The Fresh Loaf

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Rye Bread Crust - A Question for Experts

hanseata's picture

Rye Bread Crust - A Question for Experts

Today I baked the first bread from a new German bread baking book - "Brot - so backen unsere besten Baecker" (Bread - how our best bakers bake). I chose a very appetizing looking sourdough rye bread from a bakery of my old hometown, Hamburg, called "Hamburger Strong One".

This is how "Hamburger Kraeftiges" looks like in the book.

The recipe was fairly clear, suggesting to buy some rye sourdough from a bakery, and describing a one-day procedure. I made a 3-step rye sourdough, worked with stretch & fold and overnight refrigeration and when I baked it, it came out looking like this:

Karin's bread

The bread tastes very good, the crumb ist just right - but how comes the difference in the crust?

This is the original recipe (2 breads):

520 g rye sourdough (from a bakery, or home made from 280 g rye flour and 240 g water and built in 4 steps)

500 g rye flour type 1150 (a type that's used for rye/wheat mixed breads, it's in between white rye (type 815) and whole rye (1800))

350 g wheat flour type 550 (the flour type with the highest protein content, approximately like bread flour)

540 g water, at 25 - 28 C  (77 - 82 F)

25 g sea salt

16 g Bioreal yeast (an organic instant yeast, that is a little less strong than regular instant yeast, 1 part instant yeast = 1.3 part Bioreal yeast)

Knead together all ingredients (except for the yeast) slowly for 8 minutes. Add yeast after 2 minutes. Let dough rest, covered, for 1 hour. Then shape into  rounds, place on a baking sheet and let rest for another 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 260 C/500 F. When bread surface shows pronounced cracks, place in oven. To keep surface elasticity and achieve gloss, pour 50 - 60 ml water on heated steam pan or oven bottom. After 20 minutes reduce heat to 220 C/428 F and bake for another 40 - 50 minutes.


Karin's adaptation: (1 bread):


260 rye sourdough (at 100% hydration, built in 3 steps)

250 g whole rye flour

175 g bread flour

270 g water

13 g sea salt

7 g instant yeast

Mix together all ingredients for 1 -2 minutes at low speed. Let dough rest for 5 minutes. Knead for 2 minutes at low/medium-low speed, adjust water if necessary,  and continue kneading for another 4 minutes.

Stretch and fold 4 times with 10 minute intervals (total time 40 minutes). Place in lightly oiled bowl, rolling it around to coat with oil, cover and refrigerate overnight.


Remove dough from refrigerator. Let de-chill for 1 hour, shape into boule and place, seam side down, on parchment lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with rye flour, mist with oil and cover loosely with plastic. Let proof at room temperature for 1 - 2 hours, until grown to 1 1/2 times it's original size and surface shows cracks.

Preheat oven to 500 F, including steam pan. Place bread on baking stones (lowest rack) with steam pan on highest rack. Pour 1/4 cup water in steam pan. Bake for 20 minutes, reduce heat to 425 F and continue baking for another 40 - 50 minutes, rotating bread once.


That was my idea. Everything went according to plan, stretching & folding was easy, the dough neither too dry nor too sticky. It rose quite a bit in the refrigerator. After shaping, the dough grew faster than I expected, after 1 hour of proofing the finger tip test left a dent that indicated it was risen enough. The surface showed first signs of cracking, but not very pronounced. Being afraid of overproofing, I placed the bread in the oven, steamed with 1/4 cup of water (though I was a bit sceptical whether that would be enough, but my oven is very well insulated). After a total baking time of 40 minutes the bread was already done, the internal temperature registered at 208 F. It had not risen anymore in the oven, and the cracks were only a little deeper.

Though I thought it might be a total flop, it's not. The crust is not too thick, the crumb looks just right - and the taste is wonderful!

My question to the experts: why is my crust so different? In the book the deeply cracked crust is mentioned as the signature feature of this particular bread. Is it the different type of rye flour?

Let me know what you think.



dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Karin.

A quick comparison of the original recipe and your procedure shows two differences: First, you added an overnight bulk retardation. I wonder if the dough was over-fermented and didn't have enough "oomph" for oven spring. The second difference is your shorter bake. The two factors together (more of the simple sugars eaten up by the yeast, and less exposure to heat) resulted in a lighter (and probably thinner) crust.

What do you think?


SylviaH's picture

I certainly don't consider myself an expert...especially about baking rye breads.    But it appears to me maybe they wet their hands possibly and smoothed over the outside of boule.  I did see a regular rye bread that this was done before applying the slashes, so there was a smooth, shiney crust with neat diagonal slashes.  Just a suggestion anyway and hope maybe it helps.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Like David I think the surface has an overproofed look to it however the crumb says it was still within its perameters.  Slight moisture differences -- the book one looking dryer.  This couls also be that the ferment had progressed further on your loaf as compared to the book one.  Also the flours used on the outside look different.  The book one looks finer, more like what a rice or AP would look like and the other looks coarser. 

I can't help thinking the retarded loaf looks more like a ripe starter surface than a loaf.  The lack of color, could also be an indicator that the ferment was too long.  Those fears of overproofing were right on. 


hanseata's picture

David, I just assumed the bread would taste better, if I added an overnight retardation which I do with all my breads, usually to their benefit. I noticed, though, that this one showed more development after only a couple of hours in the fridge than usual. Reading in the internet (unfortunately afterwards) about this Bioreal yeast and it's weaker leavening powers I think I might have used too much instant yeast.

The shorter baking time was not planned, but the bread was much faster done with the given temperatures than it was supposed to be. This is, by the way, something that I found with many German bread baking recipes - the heat/baking time ratio seems way off - if I had left it in the oven as long as stated it would have been burnt. The crust was thicker than my rye bread crust usually is (which I bake 10 minutes at 475 and then 30 at 425).

Sylvia, my husband suggested something similar - a food photographer's finishing touches. I had a friend who is a food photographer - they mist things with glycerine etc. to give them a better look. The recipe didn't mention anything about it, and the dough was not scored, but supposed to crack naturally.

Mini, I agree. My bread looks darker. If I had used medium rye instead of my organic whole rye flour (my distributor doesn't have any other organic rye flours) it might have been different.

Unfortunately the recipes in this otherwise nice book are not all really in detail, the book is bit a promotion for those award winning bakeries. I'm pretty positive that I used too much instant yeast, and, perhaps, though not stated in the recipe, they proofed the loaf seam side up to crack like that.

Thanks for your input!