it's better to regarding it as qualitatively different.

When I am fermenting the rye sour, I sprinkle the top of the paste with rye flour and use the spreading of the dry flour as my main criterion for ripeness. Now, the sour does form a dome like a firm levain, and it does get bubbly. You can see it, if you ferment your sour in a glass container.

For the primary fermentation and proofing, I do expect expansion. I don't expect doubling. I am more concerned with over-proofing high-rye loaves. (Light ryes are a different story.)

Hope this helps. I'm looking forward to Mini's and hansjoakim's contributions to this discussion.


breadbakingbassplayer's picture

Forget what you know about wheat breads...

I agree with David.  40% ryes are basically sticky wheat breads.  From my experience, you need to have your rye sours built correctly or else the finished bread will taste weird and grassy... The rye sour at 83% hydration that Hamelman uses should be airy when you cut into it with a plastic scraper.

As for mixing, I do everything by hand with a wooden spoon and plastic scraper.  For the 40-50% rye, just mix everything up with the wooden spoon well, leave it covered for about 15 minutes, and then knead it again with wet hands for a minute or so, and leave it for it's buik fermentation.  It should look noticably expanded.  Not sure if it doubles, but definitely 1 1/2 times...

For 70-100& rye, just do everything with the wooden spoon and scraper.  Don't even bother using your hands.  It will just be a mess.  The mixing will be more for combining everything well rather than developing gluten which rye doesn't really have...  Don't even bother shaping them like wheat breads.  Just pat them gently into a ball/oval and put them into your banneton/pan.


GAPOMA's picture


Just want to make sure I understand.  Mix the 70+% rye with spoon/scraper.  Then let double (or 1.5x), shape, put into banneton, rise again (1.5x again?), then bake?

- Greg

breadbakingbassplayer's picture


Yep.  Check out Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman.  With the 70%+ rye breads, assuming you are using rye sourdough along with yeast, the bulk fermentations are very short, around 30 minutes.  Then the final proof after shaping is 50-60 minutes.  Then bake...


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven


hansjoakim's picture

Hi arlo,

It seems you've got plenty of great advice from the folks above!

I posted a photo of what my rye sourdough looks like when it's ripe in an old blog post. Have a look here: Click me! I keep a 100% hydrated rye starter, that I feed whole-rye flour. As David mentioned above, I also sometimes sprinkle rye flour over the just refreshed starter. From the photo in the blog post, you can see small islands of flour on the top of the starter. It has morphed from a thick paste (just after refreshment) into a fragile, airy (and lovely smelling) ripe starter. It's hard to gauge the volume expansion, but it's at least twofold. If you follow Hamelman, and mix the starter at roughly 83% hydration, it's much stiffer and will probably not expand as much. It takes longer time to ripen than a 100% starter. That said, I like a higher percentage of hydration, as I feel the starter (and dough) ferments better when it's given "room to breathe". A firmer starter will take longer to ripen, but also stay ripe for longer. You decide :)

I bake my ryes without any commercial yeast. A bulk fermentation lasting 60 mins - 90 mins should see the dough expanding noticeably. The degree depends upon your dough characteristics of course (more rye flour lowers the gas trapping capability of the dough, and in turn the volume expansion), but it should show signs of fermentation. Pay close attention to the DDT when you're mixing it - too low temperature, and bulk fermentation might be sluggish.

Proofing should also see some expansion - again it's hard to nail down exactly how much it should expand since it's so dough-specific. Somewhere in the 50% - 100% interval is about right, but that's a pretty wide interval so it doesn't tell you much... It should look fragile, and a careful poke should spring back slowly. Without commercial yeast, I'm looking at proofing times between 75 mins and 120 mins, all depending on how much prefermented flour's in there and how much rye flour there is in the total dough. More rye = Shorter proofing times.

I'm not adding much to what the above TFL'ers suggested, but I hope you're on your way to great ryes!

arlo's picture

Thanks so much everyone for the help so far. I guess after reading in Bread about how it can be so fragile and collapse I was worried to let it go over the times suggested in the book. I should have relied upon baker knowledge and went for a larger increase in size as with almost all breads. I guess I was just nervous.

Here is the 80% rye crumb I baked yesterday, if I would have let it grown it would have been a lot better, taste wise and of sizewise as well.


I will hopefully be baking, or starting another rye tonight, perhaps the same formula and see how much better I can make it!

Thanks again!

arlo's picture

I ended up attempting a lower percentage rye loaf again this week to see if any of the tips I was given would help me out, and sure enough I waited till my rye levain doubled in size and started making Hamelman's 66% rye loaf.

I watched the loaf carefully during the bulk fermenting and noted it took all of 1 hour and 20 minutes to reach a suitable 50-70% increase in size. At that time I felt it was right to shape. I took note that it was a bit gassy and lighter than my attempt with rye.

The final fermentation took one hour and five minutes, then the baking was right from the book. I did not get too much oven spring and the crumb was a bit dense, but after waiting a little longer than 24 hours before slicing into it, I would say it was quite worth the effort.

I really loved the flavor and made quite a few vegetarian rubuens with this bread, it was superb toasted in the morning. So thanks for the help all, and I will be working on rye again in the near future! : )

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

See?  It really isn't so hard once you get over the initial fright that it ain't wheat.  And it sure is easy!