The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Variations on Polish Country Bread

wally's picture

Variations on Polish Country Bread

This past weekend I decided to revisit a favorite bread of mine - Polish Country Bread. Although I don't have Daniel Leader's "Local Breads" I've scrounged together a recipe from web searches that seems quite similar so far as I can tell. It's a 15% rye, where the entirety of the rye is in the starter. The hydration is 71% which I believe may be slightly lower than Leader's.

You can find my formula and thoughts on this variation of Leader's bread here on my website.

Lately, however, I've discovered the virtues of hot rye soakers in terms of the added sweetness they bring to rye breads, so I decided to attempt a variation-on-a-variation of his classic that still keeps all the rye within the starter - and the added soaker.

This necessitates a mixed levain bread since some of the rye is being removed from the levain to the soaker.

To make things easy (for me) I rearranged the formula so that the final dough would be essentially the same mix, with the single difference that the water weight would be reduced to offset the water used in the soaker.

2 x 1.5# loaves

Overall formula:                  Bakers Percent
Bread flour             733 g              85%
Rye flour                128 g               15%
Water                     610 g               71%
Salt                           16 g             1.90%

Mixed levains:    Flour         Water         Levain

White levain            56 g            56 g          21 g
Rye levain               56 g             56 g          11 g


Rye flour                  67 g
Water                      132 g

Final mix:
Sir Galahad/AP      733 g
Water                      356 g
Salt                            16 g
Levains                    256 g
Soaker                     199 g

The levains should be mixed 12 - 14 hours prior to use (depending on temperature, time may be decreased or increased. In DC just now, my levains are 'cooking' by 10 hours).

For the soaker, which should be made up at the same time as the levains, boil water and pour over rye, mixing until well incorporated. (Note: My last hot rye soaker used equal amounts of water and rye and almost immediately turned into a hard, dense, mass. Doubling the water helped noticeably, and next time I may triple the water as a percentage of flour.)

The next day I mixed together the water, levains and soaker, and then added flour and salt. Once I had a shaggy mass I covered the dough and allowed to sit for 30 minutes. (This is not a standard autolyse in that the levains and salt were added immediately. But I wanted to make certain that both levains and the soaker were well-dispersed from the get-go, so I decided to break with tradition and do an autolyse after all the ingredients were incorporated.)

After the rest, I mixed on speed 1 for 3 minutes, then on speed 2 for 2 minutes, and finally on speed 3 for 2 minutes. I've added speed 3 because this dough wants to climb up my hook and I've found that by increasing the speed it stays lower in the bowl and more quickly shows gluten development (slapping against the sides of the bowl).

Bulk fermentation is 2 hours, with two folds at 40 minute intervals. After preshaping and resting briefly, form into boules or batârds. Couche or proof in bannetons/brotforms for 2 - 2 ½ hours. Preheat oven to 460°F, presteam, and load loaves, steaming immediately and again after 2 minutes.

Bake at 460° for 15 minutes, and then reduce heat to 440° for another 30 - 35 minutes.

I'm still struggling to get my cuts to stay open in my (steam) leaky gas oven, as evidenced by the finished loaves. And my chevron slashing technique is in need of a lot more practice.



However, the crumb is nice and open and moist, and I really love the flavor of this bread. The hot soaker definitely brings additional sweetness. And this is absolutely sandwich bread. It recalls to my mind Jimmy Breslin's old Piels Beer commercials where he admonished us: "It's a good drinking beer!"

Well, this is a good eating bread!

EDIT (Jan. 23, 2011): My thanks to RonRay who pointed out in a message that my Overall Formula is incorrect in terms of Bread Flour weight and thus, overall hydration.  He correctly surmised that I had forgotten to factor my white levain into the overall bread flour weight. 

Actual figures for Overall Formula should be:

Bread flour: 799 g

Rye flour: 130 g

Water: 616 g

Salt: 16 g

This yields a dough with a hydration of 66%, NOT 71%.  My inclination would be to increase the hydration to at least 68%, which would entail increasing the water in the Final Mix from 356 g to 372 g.

Thanks again RonRay for an eagle eye!


trailrunner's picture

since I don't have the book and the formula isn't available on this site I am glad to see your version. I am not going to buy any more books have way to many. I appreciate the effort you put into making this one. Thanks and I will post when I make it. c

wally's picture

Let me know how what you think of this.


dmsnyder's picture


wally's picture

I've admired your own bakes of this as I searched around for recipes that would fit the bill.


Franko's picture

Those are wonderful looking ryes Larry. You obviously put a lot of care into making those beauties. It's all good.. the crust , the crumb, the color, the slash. Very high end product I'd say.


wally's picture

Appreciate your comments, though my slashing leaves a lot to be desired.  Lucky for me the flavor of the bread trumps its aesthetic shortcomings!


Mebake's picture

Very nice looking loaves there Larry! And crumb is also open and nice!

One question though, as we both seem to struggle with gas ovens, what is your setup with steaming, and how do you prevent steam venting? Do you use lower element only?


wally's picture

Thanks Khalid.  I don't really have a solution, though I'm happy to share my approach.  In the bottom of my oven I keep a cast iron frying pan filled with lava rocks.  I (carefully!) toss in about 1/2 c. of boiling water as a pre-steam, and then steam when I load with a cup of boiling water.  The problem is, it almost immediately vents.  And there's really no safe way to keep it from venting.

Folks on TFL have devised a myriad of workarounds, and you might try searching to see if any appeal to you.  One obvious solution is to bake your breads in a cloche.  But for reasons of cost and stubborness I refuse to go that route.

So, sometimes my cuts open nicely, but more often than not I just grin and bear it.  I'd suspect my slashing technique except that when I'm working with a commercial steam injected oven, my slashes are pretty consistently good.

At least that's my story and I'm sticking to it!


bnom's picture

Hi Larry,

I don't have a gas oven but do have a 50 y.o. electric that doesn't hold steam well.  I finally a solution. I am using the wet towel approach Sylvia describes 


My variation on hers is that my loaf pans are both half-filled with lava rocks (since I've got them, why not use them?). I never before had the experience of actually having to remove the steam device after 10 minutes before because there just wasn't any being generated. Now I take those towels out and the steam coming from them is impressive!

The loaves you've made look excellent and I will be interested in trying them out. Thanks for posting. 

BTW -- is your name Larry or Wally or both???


Floydm's picture

Very nice!

wally's picture

Thanks Floyd!


txfarmer's picture

I like the rye soaking idea, I am trying that with some rye breads myself, really like the flavor.

wally's picture

Thanks txfarmer!  I enjoyed comparing our breads.  Very similar crumb, although I believe your rye content is about double mine.  I've mainly used soakers for seeds, but I'm very jazzed about using hot rye soakers for my rye bakes.  They impart such sweetness.  My buddy, the microdistiller, uses rye for all his mashes.  With the addition of some amylase to his mash, he ends up with an incredibly sweet porridge-like mixture.  I'd like to try to replicate that just to see what the result is like in loaf form.


SylviaH's picture

Right off I loved the slash pattern, very appealing...very nicely done.  I can appreciate all the effort that went into doing your formula for these babies.  They sound delicious and would make some great sandwiches.  Nice job, Larry.


wally's picture

Sandwiches is exactly what I'm doing with them - tuna salad with feta and cucumbers for lunch today.

I like the consistency of this - there's chew to it, but it doesn't feel like your involved in a tug of war with the bread.


lief's picture

Very nice crust and crumb, Wally.  I can sympathize with the oven problems too, I have the same issue.

I have a question regarding the two levains.  What are the advantages to keeping the levains separate until final dough assembly, as opposed to making a single levain build containing all the ingredients of the two separate levains?

wally's picture

The primary reason I keep the two levains separate is that they have two distinctive and different flavors, and I wouldn't want to mix those together while they are developing.  My white levain, for example, depending on the time of year is more or less tangy.  My rye, by contrast, is always quite sour.  So by keeping them apart until the final dough mix, I'm able to incorporate two distinctive flavors as opposed to a single blended one.


holds99's picture


Don't know how I missed this post, but I did.  I saw Caroline's recent post on your bread and came here to take a look at your photos and recipe.  With the small amount of rye it looks perfect for my taste.  I'm anxious to try your recipe.  I'll do it this coming week.  Thanks for sharing. 


wally's picture

I hope you find it as enjoyable as I have.  Now if I could just get Jimmy Breslin to do a bread commercial....


holds99's picture


Years ago I read his book "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight" and it was really funny.  I recall one story in the book where the Mafia "hit man", at night when he comes home, always parks his car a block away from his house.  Then the next morning has his wife go down the street to fetch the car and bring it around to the house.  I presume that minimizes "hit man" from being blown to smithereens by a car bomb. 

Anyway, keep prodding Jimmy to do the commercial.

Hang in there,


Thaichef's picture

Hello Larry:

  Just came across your bread today. Great looking bread. It is definitely going on to my "to do" long list. Sigh!

   I have a question, Please. the Levain, do you mean a sourdough, white and rye each at 100% hydration?

   I have never use the soaker with just flour before. I usually use several grains as soaker so your fomular is new and exciting ways to try new bread. I am learning new things everyday on this wonderful TFL.

   Thank you.



wally's picture

I think you'll enjoy this bread - the soaker imparts a nice sweetness.  One suggestion I'd make it to add 1/2 the total salt to the soaker - I've had a couple bakes where excessive amylase activity caused the soaker resulted in gummy bread.  A small addition of salt will prevent that from happening.

Yes, both levains (the white and rye) are at 100% hydration.

Happy baking,


rhomp2002's picture

That might solve our steam venting problem.  I would think if you spritz the bread and and spritz the inside of the tin foil it would give you enough steam for these loaves without going to the expense of a cloche..

wally's picture

I've adopted Sylvia H's steaming-towel-in-bread-pan approach which works quite well in combination with my cast iron skillet and lava rocks.  It generates continuous steam and doesn't interfere with the loaf gaining color. But it's nice to hear about other workarounds that do the trick.