The Fresh Loaf

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what am I doing wrong with The Rye Baker recipes?

Steve E's picture
Steve E

what am I doing wrong with The Rye Baker recipes?

I've baked 8-10 loaves from Stanley Ginsburg's tantalizing book, The Rye Baker. Some of these have been spectacularly successful and others dismal flops. Today was one of the latter: Zakopane Buttermilk Rye, which nearly exploded in the oven, as you can see.

I followed the recipe as accurately as possible but already noticed that the estimates for rising times seemed off. It's about 75 F in my kitchen, slightly warmer than Stanley's. Even so, his estimate of 50-60 minutes for the proofing loaf to double, well, that just didn't happen at all. After 90 minutes I decided that 50% was good enough and so went ahead and baked. 

To anticipate another obvious question: no, I didn't score it at all. I just followed the instructions. When Stanley says score, I score. When he doesn't, I don't.

Any help, with this recipe or several others in the book, will be greatly appreciated! Thanks.



idaveindy's picture

If your oven was using top heat or convection, search this web site on those terms.

Those problems crop up about twice a month. it won't be in the title, or the OP, because the poster almost never realizes those are the problems. so you'll have to drill down to the comments.

Good luck

idaveindy's picture

bottom blowout


bottom blow-out

Those are searchable too.

Steve E's picture
Steve E

Good to know what it's called - thanks. And no convection was involved, just a standard oven.

idaveindy's picture

TFL attracts a world-wide audience, and bakers of all experience levels. So please bear with me if these questions seem too obvious or too simple.  And...  being world-wide, there is no "standard" oven :-)


So... I still need/want to know if you used an/the _upper_ heating element for this bake.  Maybe the broiler in a standard non-convection american kitchen oven, or the upper or "toaster" element in a standard counter-top oven, or the top element in a standard pizza oven.


If you did not use an upper heating element, then please describe your steaming method, if you used one.  Did the formula call for steaming?

I'm especially looking for amount of water (1 , 2, 3 cups, etc), and temp of water (right out of tap, room temp, boiling), & was water added prior to preheat, or after preheat when loading the loaf, and if the steam pan was above the loaf, or below the baking surface.

And what was the baking surface? Baking stone, thin metal pan, or some thick metal such as cast iron or baking steel?

(I've come across all those situations on TFL.)  Improper steaming can cause bottom blowout, rare, but it happens.


If you did not steam, and steaming was not called for in the recipe, then there is one more avenue. That is ... not fermenting until double, which could cause the bottom  blowout without a score to direct the oven spring.  With full fermentation, there would have been little/no oven spring to cause a burst.

Then...  if I have not scared you off, let's explore the nitty gritty of ingredient substitutions, or confusing rye specifications that would result in less fermentation than intended.  

If you made any substitutions, please still address the above, because sometimes a symptom has more than one trigger/source/cause.

Did I lose you yet? ;-)

Steve E's picture
Steve E

I really appreciate your nitty-gritty questions. Let me try to answer them.

The oven is a gas oven, so the heat source is from below. (Ok, there is a broiler, but I didn't use it at any point.) Before preheating, I positioned the rack about 1/3 the way up and placed a double-layer cookie sheet on it. I also placed a broiler pan directly on the bottom of the oven. I then preheated to the specified 425 F for about 30 minutes, long past the point when the oven told me it was ready.

One minute before starting the bake, I poured about 1-2 cups of boiling water into the broiler pan and closed the oven door to keep the steam in as much as possible. I then brushed the top of the proofed loaf with room-temperature water and sprinkled some nigella seeds on top, as directed in the recipe. I placed the loaf, with its parchment paper support, onto the cookie sheet. After five minutes of baking, I removed the broiler pan (which still had some hot water in it) and reduced the oven temperature to 375 F. The recipe says to bake for another 25 minutes until the internal temperature is at least 198 F. The blowout occurred long before that but I can't say exactly when. After 25 minutes of baking, parts of the loaf were only up to 170 F or so, and so I baked for about 15 minutes longer than recommended; this got the loaf to about 200 F and I pulled it out. It's delicious, by the way!

But let's return to the loaf itself. This recipe (I'm assuming you don't have the book handy) uses an overnight sponge of white rye flour and buttermilk, with just 1/4 teaspoon of yeast. This was combined the next morning with an equal amount of bread flour (which I didn't have, so I used a 50:50 mix of first clear flour and King Arthur AP) plus salt and ground cumin. I have only limited and recent experience with rye bread but I felt that 1/4 teaspoon of yeast might not lift this 50% rye loaf very much, especially since the bulk fermentation period called for was only 30 minutes and the proofing time only 50 minutes (as I mentioned in my original post, I gave it much longer, perhaps 90 minutes in order to get some visible rise). The room was warm enough (75 F) so I can't really explain the disconnect between the recipe and reality.

I really don't wish to complain about this book, which I love, but I do sometimes wonder about the quantities. There are a number of incorrectly converted quantities, to be sure, but in this particular case, the gram and volume measurements are consistent. But an earlier recipe I tried was a total disaster because 5 (!) teaspoons of yeast are probably enough to lift wet cement out of the loaf pan (which it did, gloriously). And so I wonder about quantities: are they reliable? Only time and more experience will tell.

idaveindy's picture

Thanks for the detailed response. You make it easy to visualize.

At first glance, it looks like my hunch of two underlying causes might be right. 3 if you count what the steam did to the cookie sheet.

The good news is that there are easy work-arounds (like inverted bowl/pot/pan, dutch oven,  covered casserole, covered roaster, inverted roaster, etc. to hold in steam.

But, the bad news is that it's your oven.  And secondarily, steaming.  Someone can likely come up with a rare exception, or a rube-goldberg solution, but the simple answer is that gas ovens won't/can't hold steam.

1.a. So....  Here's what happend.... the top of your loaf dried out too soon, and the expansion occurred at the weakest point, causing the blowout.   Convection and/or using an upper element can do it.  And a gas oven can do it.  Gas ovens dry out the exposed surface of bread, and do it quickly.

1.b. what also likely happened, and I'm a bit less sure on this, but it does happen.... Is that the steam, at 212 F  _cooled_ the cookie sheet, and prevented, or rather delayed, it getting up to temp again.  Where does the "cool" 212 degree steam go? directly up, against the underside of the pan, causing it to cool down. 

so, the bottom of the loaf did not get as hot as quickly as the top (because cooled-down cookie sheet)... so the bottom expanded later.... after the top crust had "set" -- another reason for "bottom blowout."

I'm sure the steam also gets a tiny bit hotter than 212, absorbing BTUs from the 425 degree air, but then the steam and all those good BTUs go out the vent, keeping the oven cool.  So the oven has to reheat all over again when you remove the steam pan.

(also an issue -- though it is moot, since you can't successfully steam a gas oven --  I dont think the steam pan should go on the floor of a gas oven. better would likely be the bottom rack. That metal plate at the bottom of the oven is what the flames impinge on, I think. Hence... with direct contact -- conduction -- between heating-plate and steam-pan, more btus go to the pan/water/steam, and even less to the air.... further cooling the air of the oven.)

And... anything more than 1 cup of hot water, just means more heat leaves the oven and over a longer period.  (and cooler water just exacerbates the heat loss.)

2. a. There could be several things affecting slow/less rise. one to check is the activity level of the yeast.  

Update: the "light" versus "white" rye substitution (see next comment) is actually the most likely culprit -- so if that happened, don't bother testing the yeast

If you have more yeast from the same bag/jar, or the same sachet, or another sachet from the same strip of sachets, please test it according to the method here:

The ratio of ingredients for the test is in the OP and a comment, or follow the link to the yeast maker to verify.


2.b.  Other things to check that might affect rise:

- did you add any chlorinated water in addition to buttermilk? chlorine inhibits yeast growth.

- Did you add salt to the sponge or to the final mix?  Salt in sponge would inhibit the yeast.  Salt is more diluted in the final dough, so has less negative effect.

- Did you use buttermilk from the store, or create your own with regular milk and an acid?

- Did you use low-fat or full-fat buttermilk ?  I'm not sure that would make a difference. But low-fat does have extra chemicals, thickeners, and emulsifiers.

- Is it possible that your sponge rose too much, fell, then just didn't have enough strength to leaven the loaf on the next day?

- did you ferment the sponge at the temp recommended in the book?  room temp or fridge?  Putting in fridge if the recipe called for room temp, would weaken the sponge and totally explain less rise.

- Was the white wheat flour that you added to the fermented sponge already  at room temp? Fridge temp flour would also slow down the rise.


Also, be advised that KA AP qualifies as "bread flour" because it already has 11.7% protein.  Jeff Hamelman, former chief baker of KA refers to KA AP as "bread flour." So you likely don't need to spike it, unless Ginsberg specified a higher % protein. Just my 2 cents.


I'm also going on the assumption that Ginsburg does not want much oven spring  because he did not specify to score or dock the loaf.  Normally, a 50/50 rye-white loaf would have some oven spring (oven rise).  So I assume he wants that full doubling before baking.

You're right, I do not have that book.


That's all I can think of for now. Thanks for letting me play Sherlock Holmes.

Steve E's picture
Steve E

So much detective work! I'm enjoying this. Hope you can stick with me as we close in.

Let me start at the end: what's the best way forward? Of course, this depends on where the problem originates. But since you mentioned a Dutch oven, I should mention that I was wondering the same. This works so beautifully for wheat bread that I am puzzled why Ginsburg doesn't call for it when steam is needed for rye. I'll give that a try. Until I do, let's set aside the oven and cookie sheet issues you raised in 1a and 1b.

And so on to point 2. 

First, to your question about white-vs-light rye. Well, it's complicated. What isn't when it comes to rye? The recipe calls for "white rye flour". This is one end of the complete Ginsburg spectrum on page 24 of the book, which shows six types of rye: white rye flour, medium rye flour, dark rye flour, fine rye meal, medium rye meal, and coarse rye meal.

Now, I don't actually have any rye flour in the house at all, just a 25-lb bag of rye berries and a Nutrimill Harvest grain mill. I realized this might present a problem because, as I'm sure you know, the mill has only one adjustment on the coarse-to-fine spectrum. I cannot dial in the amount of ash and protein. And so I spent a long, enjoyable evening making many test grinds and comparing the results to the photos on page 24. I finally settled on five different grind settings plus a sixth, consisting of the finest grind setting plus sifting through a 40-mesh sieve strainer. So that is what I am using for "white rye flour". Surely not exactly right, but I hope not too far off the mark.

Now some quick answers to questions in 2b:

- no chlorinated water was added because buttermilk is the only liquid in this recipe

- no salt in the sponge, just in the final mix

- buttermilk was from the store, and not wildly fresh at that (it was in the fridge for a week but smelled fine)

- pretty sure it was low-fat

- sponge did not visibly budge so I don't think it rose too much

- sponge was fermented at a steady 73 F, very close to the 68-72 F recommended in the book

- the wheat flour was at room temperature (btw thanks for the interesting info about KA AP, I had no idea)

Ok, that's all for now. Oh wait, the yeast! I have been using the same package of Saf Instant Yeast that I've used constantly since I bought it two years ago. It works wonderfully and consistently.

Ok, that's really all for now. Looking forward to more questions and, eventually, some final answers!




idaveindy's picture

1. ok, setting aside the baking vessel. sounds like you have no problem using a DO, and know what to do.

2.  No rise in the sponge. there's our clue.  Something is likely going wrong there.

It's either the flour's "fault", or the buttermilk's, or the yeast's.

a. flour. I don't have a complete mental picture of your milling process yet. did you do several tests to find which "one" setting works, or did you mill/sift/mill/sift/etc, putting the same substance multiple times through the mill, i.e., recursively ?

DanAyo recently  did a test where multiple passes of wheat through the mill really damaged the starch and resulted in poor rise. 2 or 3 didn't hurt much, but 5 really "killed" the flour.

Was the crumb of this last loaf acceptable for 50% rye?  If so, you didn't damage the rye flour too badly.  and, the additional 50% white wheat flour would have saved the day anyway.

You said you loved the taste of this loaf, so I'm guessing the flour will be okay.

More importantly:  Did the sponge bubble, and lose the gas because it was too weak to hold on to the bubbles?  Or did it not create bubbles at all?   If the former, blame the flour, but that would not explain low rise later with strong wheat flour. If the latter, we turn to the buttermilk/yeast.

Technically, and I know this because I home-mill, we can never get "white" flour out of a home-mill and sifting operation.  But the "partial" or "high extraction" you get might just work. And, because it still tasted good, i think it's worth a shot, and I know most of us home-millers love to tinker.

I know it's subjective, but separately/apart from the look of the crumb, how was the "mouth-feel" of this last loaf?

b.  I'd say buy some full fat buttermilk and try a sponge again with same flour processed the same way, same yeast. (Lets only change one variable.)

I don't remember the detailed ingredients, but a while back, i read the ingredients of both low-fat and full-fat Kroger brand buttermilk standing there in the dairy aisle, and thought the low-fat was full of "junk", at least obviously  more "junk" than the full fat.

IN MY OPINION: and I've baked biscuits with both...,  low-fat buttermilk is _imitation_ buttermilk, not _real_ buttermilk.

also, does Ginsberg give any alternatives such as plain (full fat) yogurt mixed with milk?

c. Yeast. Up to you whether you test the yeast before the buttermilk test, after, or concurrent.  If you do, pls use the exact amounts in that link so you get a quantitative comparison.  Yeast does not die all at once, it slowly fades away. If you kept the container tightly closed in fridge, probably ok.  Stored at room temp... it could have diminished some. Frozen, I think users DanAyo and ciabatta said it needs to be vacuum sealed.

DanAyo just tested his frozen vacuum-sealed years old yeast, using that quantitative method, and discovered it was not as powerful as before, and "retired it" for a fresher batch.

We're getting closer.  

prime suspect: low fat buttermilk. Second place: yeast. third: flour. 

Steve E's picture
Steve E

More answers:

2a. Sorry, I didn't explain my milling experiment very well. I simply meant that I did a number of single-pass grinds at different settings and visually compared the results to Ginsberg's photos on page 24. I used the same setting (the finest possible, just before the stones start clicking) to create something close to his "medium rye flour". To make his "white rye flour" I additionally passed this flour once through a 40 sieve. Btw, I haven't experimented with multiple-pass grinds. Do you recommend that to create a finer grind?

As to the crumb, it's hard to say. It was pretty tight but I don't really know what to expect from 50/50 rye/wheat.

The sponge did not visibly bubble even after its overnight ferment. Some slight expansion, though. According to your reasoning, this implicates the yeast and/or buttermilk, right?

2b. I totally agree: I'll try again with full-fat buttermilk. And no, Ginsburg does not suggest yogurt as an alternative.

2c. I did the yeast test this morning, following the instructions you sent very precisely. Not sure if I can attach a photo to this comment but I'll describe the result in words: after 10 minutes, the foamy yeast mixture rose almost to the 1-cup mark (on average it was at the 7/8 mark) and had a rounded top. So perhaps it is indeed slightly underpowered. At any rate, it's getting low so I'll order another today.

Prime suspects: those three, in that order, sound very plausible to me.





idaveindy's picture

Here's Dan's report, with photos, of his mutli-pass (mill/sift/mill/sift/etc.):

Be sure to read the comments, and follow a previous discussion in the comments where he first brought it up: Dan is one of my bread heros.

idaveindy's picture

If the solution is fixing the buttermilk or yeast, the next "challenge" could be the dough rising too much because of enzyme activity due to the small branny bits making it through the seive.

idaveindy's picture

This could also cause less rise:

To Ginsberg, "light rye" has more bran and germ than "white rye."


More bran means a faster rise due to more enzymes making more sugar out of starch.

Hence... if his formula called for "light", and you actually used "white" that could also totally (by itself, absent all other factors) cause slower/less rise.

Ginsberg is the owner of

Here's something he wrote about the confusing naming conventions of rye flour.  Basically, there are no standards, so each miller uses their own terms.

idaveindy's picture

Now that I know you're a home-miller, I'm curious what you meant by the "first clear" flour:  "... so I used a 50:50 mix of first clear flour ..."

was it:

a) a purchased commercial flour labeled as "first clear"?

b) Home-milled in one mill/sift pass.

c) Home-milled in multiple passes of milling/sifting.



PS. From what I've seen from the other home-millers here on TFL, a typical explanation of their home-milled  flour would be "home-milled Hard White Spring wheat, at setting X (of Y) on my Brand Z mill." And if sifted: "sifted through a ## sieve."

Steve E's picture
Steve E

The "first clear flour" was a 5-lb bag of flour I ordered from (Ginsburg's online store). My shipping confirmation shows that it was "Miller first clear flour" but that no longer appears on the website.

P.S. Good to know about explaining home-milled flour. Will do!