The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Describe how rye dough behaves-a delicious new learning curve.

clazar123's picture

Describe how rye dough behaves-a delicious new learning curve.

It's time for rye bread in my repetoire of bread. I have been dabbling and learning some skills to work up to it and I think I'm finally ready. I've been adding rye flour to my WW and the perfume of the dough has really been heady-there is something about rye. Probably DNA memory from my German genes!

What I want to  understand first is how a dough based on rye flour forms a loaf. In wheat bread, the gluten strands form a "net" and the starch forms a gel and between the 2, gas is trapped,gluten stretches but holds and the gel contains the gas produced from the yeast. It is risen to the not-quite-bursting stage and then set in place  by heat. A little simplistic but accurate. The amount of gel(starch) and gluten and the type of loaf you want to achieve influence how the ingredients are chosen and the technique used to handle.

But rye is a little different. I get the impression rye dough is a lot more gel and a lot less gluten. So the dough needs to be well hydrated and take its time to allow the starch to form.pH and enzymes have an effect on this.This more gel-like dough structure must dictate a different technique used for mixing,handling and fermenting! Please tell me all about it. Do I have the dough description correct?

 I will be re-reading a lot of the past posts in my journey but I hope the rye masters will jump in and there will be a summary of expertise generated here in this one thread-all about rye.  

cranbo's picture

You are correct.

To keep bread with high-rye percentages from becoming brick-like, be sure to use high hydration. You can knead rye for ever and not develop the same level of gluten, so don't try. 

The short answer is keep it wet and don't expect it to shape the same way as wheat (loaf pans & wet hands are recommended for high rye shaping).

Personally I have found that having some wheat helps tremendously with getting it to behave in a more familiar way.

Good luck!

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Clazar123.

If you have Hamelman's "Bread," read the introductory material on rye flour and, especially, the introduction to his chapter on rye breads. There is also a lot of good information in some of his side notes to the specific formulas. If you don't have "Bread," buy or borrow it. It's an invaluable resource.

In answer to your questions, one can't generalize for all rye breads. A bread with a small percent rye flour and mostly wheat flour acts pretty much like a wheat bread. As the rye percentage increases, the dough gets stickier. Once you get up around 70% rye flour, you are working with a qualitatively different dough, and the loaf forming process is more like moulding clay than working to get a tight, smooth gluten sheath. 

With these high percentage rye breads, you do want a smooth, intact surface, because weak spots will burst where you don't want them to. Scoring doesn't help as much as with wheat breads. Good judgment regarding the amount of proofing helps. Docking the loaves (poking holes in the top surface) may help reduce bursting. Steaming your oven well for the first part of the bake is really important, but the length of time you steam the oven may be less that with wheat breads.

If you are just starting out with rye breads, I suggest you stick with 40% to 60% ryes until you are comfortable with them. Then, move on to 70% ryes and beyond, step wise. Getting comfortable with stickier doughs without succumbing to the temptation to add more flour is essential to your success, and this comfort only comes with experience.

Happy baking!


clazar123's picture

There is so much to know about bread but I think I've sifted thru and gotten a basic model down in my head. It helps me be more successful and produce fewer bricks! I will check out "Bread". I only have a few books and that is not one.Thanks for the reference.

 Once you get up around 70% rye flour, you are working with a qualitatively different dough, and the loaf forming process is more like moulding clay than working to get a tight, smooth gluten sheath. 

This is the kind of experiential information I am looking for. When molding a high-rye dough, I imagine you want a uniformity in the dough (no holes in the interior) and docking helps the interior steam/air escape, otherwise it would "blow out". My understanding is to not be shy about docking,also. Petite,shallow stabs with a salad fork just won't do-top to bottom penetrating plunges with a knitting needle or chop stick? Sounds like creating steam vents!

So when you get to that hydration and high percentage of rye, do you just use a bench scraper and scrape it into a loaf pan/container? Rise-dock-bake? Or are there other shaping considerations?

nicodvb's picture

is the most proficient "kneading" technique when there's a lot of rye. The bench is just another obstable in that case: one more surface to stick to, while wet hands are there's no sticking.

nicodvb's picture

In my experience even a lower percentage of rye flour is enough to transform radically the structure of the dough: even with only 30% I feel forced to use only stretch and fold rather than the ordinary kneading method, otherwise the dough never seems to come together.

As for the preferment I prefer to use strong white flour if I'm not going to use more that 50% rye because a dough with a rye preferment seems to be slacker and more willing to break than the other way around.

Salt is your best friend: when I prepare a preferment with rye in it in any form (ie, using a rye starter or with some or all rye flour in it)  I always dissolve a touch of salt in the water: 1% for a biga and 0.5% for a poolish (calculated respect to the flour in the preferment). Salt stops/relents the action of protease and protects the gluten from dissolution. It's really terrible seeing a dough that doesn't keep together after few hours.

When doing a bread made mostly with rye I always make sure that the each of the preferments reaches pH 4 before proceeding to the next step. Taste improves a lot and the structure of the bread will be  less at risk of collapsing.

clazar123's picture

Early in my bread making,I did have a few rye loaves that just wouldn't hold any shape. I gave up on rye at that point and went down the whole wheat road as it was more familiar and I had more consistent success. I was probably experiencing what you describe.

Wow-salt in the preferment. I would never have done that.Rye really is a different experience. I'm really looking forward to working with it! I use stretch and fold often-esp with sticky doughs-right in the bowl sometimes!

Right now,most of my loaves have a preferment of either AP or bread flour,water and starter, set up 8-24 hours before. On occasion I will use the flour called for in the loaf (WW or bread flour) for the preferment. My starter is usually 100% hydration and AP based, simply because AP is the easiest and cheapest flour for me. I use it for all breads and it works well. Sacrilegeous? Just easier to maintain 1 type of starter for my needs. Also, I'm baking for everyday use for the family so formulas are streamlined for a small bake and short time frames (hopefully without sacrificing flavor).Simplicity is my friend.

How do you test pH? Do you have a meter? Recommendations for one?

nicodvb's picture

is an el-cheapo bought last year in ebay for less than 30$. I don't use strips because understanding the current pH from a color is a serious challenge for me. Anyone will do, provided it's digital.

As a general rule the flour that ferments for the longest time (the one in the preferment) is the one that undergoes the action of enzymes more extensively, so it's better if it's the strongest that you are going to use (so no WW as far as I'm concerned). I don't know how strong is your AP flour, but if it works well there's no reason to change it unless you verify that it just can't make it.

AP flours available here are *MUCH* weaker than high gluten flours, so I have no choice, but it's just my case. Your flour may be perfectly fit. Testing it is the only way to know.

Pay attention not to use too much salt in the poolish or it won't rise, and in any case not unless there's some rye in it.

The nice thing of salt is that while it stops protease it doesn't minimally affect amylase, so a salted soaker will result in a sweeter bread, while a salted preferment will do its job without weakening (significantly) the prefermented flour.


A starter made with all AP may be perfectly fine. If it serves you well why change it? I use a rye starter because it gives me much better resiliency.

Janetcook's picture

I too love baking with rye but mostly have failures at this point.  I am learning a lot from each one of them so I really do not consider them failures.

One excellent resource on ryes for me has been a member here and her 100% rye loaf.  If you go to the search box and type in MiniOvens 100% Favorite Rye you should come up with it.  There are several threads of discussions that will keep you busy for awhile and the simplicity of it has me hooked!

Another resource is from a member by the name on hansjoakim.  I have not done any of his loaves yet - I want to master Mini's first before moving on - but he has several that aren't 100% ryes if you want to work with loaves with a lesser percentage of rye first.

Good luck and happy baking. :-)

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

like substitute 100g of rye for spelt or bread flour mixing it in first with a whip before adding the rye flour.  :)

Now to go below... a comment on wild docking of loaves  (How did it get way down here?)

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

The idea of docking is to pop large gas pockets not create steam vents.  You can dock, wait a minute or two and then smoothen them over.  I use a wet toothpick and use up the entire length of the pick except that which I'm holding.  If your dough is over-proofed, gas will percolate out of the holes while baking.  

Unless you wet that bench scraper first, it will stick to the rye too.  Trick is to keep your hands moist.  If you start kneading high rye like a wheat, you will be up to your wrists in goo.  I stick to the bowl, but if you must use a counter top, lightly oil it with about a teaspoon of olive oil and mist the surface with water.  Then plop your dough onto it.  Wet any tool you want to touch the dough with water first.  That includes that teaspoon you use to scrape the dough off your mixing spatula or hands.  :)  

I've been playing with shaping consideration by rolling the sticky mess into seeds and nuts to coat.  This gives an outer surface that can be pushed on and poked. (wet your finger first)  The same can be done with flour before plopping into a floured banneton for the final lifting.  

clazar123's picture

Sounds like a lot of gooey,smeary fun is ahead! And I promise -no murder scene with the docking!  

The seeds sound like a great idea.


clazar123's picture

I've taken a wad of wet dough in a wet hand and then used wet fingers to grab a hunk and fold it over the top,give a 1/4 turn toss and repeat-making SURE my hand and fingers stayed wet. I just started doing it one day out of necessity. I was trying to figure out how to handle a really sticky dough and the action was born. I've never seen it done before but it is really effective.

My alternative is just scrape and scoop with a wet benchscraper.

Is it really necessary to work rye dough past a well mixed stage if you are not trying to develop the gluten? Does it help develop a rye.... matrix (not sure what to call it)? Or distribute air?