The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Trouble in Rye Flour City

Bakequery's picture

Trouble in Rye Flour City

I am having a VERY BAD MORNING!  I make Peter Reinhart's Whole Wheat Bread all the time.  For the soaker I like to use bulgar.  Last night instead of going downstairs to my extra fridge to get my whole wheat flour I made my poolish with rye flour.  Did EVERYTHING else the same.  Used whole wheat bread flour for the rest of the dough this morning when I put it all together. 

Here is my problem:  I could not get a windowpane when I tested the gluten development.  I kneaded the freaking dough for over 30 minutes.  Forget the Kitchenaid, the dough hook just twirled around with the dough in the center.  The dough would NOT ball up. First I thought, okay, it's too wet, so I sprinkled in some flour: no ball.  Then I thought, not dry enough, so I sprinkled in some water: no ball.  Then I resorted to hand kneading, which was fun for the first 15 minutes, but I could not get a windowpane!!!  The dough started getting too dry since my kneading was drawing up so much flourat so I put it back in the Kitchenaide and sprinkled it with more water.  I kept scraping the sides down over and over until it I got the texture I am used to, then put it back out onto the board to knead some more.  NO WINDOWPANE.  Kneaded some more, dough got dry, put it back in Kitchenaid for more water, I went through this procedure twice.  No window pane.  (window PAIN!!! is more like it)

So here is the question:  Do you think the rye flour poolish significantly lowered the gluten content to make this dough behave like this?  Is there gluten in rye flour?  I thought there was.  Should I have added gluten to the formula when I added the rye flour?  If so, how much?  OR did I use too much bulgar, preventing the gluten strands from holding together?  I was using presoaked bulgar that I kept in the freezer in zip lock bags to pull out (my bulgar got wet by accident so I quick froze it) but I used that all up).  By the way, don't use amaranth - too crumbly and it pops out of the bread in the toaster.  It is possible that I put a bit more bulgar than usual.

I LOVE this bread and usually have no trouble baking it.  I make two loaves a week. We eat one and freeze one to use in a few days.  It slices well and freezes well, too.  I always enrich it with egg and oil  which helps to lighten it and keep it moist.

I have the 'freak' dough rising right now but am feeling very insecure.  The dough feels wonderful in terms of the moisture content, just not elastic like I am used to.

Your thoughts would be appreciated, especially if you bake with rye flour. 



JMonkey's picture

I make a whole wheat bread that's 40% Rye and the rye flour keeps it from windowpaning very well. I don't even try -- it's a big grey mess. Plus, the rye doesn't take well to lots of kneading -- if it's overkneaded it gets tremendously sticky.

Rye does contain gluten, but it's a small amount and is not the type of gluten that contributes to dough development, anyway. You may have overdeveloped the dough. If you want to make this bread again with rye, I'd recommend trying the no-knead approach.

Mix everything together until it's wet, and then let it sit for about 30 minutes to an hour. Then fold it once every 30 minutes about three times. (Here's a link to a lesson on stretching and folding and here's a link to a great video lesson on the entire no-knead approach.) After that, just shape and let it rise.

pjkobulnicky's picture

 Lori ... rye is from another planet. It doesn't act human ... especially in those quantities. What you know as rye bread from jewish or german bakeries usually tops out at about 20% rye.  When you make a wheat bread with some rye in it, like any pan rustique, it has a whole heaping tablespoon per loaf.


If you do a high percentage of rye you need to incorporate some acid ... that is why most high percentage ryes are made with a natural starter that has been refreshed long and slow ... to bring out the acid.


You can too a lot of stuff into your favorite bread recipe and have it work out ... just not rye. We all have made batches of dough where we just tried stuff that eventually we wound up hiding in the compost bin.


Paul Kobulnicky

Baking in Ohio

JMonkey's picture

Heh ... that's a good way of putting it. I love light rye breads and, one of these days, I'm going to make a genuine pumpernickel. But you're right -- it sure isn't wheat.

Just to elaborate a bit, the reason you need acid in a bread that's got a high percentage of rye is that, without the acid to neutralize certain enzymes in the rye, these enzymes go crazy breaking starches down into sugars, which results in a pasty, gummy loaf that will never bake through. It's yucky. Sourdough acidifies the rye very nicely, but you can also add some vinegar or pickel juice to a yeasted dough, or so I've read.

Bakequery's picture

Hmmmm!  Who would have thunk!  I just weighed those loaves and I have two three pound loaves of dough.  That's how much flour it took me to figure out that the rye flour made me have an impossible task.  These loaves should only have weighed 18 ounces each .  Two cups of rye would mean....hmmm   a1:4 rye flour to whole wheat ratio.  I did leave the poolish out all night and then more yeast, flour, salt, etc., this morning. 

It was so freaky shaping these loaves!  I'm so used to bread with gluten additude!  In any case I had to retard the rise so will be popping them in the oven in about 90 minutes.   If they are horrible well at least they'll be healthy and make good toast, right?  I'm sure our dog, the BREAD THIEF, will eat them if no one else does.  He won't even know he's doing us a favor!  Heh heh!  Goldendoodle to the rescue!

Funny but now that I think about it I don't remember ever making rye bread in culinary school.  We made plenty of baquettes, dinner rolls, etc., but I can't recall any rye.  Hell, that was 30 years ago, who am I kidding?  Like I would remember? 


xma's picture

I've only ventured into rye breads recently, and indeed only realized when I started baking them that the store-bought 'rye breads' I've tasted probably contained only a tablespoon or so of rye. I'm also still reeling from the shock of having only found out that I prefer rye to whole wheat.

Here's my caveat: I like rye, but I don't like sour taste in my bread. I've been playing around with rye percentages and the percentage of flour I ferment with the sourdough. Hamelman's "Bread" has been my bible in my venture into the world of rye, and he can thrill you to death or drive you to despair with the play of percentages in his book.

I have not yet found my ideal ratio. I've tried 40% rye all prefermented--it was sour for my taste, and at the same time I wanted to go darker. 25-25% with whole wheat--the whole wheat overpowered the rye so I didn't like it. I've gone up to 66% rye but prefermented only 30%--no sourness, but I began to detect that gumminess due to what he calls starch attack.

So my question is, what is the minimum percentage of flour that should be prefermented to avoid the gummy texture? I know answers to this could be relative, but what I'm looking for is the highest percentage of rye without any sour taste to it, and of course not gummy either.

Opinions will be much appreciated! 

ehanner's picture

Welcome to the Club!

This is one of the lessons many of us have learned the hard way. I started with lean white breads, then tried a few 50/50 blends with malt and various wheat germ type flavor enhancers. Then one day just when I thought I was getting the hang of this baking thing I tried a 100% WW loaf. I must have thrown out 10 pounds of flour before I finally followed the stretch and fold instructions and abandoned the mixer.

So, welcome to the club, it's a big club and we are mostly a humble crew.


weavershouse's picture

My suggestion for RyeRYE IN LA CLOCHE AND NYT NO KNEADRYE IN LA CLOCHERYE IN LA CLOCHE RYE IN LA CLOCHE AND NYT NO KNEAD My suggestion for Rye is to bake it the NYT way under cover. I use 2 3/4 cup RYE BLEND FLOUR, 1 cup AP flour, 2 T wheat gluten, 1/4 tsp. yeast, 1 TBL. sea salt, 2 TBL. caraway seeds , 2 cups water and about 1/3 cup rye sourdough starter (sometimes refreshed, sometimes not). Mix it all together at night, let sit overnight. About 12 hrs. later turn out on floured board, stretch and fold once or twice. Rest another 20 min. shape and let rise in corn starched towel in long basket. Let rise 1 1/2 hr. Preheat to 450º with some kind of covered pot as suggested in instructions Jmonkey suggests above. Carefully turn into hot pot , slash, or not, cover. This scary/tense part does make me want to go lay down in a darkened room for a while!! Anyway, take off the lid after 25 min. bake for another 10-15 min. 

 This bread is always moist, tasty and almost 4 in. high. I add the rye starter for more flavor rather than just use the 1/4 tsp. yeast. It's heavy enough to have good body but not at all dry or crumbly. I think it's the covered cooker. I use a long cloche (part of which can be seen in the above photo) or a 4 1/2 qt. Le creuset oval pot. I always forget to measure the length of my rising dough and end up with too long of a loaf to put into the long clay pot. In my photos you can see the wrinkled ends of the loaf. The round loaf shown in one of the photos is a half AP, half whole wheat no-knead. Maybe this recipe doesn't have enough rye flour in it to suit those of you looking for closer to 100% rye but it works for us. We love it. Hope this helps a little. weavershouse

Elagins's picture

I made a couple of loaves of rye yesterday, using medium rye flour and 13% bread flour ... about 60% rye, of which half was in the form of a well-matured rye sour. Like yours, my dough hook just made a big cavity in the dough ... didn't ball, didn't gather and barely windowpaned. So I took the chance, turned it out on the board and let it ferment, which it did very nicely, doubling in about 1.25 hours. So I formed the loaves, baked them at 450 for about 40 minutes and came up with a really lovely sour rye that reminds me of what the Jewish bakers of my youth called 'corn bread' ... moist, chewy, very tasty.

So no worries about the windowpaning ... the gluten in the wheat flour does its work.


helend's picture

I don't get on with sourdough at all but do like breads made with a slow starter and minimal yeast - also minimal kneading - so have adapted most recipes to suit.

Ages ago I found a recipe by Qahtan for a rye loaf which I have used as a basis for my everyday loaf.

My thoughts on using rye are that about 24% rye, 16% wholemeal and 60% white bread flour work well to produce a decently risen soft crumb, crusty sandwich loaf with a nice flavour. Sometimes I use 30% rye and no wholemeal but after this it all gets abit dense.

I make starters of the rye and wholemeal with small amounts of yeast and leave in a cool place overnight. Once the dough is made knead it minimally with wet hands on a clean unfloured board and always leave it to raise/proof in a cool place. This may be slow but it seems to work - they key to good oven spring seems to be this and don't wait for the final proof too long - I rarely let bread proof by more than 50%.

Anyway here are my latest batch - technically a 2lb and a 1lb loaf.




PS I used the ramaining wholemeal starter to make chelsea buns : )


xma's picture

Thank you, helend, for sharing the ratio of types of flour you use.  I was going to ask you how much water you put, but since I'm at it, would you mind sharing the entire recipe? I haven't tried making rye without sourdough starter and I'm intrigued--I think it would eliminate the sour taste I don't want and the crumb of the photos you posted certainly don't look gummy, so I want to try your method.  Thanks again!

helend's picture

Hi Xma - here is my rye bread recipe - again it is based on Qahtan's original with my own ideas mixed in.  I do most things by feel rather than measure so sorry about the descriptions. 

Sorry also about the ratios- I realise my maths went wrong - 24% rye, 20% wholemeal, 46% white!!

The water ratio is a bit difficult to say as you will see, also you may want to be "generous" if using wheat flour rather than spelt which is marginally less absorbant.


The day before baking:

In a large bowl combine 6 oz light rye flour with a pinch of fast-action yeat and about 8-10 fl oz of cold water to make a thick sludge.  (I find the amount of water needed varies a little)

In another bowl combine 5 oz wholemeal flour (I use spelt) with a pinch of yeast and 5-6 fl oz cold water to make a somwaht sloppier (but not liquid) mix than the rye (sorry not very technical but ...)

The next day:

Add 5 oz of the wheat starter to all the rye starter and then stir in 15 fl oz warm water, 2 tsp salt, 2 tsp sugar, 2tsp milk powder and 3/4 tsp yeast. Now work in about 15 oz of white bread flour (spelt again in my case). I think Qahtan says "shaggy mess" I agree!

Knead on an unfloured board using wet hands.  I run them under the tap 3-4 times each time the dough absorbs the extra water - or when it stops feeling slimy!  Stop as soon as the dough is shiny and elastic feeling and springs back when poked.  I often leave it under the bowl for 10 minutes and then knead briefly again before putting into a clean oiled bowl to rise for about one hour.

Preheat oven to 200c (My fan oven cooks quite hot so 220c might be better for initial blast)

Turn out, shape and put into a 2lb tin. Leave to rise until only about half as big again (about 45 mins to in hour in a coolish place).  Slash the top and bake for 10 minutes before turning down the oven to 175c for 40-50 minutes until hollow when tapped.  For extra crispy crust turn out of tin for last 5 minutes.  Leave till cold to cut.

PS I think bread is often not cooked for long enough - hence the gummy texture - don't know what anyone else thinks?


Hope it works for you - let me know






xma's picture

Thank you so much for sharing your recipe, helend.  Two things caught my attention right away--spelt and 'run them under the tap 3-4 times'. I have not tried using spelt flour before, and after looking it up on the internet I'm intimidated  by the idea of using two types of flour I'm not familiar with yet.  After all, I'm just beginning to get to know rye. Now, 'running the dough under the tap' is also an alien technique to me and I'm frankly scared by the idea, haha!

I think I will try your method by first using rye.  You said 30%, right?

When I get around to buying spelt I'll try to work with it first, without the rye, just to get to know it. 

So yes, one day I will let you know the result of this particular recipe.  But that will take a while (it's frustrating that I'm going on a trip and won't be able to bake for a couple of weeks!).

Oh, I have a last question.  I've read opposing views on whether rye bread benefits from folding or not.  Do you ever fold yours? 

helend's picture

Hi xma

Thnks for feedback. Answer to queries:

  1. use wholemeal and white wheat bread flour - spelt is just my "thing"
  2. wet your HANDS not the dough ball
  3. I think I said 24% rye but really % are not my thing - I worked it out from the weighed quantities of flour
  4. never folded anything in my life (except the washing) I LIKE kneading bread

Have fun


JenT's picture

Helen - Thank you for sharing your recipe.  I am eager to try it this weekend.  I'm a little embarrassed to ask this but is wholemeal  the same as whole wheat flour?  Oh, and I like kneading bread, too!:-)

helend's picture

Hi JenT

Yes wholemeal is the same as wholewheat - at least in my book!  Hope it goes well!

Glad to hear I'm not the only one!


Helen ;))) 

xma's picture

oh. it's running your hands under the tap and not the dough!  hahahahaha!  thank you so much, helen, for saving me from such an embarassing disaster...

xma's picture

Hi helend, I finally got around to trying your recipe. I used a little less rye because 'dark' is what I had on hand.  I omitted the milk powder and sugar, because I want to concentrate on texture first.  While making it I got a bit worried because my whole wheat pre-ferment had a significant amount of hooch in proportion to the mixture. I wonder what it meant, since this was the first time I did a purely whole wheat pre-ferment.

Anyway, the texture came out really light, with medium-sized holes.  I think I overdid the water a bit, because no matter how much I tried to tighten the surface it flattened out.  But still, the texture made up for it, and at about 3 inches high the small loaf  I made wasn't bad at all.

My next project, I think, is to try your proportions using sourdough.  I know I said in a previous entry that I don't like having a sour taste in my bread, but without the sourdough I felt something was missing... I don't know, I'm having a bit of an identity crisis.  I'll keep you posted, and thanks once again for sharing your recipe! :) 

helend's picture

Hiya Xma

Thanks for the feedback - glad that my recipe didn't create a disaster for you, especially that the texure was good.  I know what you mea about a sourdough taste - it adds real depth to the flavour but like you, I often find the "sour" a bit much.

Keep up the good work!



xma's picture

Hi helend.  At long last, I was finally able to try your rye recipe with spelt, complete with powdered milk and malt. I only used whole grain spelt and still went with regular unbleached flour for what you use white spelt for.  And I also used my rye starter for the rye pre-ferment, which I miscalculated and ended up using before it was mature but used it anyway due to time constraints.  I also didn't pre-ferment the whole grain.  I figure the starter was enough.

So, despite all these changes, it resulted to a really pleasant light rye.  It had depth of flavor with barely a hint of sourness, probably due to the premature pre-ferment.  And oh, I must say I like spelt better than whole wheat--I have this theory that I don't like rye and whole wheat together; I think the combination results in a funny stale-ish taste.  Now I have to try to go darker (rye-wise) a little at a time. Thanks again!