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Why are my rye bread doughs turning into soup!?

badmajon's picture

Why are my rye bread doughs turning into soup!?

I've had a bad baking day today. A day which ended with my flinging my dough into the trash can.

I just don't get why whenever I try to add rye, this problem keeps coming up. I'm trying to achieve a 75% hydration dough, which when using wheat flour, gives you something that is on the sticky side but still workable.

I added:

125g of 100% hydration sourdough starter (62.5g flour, 62.5g water)
100g rye flour
230g white bread flour

Total, about 400g flour

225 g water (about 280g total water if you count the starter)

This SHOULD give me a dough that is about 70% hydration.... RIGHT?

I let it rise once, it seemed kinda sticky when I first kneaded it, more like something in the high 70s if it were all wheat flour. I put it in the fridge overnight to retard for more flavor. It was cold when I pulled it out of the fridge and folded/degassed it. I then put it on my counter and let it return to room temperature and rise.

It ended up turning into an unworkable, soupy, nasty mess. It got WETTER, I swear it did, from the time I first kneaded it. This was horrible.

I guess the reason why I'm so frusturated is because I have no idea what keeps causing this so every time I make sourdough rye bread, I get this problem. It's almost like the sourdough starter is doing something funny to the rye, because I do know how to make decent sourdough white bread, and I know how to make (somewhat mediocre) rye bread from instant yeast. Someone please help me out here.

Now I have to walk to the store to buy a carb. *sigh*

Doc.Dough's picture

Sourdough rye bread is generally quite dense (buy a little loaf of Rubschlager 100% rye and try it - it is typical).

If you want a sour rye that looks like ciabatta, you will have to increase the gluten to replace what the rye doesn't have, and you will have to remove all of the rye bran which is cutting up the gluten strands.  I don't know how to do this, but perhaps one of the ancient magicians around here has a trick that we can both learn from. 

You might remember that the amylase enzymes in rye are activated at a lower temperature than those generally found in wheat so the old saying "there is no rye bread without sour dough" means that you must get the dough pH below about 4.5 in order to inactivate the amylase enzymes or else it will do exactly what you describe (though it usually waits until it gets in the oven to turn to goo).  This is a result of the starch bubbles which are the cell structure of rye bread breaking down and releasing the gas before the dough is strong enough to support itself.

badmajon's picture

Thank you so much for your reply. I swear I was going crazy, with this gooification stuff- now it explains it. The amalyse is unravelling my starch molecules and turning them into sugars and this soupifying my dough.

I did about 30% rye last time, is there a good % that will give me a little rye flavor while the dough will still act more or less like wheat flour dough?

I think I need to do more research because this seems to be a whole other can of worms... rye... why do you taste so good in booze and bread, yet play games with us like this!

I swear rye also makes beer ferment more vigorously, although I never figured out why. Maybe this has something to do with it... I digress.

Mukoseev's picture

3 1/2 c.       AP  460g

   1/2 c.       Rye  61g

1 1/2 c.       Water  300g

   1/2 c.       Bass Ale  122g

2. tps.         Salt

1/2 tsp.       Yeast

2  Tbs.        Caraway seeds

 1                Egg white (for wash)Incorporate dry Ingredients then wet. Mix thoroughly. Let forment 18 - 24 hours.  Stretch and fold several times.  Let rest for 15 mins.   


Shape and let rise for 1 hour.   


 Pre-heat oven and dutch oven to 500

10 mins. @ 435 covered

35 mins. @ 435 uncovered Brush with diluted egg wash immediately after baking.N.B.  I use a 4 qt. oval cast iron dutch oven and I slash the loaves at the 10 minute mark when they are uncovered.
Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I am reminded of earlier experiments.  400g flour with 100g rye in it and 125g starter  reads like a starter refreshment ripe and peaking in 8 hours or sooner.   That more rise is expected seems like too much to ask without adding fresh dough (flour & water.)  So what you have is a large very ripe starter and not bread dough, the fermenting has gone too far to bake it.   Rye acts on wheat beasties like steroids speeding up the fermenting process.  So after retarding an already bulk risen dough, the dough is spent and deteriorating (liquids are being released as it breaks down.)  Is there salt in the recipe?  This might help control run away fermentation.  

If I stuck to the same amounts of ingredients, I would go about it differently.  One, no bulk ferment before chilling or retarding, allow only a little rise and chill.  Often it helps to think of sourdough as one rise with interruptions.  Get away from thinking bulk rise, deflate, next rise, deflate, shape and rise.   Two, add at least 1.8% salt (to flour)  at the beginning of the recipe.  After retarding warm up with your hands with folding and allow the dough to rise just a little before folding again.  Watch for dough carefully to avoid over-proofing.  Stop folding at any sign of dough tearing.  Be gentle with the dough and do pop large bubbles.  Folding usually takes care of this.  If you compare this with an all wheat dough, you will observe that as rye amounts increase, it ferments faster and loosens sooner after folding or shaping.  If you like to shape using wet hands, start out with a stiffer dough mixture in the beginning.

If I had to stick to your time schedule and wanted the long bulk rise, then I would reduce the starter amount to be about 40g adding the rest of the flour and water to the dough formula to total 400g flour.  And naturally add 7.2 g salt for a slow and steady ferment.    


Doc.Dough's picture

Excellent guidance Mini!

Yerffej's picture

One thing that will help is if you remember that rye and wheat are entirely different beasts when it comes to making bread.  You have gotten great advice already....happy baking,


nicodvb's picture

because although a big increase in acidity slows down amylase  it also deteriorates the gluten. You might end up with a dough with less damaged starches and more damaged proteins. I'd follow Mini's advice and -in addition- not retard the dough. I always experienced cardboard consistence when eating retarded breads with rye in it.

nicodvb's picture

Thinking more on the subject you could try to bulk ferment with all the wheat flour and part of the water, then add rye, shape and proof straight away. Maybe it's the the safest method.

badmajon's picture

Thanks for all the replies. I realize the error of my ways now. :)

Is there a safe % of rye I can generally use that gives some flavor yet I can still craft the dough the same as all wheat or does the addition of any amount of rye great enough to add flavor require a rye specific process?

I was thinking of trying 5-10%?

Nickisafoodie's picture

As usual, Mimi is spot on...

I regulary make rye  at  30% of the total recipe, yours is 25% rye.  I also use whole wheat for another 45%, and white flour for the remaining 25%.  The rye and the whole wheat (75%) of total flour) is ground by yours truely, and 100% of it, bran and all, goes into the recipe.  So a much higher whole grain content than yours, so in theory a bit harder to achieve success than a 25% rye and 75% white combo.  I have success do to technique.

My starter is 100% hydration, using only the whole ground rye flour which eacts fast given all of the nutrients in rye.  And the loaves come out fabulous, so I have to dispell the reason as being that bran cuts gluten and you get a flat loaf (even though some books state this).  It's technique and you should have success using a  mixer or using stretch and fold; dutch ovens or loaf pans.  All of these have worked and will for you when you gain more experience so keep at it.  Again I refer to Mimi's approach. 

Recipe above looks great.  If you try the search box above left, you very likely will see pictures of other peoples efforts and their recipes.  Compare.  Follow the directions and eventually you will learn to read the dough, and make adjustments for rising times.  Salt is a must for flavor, and to slow down the fermentation rate.  Few things taste better than a nice sourdough rye, so all of your efforts will prove to make a big smile upon success...  You eventually will stop using yeast given the flavor, tang, digestability and other benefits or sour dough over yeasted, lots of posts on "benefits of sourdough" too.

Dan Leader's book "Local Breads" gives many interesting commentaries on rye (German and Polish), and how to make the starter more sour, or less depending on hydration, time and other variables.  Worth a read once you master a few recipes and are looking to go the next step.  And of course Jeffrey Hamelman's book "Bread".

Doc.Dough's picture


You are right about grinding the flour yourself and specifically the possibility of grinding fine enough to not have a huge problem with the bran.

But even then, I have never made a loaf that had more than 10-15% whole rye/whole wheat and still had the characteristic open crumb of ciabatta.


Doc.Dough's picture

Look at Hamelman's Vermont sourdough and its variants with whole wheat and more whole grain flour.

I think that will answer your question about what you can "generally" do.

And of course you can experiment as we all do to discover what won't work, and what we can do with the constraints of the situation we find ourselves in.


Nickisafoodie's picture

While I love Hamelman's book and one of several I always refer to,  it contains errors.  There is a six page erata sheet including adjustments to the Vermont Sourdough recipe.  The larger metric formulas appear correct, but the scaled down versions for home use in many cases are not.  So always check the erata sheet.  Can be found here: