The newest of newbies and his rye bread experience
Being VERY new to sourdoughs, it dawned on me that I’m at a phase that everyone must go through. As I’m sitting here letting my dough proof, I figured I’d document what I’ve done along the way in hopes that my success or failure can help others along the way. This is my second attempt at the same recipe, but I’m just going to discuss it from the beginning as if this was the first attempt. Keep in mind that I wrote this more for what I was experiencing along the way than for the recipe. I feel like I kept asking myself “Is this what it’s supposed to feel like?” so I wanted to share my experience.
Being a bit of a Germanophile, I really wanted to try a rustic German bread. Every recipe I found was sourdough and although I had never worked with sourdough before, I was a bit intimidated. In addition, I was under the impression that I didn’t really care for sourdough knowing only the extremely sour San Francisco styles that one can buy in the local megamart. Nonetheless, I’m stubborn and decided I would embark on this journey. I could have sent away for a sourdough starter, but I’m impatient and didn’t want to wait for it, nor did I want to spend the money. I went online and found some recipes for a starter. Knowing that the recipe I was going to be using was primarily rye, I decided a rye starter made sense. After procuring some rye flour, I began the process using only the rye flour and a jug of distilled water I had in the house. (Our tap water is heavily chlorinated) The recipe I found (which I have since lost) was a 5 day program with feedings only once per day. The recipe warned that I probably wouldn’t see much activity until the 3rd or 4th day, but that wasn’t the case with me. After the first day, when stirring in the second feeding, I could hear the crackle of air pockets bursting indicating that culture was alive. Fast forward 5 days and I’m ready to go. The consistency of this starter is quite dry. It reminds me of, well…I’m not sure what. It is not viscous at all. You could turn the jar on its side and the starter won’t budge. It’s almost like a soufflé as far as how airy it is. Here is a picture of it.
The recipe I was using was in German, and while I can get my point across in German, I am far from fluent and the recipe did not translate well using Google Translate, so there was a bit of guess work and filling in the blanks, which is one of the reasons I’m discussing the second attempt as I feel I learned a bit along the way. Here is a brief run-down of that recipe:
200g rye flour
400g rye flour
200g spelt flour
2tsp bread spices (mixture of spices. You can find recipes online)
1.25g dry yeast (it actually called for 5g fresh, but from what I understand, ¼ the amount of dry can be used, although trying to measure 1.25g is basically impossible, so try to get close)
The recipe said to combine all the dough recipes and let them sit for a half hour (I think) but after reading up on autolyse, I decided to just mix the water, flours and salt at first. I combined the flours, mixed them and then took out about 2 cups of the mix. I did this because I live in a very dry environment and many bread recipes end up too dry for me. This, combined with the fact that I could use this flour to eventually knead it meant that I didn’t want to just add it all at first. And boy am I glad I did that. If you look at the amounts, this is only about a 50% hydration dough (I think I understand that terminology correctly) so it’s going to be quite dry. Because I wanted to use the autolyse method, I was okay if the dough was a little wetter, which it wasn’t. So, after combining the flours, mixing them, taking out 2 cups of mix, then adding the salt and water, his mix, even with 2 cups less flour was VERY dry. The texture was like a gritty modeling clay. Nonetheless, I let it sit for a half hour. After that, I added the yeast and spices. I waited on the yeast because it was active dry and I didn’t want it to activate during the autolyse. It was also at this point that the starter came in. The recipe said to remove 50g of the mixture to save for your next starter and then add the remainder to the dough. This mixture was then combined.
To recap, most of the flour, all of the salt, and all of the water is mixed and rested for a half hour. Then the yeast, spice, and all but 50g of the starter are added.
With all of my ingredients combined, I turned it out onto my work surface which I had floured with my retained flour mixture. The starter really helped to wet the dough and at this point it was VERY sticky. It was probably around the texture and consistency of a smooth peanut butter. I floured it liberally with my flour mixture and went to work kneading. I probably kneaded for 5-10 minutes (should’ve kept an eye on the clock) flouring repeatedly through the process. This rye dough wasn’t as springy as other non-sourdoughs I’ve worked with, so the kneading was very much of a gentle stretching and folding. I say gentle because this dough tears pretty easily. I want to stretch it, not rip it, so I’d stretch until it started to tear and then folded it over and flattened it out. It was making something about the size of a dinner plate and an inch to inch and a half thick. I kept folding and flattening and turning until I felt like it wasn’t really sticking to my hands. I tried a windowpane test without much luck, but I figured since I had just added in the yeast and starter, I didn’t expect much of a result. At this point, I formed it into a round, laid it out on my work surface and covered it with plastic to let it sit for an hour.
After this resting, I stretched and folded it just a bit to degas it and then formed it into a round. I don’t have a proofing basket, so I lined a bowl with a dish towel and generously floured the towel in hopes that it wouldn’t stick, which looked like this.
At this point, I began to preheat the oven to 485F. I had a baking stone in the center rack and an old baking sheet on the bottom rack. Old baking sheet is important because this process ruined mine. At this point, I let the bread rest for a half hour while the oven heated up. At the end of the half hour, I boiled 2 cups of water and got ready to put the bread in. I placed my pizza peal on top of the bowl I’d been proofing in, turned the whole thing over, and thank goodness, the bread didn’t stick. I sliced the top of the bread and got ready. As quickly as I could to avoid losing heat, I opened the door, poured the boiling water on the old baking sheet, put the loaf on the stone and squirted down the sides of the oven (not the bread) with a spray bottle and closed it up. I set my kitchen timer for 15 minutes and started to clean up. After that 15 minutes had passed, I checked on the bread for browning. Holy moly did that have oven spring! The slices I did originally barely cut through the surface and it REALLY opened up.
From here, I lowered the temperature to 400F and baked for 20 minutes. As you can see, it hasn't risen any more, but it was beginning to brown a bit at the edges.
After that passed, I again checked on it, this time inserting a remote thermometer and reduced the heat again to 350F and set the timer for an additional 20 minutes. These reductions were done per the recipe instructions, but as it turned out, it reached an internal temp of 200F about 5 minutes early. Here are a few pictures of it cooling.
So, how does the crumb look and how does it taste? I’m not sure yet. You see, my girlfriend is out of town and she threatened me with a form of violence which included turning the name Bobbitt into a verb. Ultimately, that is okay with me because I have read several sources that say to give rye breads 24-48 hours to cut into them which, as chance would have it, is just about the timing for my lovely girlfriend to return home to be able to enjoy it with me. So, stay tuned!