Adventures in Rye Sourdough Bread

My mother rarely baked bread, but we always kept some at home. The loaf of choice was rye with or without caraway seeds. It had a doughy feel and it was what I brought to school every day with peanut butter. We got it from the local kosher bakery.

I miss that  bread, as all I can find around here is white bread, pita and whole wheat. So on a whim, I picked up a bag of organic, stone-ground rye flour.

A couple of weeks (months?) passed and the flour remained in the freezer. If I was already going to use rye, I wanted sourdough, so I began to look for recipes. But they all involved making a rye sourdough starter from scratch, and that seemed complicated.

I should have known better. After all, making a sourdough starter takes almost no time at all, just patience and a little maintenance. And on the Cooking Manager Facebook page, readers Jimi (Denmark) and Nina (Germany) gave me great tips, like starting the rye sourdough with some of the wheat sourdough starter I keep on hand in the fridge.

I put a little of the wheat sourdough in a jar, added water and rye flour, and by the next day I was ready to go. I added more water and rye flour.  By the day after that, the dough had risen so much it threatened to overflow the bowl I was using.

I set aside some of this sponge, I guess you would call it, for next time and poured the rest into a bigger bowl and added wheat flour, more rye flour, water, salt and whole oats. Jimi recommends adding a variety of seeds but I decided to keep mine plain. Anyway, I didn’t have most of them around. You can see the complete recipe on his site.

The dough ended up sitting several hours longer than necessary, but it didn’t make the bread tangy like I’ve experienced with wheat sourdough. The only problem was with baking. With wheat sourdough bread or muffins I’ve learned to let the bread get really brown on the outside. Otherwise the inside will be too soft. The crust is still the best part, even when well-done. But when I took out the rye, I found it was still soft in the middle. I put it back in the oven a couple of times until it was done inside as well. The crust didn’t burn, but it was quite thick.

Here’s what Jimi had to say about that:

“Usually I bake them for one hour at 200 degrees centigrade, then remove them from the mold, turn off the heat and allow them to bake/dry another hour in the oven.
Then, let them sit at least until completely cold, wrap them in a cloth overnight allowing them to set.
If you don’t like the crust hard, just put them in a plastic bag, the moisture from the bread will soften the crust..
Keeps for 4-5 days on the counter, up to a couple of weeks in the fridge.”

The bread still came out wonderfully, including the crust, and much better than what I remember from my childhood.

Making Sourdough Starter

To make recipes with sourdough, you’ll need a starter. Fortunately you can make it at home very cheaply. I have written instructions for making your own sourdough starter with wheat, and the process for rye is similar. I’ve also uploaded images of the ripening sourdough at various stages.

Recipe: Sourdough Rye Loaf

Summary: A tasty wheat-rye sourdough bread, not tangy, with detailed instructions. Based on recipe by Jimi Thor Jorgensen.


  • 100 cc (3 oz.) rye sourdough starter
  • 300 cc (10 oz) water
  • 180 g rye flour
  • 330 g dried whole/cut/split rye seeds (I used oats)
  • 600 ml boiling water.
  • 400 ml lukewarm water
  • 500 g coarse rye flour
  • 500 g wheat flour
  • 20 g fine salt


  1. Combine starter, 300 ml water, and 180 grams of flour. Let sit overnight in a bowl covered with a cloth. Allow room for rising.
  2. Combine the oats or rye seeds with the boiling water and let sit for a few hours or overnight.
  3. Combine the starter mixture, seeds and water along with the other ingredients. Let set for 4-5 hours in a large bowl covered with a damp cloth.
  4. The dough will be very sticky. I stretched and kneaded the dough a few times.
  5. Add to 2-3 greased loaf pans, allowing room for expansion.
  6. Bake at 200° C (400° F) for 1 hour until crust is dark brown. Turn off oven, remove loaves from molds and return to oven to dry for another hour.

Preparation time: 20 minutes over several days

Cooking time: 1-2 hours

Diet tags: Low calorie

Number of servings (yield): 12

 You may also enjoy:

Make Your Own Sourdough Starter at Home

Sourdough Muffins

11 Tips for Painless Kitchen Cleanup



  1. Ms. Krieger says

    I love rye sourdough with caraway seeds! This post makes me so happy. It was Cooking Manager that first got me going on sourdough at all, of course. Thank you Hannah!

    It sounds as if your bread has more rye flour than the kind I make. I will try it! I describe a different style of bread below, with 40pc whole rye and 60pc white bread flour.

    Some of my own tips…
    1. You don’t really have to use a rye sourdough starter. I just use a bit of whatever “Doughy Wild” is still sitting in the fridge. (Yes, I named my starter. It’s like a pet.)

    2. I use 40pc whole rye flour and 60pc white bread flour. Otherwise the dough doesn’t develop enough gluten strength to rise and stays lumpy and dense.

    3. You mentioned your bread wasn’t that tangy. To give the bread a tangier flavor, the sourdough organisms need more time to work. I mix a few Tablespoons of starter with half the rye flour + enough water to make a stiff paste (stiff is important…it will encourage lactic acid flavors instead of yeasty flavors. You want more of a lactic acid character with rye bread,) the morning of the day before I bake. That night I add the other half of the rye flour to the paste + a little more water that evening, and by the morning of the baking day the rye flour is soured and has all sorts of interesting rye flavor. Then I mix in the white flour, the seeds and the salt and a little commercial baking yeast and more water, knead it a lot to develop the gluten. And then let the mixture ferment an hour or so. (I can give you the exact recipe if you want. It’s from Jeff Hamelman’s book BREAD.)

    The morning of the day I bake I divide the dough, shape the loaves and again let them rise only an hour or so. Otherwise they sort of collapse in the oven and get too dense (because of the rye flour – it can over-rise very easily.)

    I bake them on a cookie sheet pan covered in semolina or coarse corn flour (to prevent sticking) at about ~460F for 40minutes, then like Jim says, let them sit overnight to develop good crumb structure.

    Yum yum!!!!

  2. Ms. Krieger says

    agh. that comment was incoherent. Just know I love rye sourdough 🙂 And I’m going to try your recipe!

  3. Hannah, this is great. I hope very much to try it.

    Ms. Krieger, is this the recipe you are referring to?

  4. Ms. Krieger says


    Yes, that is the recipe. It makes a classic Jewish rye-style loaf much like Hannah remembers. You can use whole rye flour for the 40pc and it works beautifully.

    I recently tried a rye-walnut bread from that same section of Hamelman’s book. I was skeptical, but the flavors are good and it, too, works beautifully and is delicious.

  5. I just bought a small (very small and probably expensive) bag of rye. I will go mix a little up with some water and some of my young whole wheat starter now. Thanks for he tip!