Adventures With Alternative Flours: Rye Bread, Attempt 1

I’ve been saying for a while that I’m interested in baking with different types of flours – whole wheat, rye, potato.  I wanted to branch out, and really try something new.  It didn’t go as well as I’d hoped.

I used this recipe for Deli-Style Rye from Cook’s Illustrated.


  • 2/3 cup rye flakes (optional)
  • 2 3/4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour or bread flour

Rye Bread  

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour or bread flour
  • 3 1/2 cups rye flour, such as Pillsbury medium rye or King Arthur light rye
  • 2 tablespoons caraway seeds
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon table salt
  • Cornmeal for sprinkling


  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon milk



For the sponge: Heat oven to 350 degrees; toast rye flakes on small baking sheet until fragrant and golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Mix water, yeast, honey, rye flakes, and flour in the large mixing bowl of a heavy-duty mixer to form a thick batter. Cover with plastic wrap, and let sit until bubbles form over entire surface, at least 2 1/2 hours. (Can stand at room temperature overnight.)

  • I found rye flakes in the bulk section of our local co-op grocery store, and I was excited to have them – I wanted this bread to be as rye-y as possible. And they look cool, too, right? IMG_1209

My sponge, mixed together and ready to rest, safely sitting in what I thought was a large enough bowl:


Careful when you make this sponge, though.  Keep it in a safe place, away from small pets and children, because it will grow like the amazing blob and I’m pretty sure destroy anything in its path.


This is a 4 quart bowl, people!  This sponge grew to an alarming size.  I was scared to be alone with it, I wasn’t sure I could fight it off before it absorbed the kitchen and me with it.  Turns out it was pretty easy, I just gently pushed it down with a spoon. Kind of an anticlimactic.  Sorry.

For the bread:


1.  Stir all-purpose flour, 3 1/4 cups rye flour, caraway seeds, oil, and salt into the sponge. With machine fitted with dough hook and set on speed 2, knead dough, adding the remaining 1/4 cup rye flour once the dough becomes cohesive; knead until smooth yet sticky, about 5 minutes. With moistened hands, transfer dough to a well-floured counter, knead it into a smooth ball, then place in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at warm room temperature until doubled in size, 1 1/4 to 2 hours.


Even stirring the dough was difficult.  This was the first point of many during this bread that I thought to myself, “Huh.  This does not look or feel right. Well, whatever, better forge ahead!”

Kneading the dough was almost impossible.  I had to bread it up into smaller pieces to attempt to knead.  They looked like this:


I was able to knead these smaller pieces, sort of, but the dough was so tough, it was almost impossible.  I managed to create these small round balls of dough, so I would have two loaves.


They barely rose.  They got a little bit bigger, but not much.  And usually after rising, dough will be easier to handle and more malleable.  This also did not happen.  Again, I thought to myself, “Huh. This does not look or feel right. Well, whatever, better forge ahead!”  Moving on to step two.

2.  Generously sprinkle cornmeal on a large baking sheet.Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface and press dough into 12×9-inch rectangle. (For 2 smaller loaves, halve the dough, pressing each portion into a 9×6 1/2-inch rectangle.) With one of the long sides facing you, roll dough into a 12-inch (or 9-inch) log, seam side up. Pinch seam with fingertips to seal. Turn dough seam side down, and with fingertips, seal ends by tucking dough into the loaf. Carefully transfer shaped loaf (or loaves) to prepared baking sheet, cover loosely with greased plastic wrap, and let proof until dough looks bloated and dimply, and starts to spread out, 60 to 75 minutes. Adjust oven rack to lower center position and heat oven to 425 degrees.


Evan’s attempt at shaping a rectangle of dough is on the left…needs work!


Loaves right before baking – they were so dense and so heavy!  At this point, both Evan and I both seriously considered throwing in the towel and just tossing out this dough.  But we’d already come so far, so we thought we should at least bake them, and see what happened.  We skipped the glaze, though.  For bread you fully believe will be terrible, what is the point in making it look pretty?

3.  For the glaze: Whisk egg white and milk together and brush over sides and top of loaf (loaves).

4.  Make 6 or 7 slashes, 1/2-inch-deep, on dough top(s) with a serrated knife, single-edge razor blade, or lamé. Bake for 15 minutes, then lower oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted in center of the loaf registers 200 degrees, 15 to 20 minutes for small loaves and 25 to 30 for larger loaf. Transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Slice and serve.

Our final products:

IMG_1233 IMG_1236 IMG_1237

Thin slices of this bread, with a selection of hog salami and soft and hard cheeses…maybe the most delicious home made charcuterie to date.


What Went Wrong?!

I’d like to take a moment to welcome everyone back to the ‘what went wrong this time?’ section of this blog.  There were a few possibilities, as well as the possibility that maybe nothing went wrong at all.  While these loaves of rye bread were best described as bricks, they were actually pretty tasty.  They had to be warmed to be softened, or cut thinly and toasted, with plenty of butter, but they were absolutely edible and pretty good.  However, Evan and I suspect that the sheer volume of caraway seeds might be responsible for that.  If something is flavored with plenty of caraway, how can it really be bad?  But, this rye bread was not ideal.  It wasn’t the perfect rye toast that I wanted with my eggs in the morning.  It was good, but it wasn’t what I wanted.  Let’s think about why.

The Flour.  The Cook’s Illustrated recipe noted that we should use a light or medium rye flour.  I couldn’t find any.  So I bought the only kind I could find, which was Whole Grain Rye Flour from Hodgson Mill.  And I bought 5 pounds of it, because it seemed like a good idea.  Whole grain rye flour includes the bran and germ, whereas a light rye flour has the germ and bran removed.  This gives for a lighter texture and density…things that I could have benefitted from.  So maybe after I find a way to work through the rye flour I have left, I’ll make it my business to find a light rye flour.  This particular recipe also had a lot of rye flour in it – there are other recipes that call for a smaller proportion of rye, and that might be a way I could continue to use the flour I have.

The lack of a stand mixer and my poor upper body strength.  Even if it was the flour’s fault that the dough was so dense and dry, it doesn’t change the fact that I could barely knead it.  I don’t know if a stand mixer would have helped – it was that dry and tough.  Evan found a review of this recipe online that said one person actually burned out the gears of their stand mixer trying to mix this bread.  The dough was also particularly dry, a lot drier than the recipe suggested it should be.  That only made kneading it harder.

So.  What do we take away from this weeks foray into alternative flours?  Two loaves of bread that were just okay.  That actually made delicious charcuterie.  But the rye bread could be better.  I was bummed about these loaves, because I really had my hopes up.  I told Evan I needed a little bit of space from alternative flours, so I want to make a few other loaves before attempting another rye.  But I will definitely come back to it – I have to, I have almost an entire 5 pound bag of rye flour, after all.


This entry was posted in Baking, Bread, Flour, Rye and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Adventures With Alternative Flours: Rye Bread, Attempt 1

  1. That’s a shame it didn’t work out the way you wanted! If you decide to have another go, try reversing the measurements for the wheat bread flour and the rye, ie 1 1/2 cup of rye and 3 1/2 bread flour – it will still have a lovely rye flavour but won’t be as compact.
    I love rye bread, need to give this recipe a go at some point as I’ve never tried making one with a sponge starter before 🙂

    • msmith10 says:

      thanks! i will try that. i also found a recipe for a slow rise rye bread, which looks a lot easier and doesn’t use a sponge, either. maybe that will help!

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