The Fresh Loaf

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Difficulty kneading rye bread

thihal123's picture

Difficulty kneading rye bread

I've been having the most difficult time kneading rye bread, even though the rye bread formula I'm using only is 39.5% rye. The dough is very soft (lacking structure). It did help when I did a combination of hand kneading and machine mixing. I didn't machine mix the entire way through knowing how easy it is for the Kitchen Aid mixer to overknead the rye and make it become a gloopy, slippery mess. However, even after this, it was very difficult to shape the bread. I try to shape it and when I lift the loaf into the pan, it just kinda sags and gives.

I'm pretty good, I think, at making whole grain wheat breads. To me, my whole wheat loaves basically have good taste, good shape, nice form, good structure. I'd even say it's comparable to some baked breads that you buy commercially. But, rye flour is a whole other animal and I could certainly use some tips in how to better work with rye flour!

Here's the Peter Reinhardt formula I used, with some caveats that I list:

• Whole wheat flour - 60.5%

• Whole rye flour (I used Hodgson's stoneground whole rye) - 39.5%

• Salt - 1.7%

• Instant yeast - 1.5% (this is in addition to using sour dough starter which is used earlier in the making of the bread but isn't listed separately in Reinhardt's formula)

• Vital wheat gluten - 1.3% (I added a LOT more vital wheat gluten than this in attempts to give the bread more structure, make it less saggy, and form more gluten)

• Milk/Yoghurt - 31.5%

• Water - 28%

• Molasses - 5%

• Honey - 2.5%

• Oil - 5%


Reinhardt's formula is basically to first make a Soaker (combination of whole wheat flour, salt, yoghurt, vital wheat gluten) and let that ferment at least for 24 hours.

Paralleling this is to make a Starter (combination of whole wheat mother starter, whole rye flour, and filtered water) which you let double in size (takes anywhere from 8 to 12+ hours) and then you are ready to make the bread.

For the Final Dough, you combine soaker and starter plus additional whole wheat flour, salt, instant yeast, molasses, honey, and oil.

My troubles come in making the final dough when I'm hand kneading. I add a LOT more additional whole wheat flour and vital gluten in hopes to create structure for this loaf. I find it easier to do a combo hand and machine mix. It's almost impossible for me to hand mix alone, although this indicates to me that my hand technique isn't good enough so I'd like to learn some tips on how to handle rye dough.

Thanks for your help!


dabrownman's picture

a Deli Rye kind of bread.  I do SD and the hydration is much higher so i slap and folds it for 10-12 minutes until it comes together.  Slap and folds is a great way to develop gluten without having to wash the mixer too!

Happy baking

thihal123's picture

I do some slap-and-fold too for this Reinhardt bread. Should I expect the window pane effect after doing enough slap-and-fold or should I not expect too much of it? It seems that I don't get a good window pane unless I add more vital gluten and whole wheat flour. Perhaps there's something I'm not quite doing right.

dabrownman's picture

check for a window pane in rye or any other high % whole grain bread.  I just don't find it useful like it is with white breads,  I put VWG in any bread that I think needs it - like this one.  You just get a flatter bake without it in these breads - no matter what you do.

I went to a Bosch dealer training class where they did 100% whole wheat bread in side by side machines using the same process except one had VWG.  The processes were exactly the same and they were baked in the same oven at the same time side by side.   Everyone in the class picked out the one that had VWG without fail.  It was obviously the one that was much taller and fully risen.

Since then, I have also done side buy side tests using wheat flourand similar flours like spelt and farro and have similar improved results when using VWG and using S&F's or slap and folds.  I don'l tuse a machine to make dough.

You can get decent results without it too by using some very high protein and expensive flour.  But it's tough to get good results using store bought whole wheat or AP.  Some folks don't like using VWG which is fine by me and no skin off my nose.  Sometimes I don't use it too. To each his own.  I'm a bread libertarian when it comes to natural ingredients - anything goes. 

thihal123's picture

Thanks, dabrownman.

MisterTT's picture

so kneading is messier, but on the bright side you there is less of it required. I make Hamelman's 40% rye with caraway all the time and since I don't have a mixer suitable for bread I knead the dough by hand, takes about 7 minutes. My tip with the formula you're using is to not add any gluten or additional flour and prepare for the dough to be quite slack and sticky, but bear with it and it should bake up fine.

David's tips in the thread you link to are spot-on. I usually reserve 1 or 2 % of water and knead the dough wetting my hand. Despite the reserved water, be sure to shake off any excess droplets before touching the dough. It does all depend on much you're making, but you'd be surprised at how much water a freshly wet hand adds to the dough.

Try a full rye sometime, you won't have to knead it for a minute! Happy rye-ing :)

thihal123's picture

Indeed, my rye + whole wheat dough is quite slack. Very slack in fact. I guess I'm missing the bounciness that comes with making whole wheat doughs :)

One day I will try a 100% rye bread. I do love rye bread a lot and love rye crispbread and volkhorn (sp?) bread, but it doesn't seem as fun to make rye dough as whole wheat dough, especially when it's just so slack. :-(

I just made 2 rye bread (just came out of the oven) using the Reinhardt formula with a whole lot of additional vital gluten and whole wheat flour. Turned out nice, it seems. My next rye bread, I'm going to try one of the Hamelman ones.

MisterTT's picture

rye breads is to either halve the commercial yeast his formulas call for or, even better and what I always do, not use it all. Sometimes it baffles me - a lot of the formulas have 40% prefermented flour in a rye sour which is going to give the bread one hell of a lift anyways.

golgi70's picture

Slow mixing using your machine is the safest and easiest route. Try 8 minutes on speed 1 without salt. Then add salt and continue on speed 1 for 5 minutes.  If your machine has a low medium you can finish here. Otherwise just stay on low. Overworking a rye can lead to a dough that is very hard to handle because. There is a "sugar"? Present in rye that leads to gummy and sticky dough when it's overworked. I forget what its called. Anyway. 

During the mix use a wet hand and scraper to be sure the dough using worked away from bowl. Your not looking for window pane here. your looking for a dough that when gently tugged doesn't just rip off but bounces back. At this point grntle folds during bulk ferment will help.

With all that prefermented flour I'd think that quantity of yeast is a bit high. I understand the addition is to make for a fast proof which is an attempt to best the poor gluten properties of rye. Even so I'd think a third of the yeast and a warmer environment would be safer. 


Hope you have better luck 

rye is tricky and naturally sticky


thihal123's picture

Your not looking for window pane here. your looking for a dough that when gently tugged doesn't just rip off but bounces back. At this point grntle folds during bulk ferment will help.

It is helpful to know that I'm not looking for the window pane effect. Or at least helpful that this isn't the case for many other rye breads. However, in Reinhardt's formula, he does specifically state: "the dough should have strength and pass the window pane test" (Rye Sandwich Meteil, page 115 of Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads). 

It's that statement that baffles me, because so far, without the addition of a lot more extra whole wheat flour and/or vital gluten, I don't seem to be able to get the window pane effect. Well, could be a technique problem. Or, perhaps it could be that because I'm living in a humid environment (central North Carolina), my doughs need less water than what Reinhardt calls for? On the other hand, all my flour (rye, whole wheat, etc.) live in the fridge, so that's a relatively low humidity environment.

With regards to the instant yeast, I don't know where I read it (whether in Reinhart's book, this forum, or elsewhere) that the inclusion of instant yeast in sourdough breads is to help give whole grain sourdough loafs an extra boost to make them lighter/more airy. This seems less necessary for non-whole grain sourdough loaves. 

Well, I guess there are two things I'm considering now:

1. Next loaf I'm making would be this same Reinhart one again, with additional knowledge and tips I gained on this thread...or

2. Try a Hamelman rye loaf.

When I'm tackling a challenge like this, this is when I want to make the bread over and over again pretty much in succession. But, with only two mouths to feed in my household, that's way too many breads to be sitting in the freezer :)

thihal123's picture

By the way, I should add that I use Hodgson Mill's stoneground whole rye flour. Reinhart's formula only says to use "whole rye flour".

Would the fact that my rye flour is stoneground affect how workable my dough is, or would that not matter at all? The rye flour I use is fairly coarse.

Janetcook's picture

I bake using PR formulas a lot.  The extra yeast is so that the final rise is shorter since so much of the flour has already be pre-fermented in the starter and the soaker portion of the dough.  Rye can easily over ferment so you don't want an additional 4-5 hour bulk ferment time or you will end up with goop.  :O  I generally cut  back the IY to about 1/2 what he recommends so that the bulk ferment is about 1 1/2 hours only.  The amount changes with seasonal temperature changes.

I would not add gluten.  It will give the crumb a tough texture and really isn't necessary.  As someone else stated you won't get a windowpane with a 40% rye loaf.  I think some of the directions in PR's book just repeat for each loaf without taking into consideration the type of dough.  Editing error probably.

Rye also does not have gluten like ww does so the process of it forming the crumb comes from the starches - pentosans (not sure if this is how you spell it or not….) in the grain that form a different kind of crumb structure.  (I don't bake a lot of ryes so I am by no means an expert on the subject so I would recommend you search above for those that do bake with them because I am sure the information you need will be here somewhere. You might search out blogs by juergenkrauss, hanseata, hansjokim, Ananda or MiniOven to name a few that come to mind.)

I know using my DLX when making a deli rye loaf I do knead for quite awhile before the dough forms to a point where it is easier to shape…sticky but not a liquid.  I was afraid to knead for longer periods of time out of fear of kneading too much but once I read several of txfarmer blogs I got brave and now I know I can do it and get good results.

When I make 100% ryes with high HL I know the dough really can't be shaped the way a ww loaf is.  It more or less gets 'molded'.  Using wet hands I shape the dough into the desired shape while being held in my hands.  It does sag when being placed in to  the pan but it bakes up nicely anyway.

When kneading in the final ingredients I would add all the liquid ingredients, besides the water, slowly until each is incorporated into the dough.

Good Luck,


Dennis M's picture
Dennis M

I have been a "lurker" on this board since November 2018 as I have been trying to learn this art. I AM NOT in the same category of experience with some of you here and don't pretend to be. This is my first post I believe.

I make Reinhard's Swedish Limpa Rye every 5 days or so with some minor changes. Have tried various other recipes with the slack dough issue but as of late I seem to have gotten past the problem.

First I use a whole grain organic white berry (from Breadtopia) ground fine for the soaker.  All the rye flour is contained in the starter (398g.) I have tried various combinations of different grains over the past 8 months or so (my entire experience time with whole grains and home milling.)  As far as the flour is concerned the whole grain white flour does the best with regards to the rise issue. Placing all the rye (53%) in the starter and the wheat in the soaker also made a big change for me.

After the mix the dough is pretty sticky and messy.  Yeah it sticks to everything.  I do add some of the held back flour as Reinhard suggests until the dough starts to come together then I stop even though at this point it is not soft and supple BUT it does have some structure. 

I have tried adding flour until it becomes "soft and supple" but the crumb was way to dense  I have used water also and it just seemed to make matters worse as far as the sticky dough was concerned, maybe just my untrained hands.  So.....

I tried using the "oil slick" on the board and hands then the dough comes together beautifully.  I almost get a windowpane but have found once the dough is to this point it has plenty of structure and rises well.  When pulled it has plenty of resistance and does not tear.  If it does tear I knead a little more.  I do try and be gentle with it though.

Someone on this board made a comment about regarding editing issues with Reinhard's books and I will make a resounding agreement to this.  I have found some serious flubs in the 2 books I have.  My wife seems to think he does a bit of cutting and pasting, heck I have found a recipe where he forgot to add the flour to the final dough in his first book and then caught it in the second book.

Would someone be kind enough to tell me what "doing SD" means?  Also this statement "when I make 100% ryes with high HL"  What is the HL?


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