Introduction: Pure Rye Bread

About: Polymath and idiot. Mostly idiot.

If you don't want your bread to be nothing more than solid cotton candy, then this recipe provides you with a very nutritious and tasty food. Rye has some advantages over wheat when it comes to food ingredients, but takes some knowledge to bake it into a soft bread. In this instructable I will first give you a short version how to bake this delicious bread, then explain all the details including particularised instructions about soaker, malting, prolonged proofing, steaming, sourdough starter and a little history. Then later the recipe in a long version.






Falling Heat


Recipe long version

Step 1: Recipe Short Version:


  • 200 grams whole rye flour
  • 120 grams sourdough
  • 90 grams soaker
  • 100 ml water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 spoon vegetable oil
  • spices

Prepare the sourdough and the soaker on the previous day.

Mix flour, salt, 100ml water, add soaker and sourdough.

Knead 4 minutes, let rest 5 minutes.

Knead briefly again, put in lightly-oiled bowl.

Let dough ferment covered for 4 hours.

Let dough rise for 2 hours in a floured banneton, dapple the top with oil and cover.

Preheat oven to 260°C (500°F).

Score the dough, after sliding the bread into the oven, steam 3 to 4 times every 30 secounds.

Lower the heat to 220°C (430°F) and bake for 20 minutes.

Lower the heat to 200°C (390°F) and take out after 25 minutes.

Let cool down for 1 hour and let rest in storage until the next day.

Step 2: Bread Baking in Germany:

"To-day I bake, to-morrow brew," these are the famous words in the German fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin. They give us a little hint about the handling of yeast in older times. Yeast wasn't scientific knowledge and baking was reliant on spontaneous fermenting by wild propagating yeast. But the people knew, if the bread was good, then they could make a good beer the next day with the same starter. In the first picture, provided exclusively by my mate Ben from the BioBus, you can see yeast under a microscope. This knowledge has developed into a huge diversity not only of our famous German beer, but also of our bread. Baking in Germany is part of our intangible cultural heritage registered at unesco and we have more than 3200 different types of bread. The making of these many different types of bread, in the secound picture a typical assortment for breakfast in my family, requires more knowledge than just mixing-kneading-baking. Especially when it comes to rye, which is more popular than wheat in Germany. Rye has more calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium and fibers than wheat while less calories and fat.

In the following steps I will try my best to translate the practices and techniques needed to make a good rye bread.

Step 3: Sourdough:

Rye contains more than twice as much (8%) pentosane than wheat (3%), which prevent the formation of a gluten matrix in the bread. It is also rich in amylase which reduces the size of starch granules. With a good sourdough we have lactobacillales to reduce the pentosane and increase the acidity to stop the enzyme amylase from working.

Sourdough has a distincive acidulous flavour and helps the rheology of the dough. The dough process can be prolonged to increase the aroma and nutritional value. This recipe is in fact an easy one, there are sourdough recipes with up to 4 pre-dough and pre-ferment stages.

In the picture you see the 2 options available at health shops, liquid sourdough for instant use and dried sourdough starter.

Step 4: Sourdough 2:

A good bread dough should be fermented anyway to destroy the phytic acid in the flour. You probably heard that eating too many raw eggs can give you a vitamin B deficiancy. The egg contains avidin which is a storage of vitamins for the fetus in the egg, since it is closed from the environment. While the fetus develops it degenerates the avidin to gain access to the vitamin B. Avidin is so prone to connect to vitamin B, that if you eat raw eggs it can actually collect all the vitamin B in your digestive system and get it discharged. Just like the egg, a seed is also a closed system, but as a plant it is able to produce all the molecules - that we call vitamins - by itself. It needs minerals though. And the minerals are stored in the seed with the phytic acid. Avidin gets destroyed by heat, but the phytic acid does not. Only bacteria can destroy the acid and this is why only ruminant animals get access to the minerals in seeds and nuts. The other bread type to destroy the phytic acid is pumpernickel which is steamed for at least 16 hours. If you read in a recipe, "no knead", "easy" or "quick", then the result is just something like solid cotton candy - not as nutritious like a good sourdough bread and probably with huge holes inside. Now of course there is some controversy about this, because research institutes funded by the white bread industry (conspiracy alert!) argue the same bacteria are also in our digestive system. Yes, but if you can optimise it, why not?

Step 5: Soaker

Another kind of pre-dough is the soaker, a concoction of flour, shred, whole meal or grain, mixed with water of different temperatures. They increase the water absorption in the dough and therefor extend the shelf life. Spontaneous acidification deactivates unwanted enzymes of microorganisms and activates the enzymes we want for a better aroma. The hotter the water the more water is soaked into the grain but the lesser the activity of microorganisms. The latter can be influenced with adding small bits of sourdough to increase or by sparsely adding salt to decrease. The salt will trigger a plasmolyse for the microorganisms, the cell membranes break up and release the enzymes into the mixture.

Soaker: Mix grain and lukewarm water, let it rest for up to 20 hours at room temperature. Usually they are prepared the day before baking to soak through the night. Doubles the volume and adds a strong taste.

Scald: Mix grain and warm water between 50°C and 70°C (120°F - 160°F), let it rest for 3 hours. Denaturation of enzymes happens at 78°C (170°F), the grain will gain a bit more than double the volume and add more aroma.

Mash: Mix grain with hot water slightly below boiling point, 90°C (195°F), let it rest for 5 hours. Water absorption will be at 200% and tripple the volume, giving it a herb taste.

Step 6: Malting

Malt is the best nutrition for yeast which is why it is used in beer brewing. Maltose is produced when the germ of a seed detects germination conditions. It releases amylase to split the long polysaccharide chains in the starch into the disaccharide maltose. The disaccharide is much easier to use for the yeast and stimulates proliferation. With the sourdough we deactivate the amylase and therefor prepare some malt as compensational feed pellets for the yeast. In the picture you can also see a bottle of malt beer, that you can swap for the water in the recipe, if you don't have access to malt from a bakery or health shop, it will colour your bread darker though. Otherwise, malt is easy to produce from grain and I am going to show you how:

Attention: There are 2 types of malt you can buy, with active enzymes and without. The active enzymes is very useful for whole wheat bread, while a pure rye bread contains an abundance of enzymes. The latter would become soggy with additionally active enzymes from malt. Therefor we parch the grain above 80°C to denature the enzymes.

Step 7: Malting 2:

It is very helpful if you have a sprouting device, but not needed. Soak the grain for 12 hours in water. Then either put it onto a sprouting device like in the picture, or just leave them in the cup without water for 12 hours. Then wash them in water, leave them in the cup for another 12 hours. Reapeat this another 2 times then you should see them sprouting. In the beginning there are 3 lucent white "roots", the 2 lower ones going to the sides are actually roots while the one in the center going upwards will be the stem. Make sure you take them off before the stem changes to green. If the grain is old and some germ faster then others, then take those with the 3 white roots and dry them on a paper towel.

Step 8: Malting 3:

You don't need a kiln or oast house to dry the grain. Preheat your stove to 130°C (270°F) and parch the grain for 30 minutes. If you can see some humidity in the stove, either around the grain or at the glass, open the door a bit and parch for 40 minutes. Do not exceed 45 minutes or the malt will have a bitter taste.

Step 9: Malting 4:

The grain should look dark and the roots should be dried-up. Use a coffee grinder to mill the parched grain. It is actually easier than you might think and doesn't take much force. Use a fine meshed sifter afterwards to get rid of shell parts. The malt powder can be stored in a jar for a long time.

Step 10: Scoring/Cutting

Cutting the loaf helps to shape the bread and keep it in shape. The gases produced by the yeast and bacteria will expand and leave the bread when the temperature rises. But the crust on the surface of the bread develops at the same time. This blooming can be controlled with decorative and useful cuts on the surface before we start baking. Cuts on top alongside the loaf will make it expand in width, while cuts crosswise will make it expand in length. This is why baguettes are cut in a diagonal way, then the loaf has the highest increase in volume possible. For a round bread there are cuts on top which increase the height of the bread and cross section cuts which expand in all directions. In picture 3 you can see how the yin-yang cut basically turned the circular loaf into an oval. Many people like to use a lame for cutting but I got an old straight razor blade for that, which means I can make a clean straight cut without bending my hand. Right next to the cut the bread will develop a grigne, a lip of crust that moves away when the bread blooms at the cut and ruptures.

Step 11: Steaming:

For a crispy crust you should consider steaming your bread at the beginning of the baking process. The steam condenses on the skin of the dough, coagulating the proteins and caramelising the starch immediately, while cooling down the now developing dark crust. Dextrin flocculates from the starch and gives a shiny crust that is permeably and tasty. This process was discoverd in the geothermal springs of volcanically abundant Iceland, natural baking ovens.

The stove needs to preheat for at least 15 minutes when the given temperature has been reached, to assure every section has the high temperature needed and only the lukewarm bread dough will initiate the condensation of the steam. An oven thermometer like in picture 2 can help to compare the temperature shown on the display on your stove and inside.

Step 12: Steaming 2:

Steaming can be done in many ways. You can put a cast iron pan on the hearth with a wet dishcloth or lava stones. Professionals even use bowls with nails (you need 1.5kg for every 50ml water, that's around 300 nails). What matters is the surface, to produce immediately as much steam as possible, like in a sauna. Alternatively you can use a spray bottle on a lower baking tray. Steaming is not done with a bain marie because we need a sudden impact of heat on the crust. After the steaming the stove door needs to be opened shortly to let the steam vent.

If the surface of the dough has been treated with lye, egg or other coatings, then steaming should not be used.

Step 13: Falling Heat:

I could not find the correct english expression for this procedure, and I looked into many professional books and web forums. When you bake with falling heat you can prolong the baking time because you avoid the browning of the crust in early stages. Most bakeries have an oven which automatically lowers the heat. During the first 10 minutes baking a bread there will be oven spring, the microorganisms hasten their production before dying from heat exposure and all the gases they produced will expand the gluten matrix inside of our bread. This oven spring is the bulk of the expansion your bread will have during the whole baking procedure and it will also harden the gluten matrix. A very high temperature at the beginning will assure that we maximise this expansion and the falling heat will assure that we don't turn our loaf in to a lump of coal while we maximise the caramelisation and maillard reaction on the crust. But do not use a higher temperature than needed or you will have a "water ring" inside of your bread. The outside of the loaf becomes static before the inside can expand and will press against this barrier which keeps the moisture.

Step 14: Brushing:

Right after taking the fresh bread out of the oven, brushing the hot crust with some water will make it even crispier. It has to be done immediately with a pastry brush after you open the stove and pull the baking tray out and it must not be too much water. Just enough to let it evaporate instantly. Right after baking the bread the crust has a moisture content between 5-10%. The crumb on the inside has 50%. After letting the bread cool down, it is recommended to wait until the next day before you slice the bread, to let the moisture content converge. If you slice the bread, always store it on the cut surface to avoid losing moisture through the crumb. The bread becomes stale faster between -7°C and +7°C, so either freeze it or store it at room temperature in breathable clay containers.

There are other brushing techniques before the loaf gets baked, but this is called glazing and is done with egg wash or milk.

Step 15: Recipe Long Version:

After the all the explanations let's bake the bread with a full description. In case you forgot the ingredients:

  • 200 grams whole rye flour
  • 120 grams sourdough
  • 90 grams soaker
  • 100 ml water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 spoon vegetable oil
  • spices


  • Banneton
  • Bowl
  • 2 jars
  • Stove
  • Silicon mat
  • Kitchen scale

Step 16: Sourdough Day 1:

Sourdough can be bought but it is easy and interesting to make it yourself. Take a beaker with a lid and put 50 grams of rye flour in there. Add 50 ml of water. The first mix will not become a homogenous dough ball. It will actually look dried out. Close the beaker with the lid and put in a warm place. Since my parents have retired and live around the corner I have a perfect place with 30°C - behind their TV. Just kidding, only because they extend themselves from taking care of their garden during the day.

Step 17: Sourdough Day 2-4

On the following days you will always add 50 grams of rye flour and 50 ml of water. Test the smell of the sourdough. You need to make sure you have lactic acid bacteria and not acetic acid bacteria. If you take a look at the molecule structure of lactic acid and acetic acid you can see they are quite similar. But the smell of vinegar is distinctive and indicates a failed sourdough starter. Start all over again, maybe you have to increase the hygiene or buy better products.

Step 18: Sourdough All Set:

When your sourdough has oily looking bubbles on top and smells fruity, then the lactic acid bacteria are alive and kicking. In the secound picture you can see why it is important to cut the top of a bread. Because of the principle of the lowest resistance inside of your dough you will have huge bubbles which need to vent. And huge holes in your bread are a sign of bad quality, particularly undesirable if you spread butter.

Step 19: Soaker:

I used 60 grams of rye grains, shredded and mixed them with 120 ml of water in a jar to soak over night. We only need half of that but because of buoyancy the good parts swim on top. Since it was a "bio" product without any fungicides and pesticides, the prevalent yeast gave the soaker foamy bubbles on top after a short while.

Step 20: Mixing the Dough:

Now that our pre-dough and pre-ferment is ready we can mix the dough. Measure 200 grams of rye flour in a bowl. Add 90 grams of the soaker, a half teaspoon of salt, a half cup of lukewarm water (100ml), add 120 grams of the sourdough and a spoon of malt. If desired, you can add spices like caraway, aniseed, fennel or cilantro.

Step 21: Kneading:

The dough needs to be kneaded for 4 minutes, and then let it rest for 5 minutes.

Step 22: Fermenting:

Knead it briefly into a ball, oil the surface of a bowl and lay the dough inside. Cover it with a dishcloth and let it rest for 4 hours. Now the lactic acid bacteria are working.

As you can see I had to use a very old bowl because all my new bowls are made from metal. It would be counterproductive to use a bowl of metal because of the oligodynamic effect.

Step 23: Benching:

Flour a banneton and put the dough inside, do not knead it. Dapple the top with oil to avoid drying out and cover with a dishcloth for at least 2 hours. Now the yeast is working. If you want to bake the dough the next morning, put the banneton in a big plastic bag and then in your fridge for retarding.

Step 24: Placing:

Before you take your dough out of the banneton, preheat your stove to 260°C (500°F). Take your baking tray out and prepare with parchment paper or a silicon mat. Turn the banneton upside down in the mid of your baking tray and remove. There is your glorious rye loaf.

If the loaf was in your fridge over night, it needs at least 3 hours to achieve room temperature.

Step 25: Preparing Baking:

Preheat the stove to 260°C (500°F) and take the baking tray out to prepare it with parchment paper or a silicon mat. You need a secound baking tray underneath for the steaming. Score the bread with a cross cut and small cuts between them. Fill a cup with water to a half.

Step 26: Baking:

If the stove has the desired 260°C (500°F) wait at least 15 minutes. Now your stove is ready for baking and steaming. Slide the bread into the stove and spill the cup with water into the baking tray underneath. Close the stove for 30 secounds and repeat this procedure 3 to 4 times but take less water every time. Alternatively use a spray bottle and stop when the water doesn't evaporate immediately anymore. The gap of your cuts will open up as you can see how the shape of the silicon mat has changed after the crust developed.

After the steaming, change the temperature to 220°C (430°F) and wait 20 minutes.

Then change it to 200°C (390°F) and bake for another 25 minutes.

When changing the temperature down for the secound time do not wait until the temperature has lowered, change it according to the time schedule. This way we simulate a temperature profile only a professional oven of a bakery can control.

Step 27: Knocking Test:

When the bread is done you should knock on the bottom of it. If your loaf sounds hollow then it is done baking, the crust is strong and the crumb has built a mesh. If the loaf sounds muffled then the dough is still clinging to the crust and you need to bake it for longer. Otherwise let it cool down for 1 hour on a baking rack.

Step 28: Weight Loss Test:

When baking a bread a part of the water evaporates and the loaf loses weight. The weight difference can be between 5% and 25%, if you steam up to 30%. A common wheat bread loses 12%. As we use a soaker we bring more water into the dough and will have a higher loss in the result. The starting product has 200g flour, 120g sourdough, 90g soaker, 100g water = 510 grams. The final result has 414 grams and we lost 19%. If you bake your bread regularly yourself you should check these parameter to adapt your recipe to the season of the year.

Step 29: Degustation:

The characteristics of a bread can be described by: shape, crust, elasticity, pores, taste.

Shape: The loaf has not increased its size after the fermentation period. The low round shape gives perfect slices to bite on. The cuttings had not much impact on the size.

Crust: Very aromatic and crispy but not hard. Enough to stimulate release of saliva while chewing. In fact it has a 2 layer crust, an orange crust due to caramelization and beneath a grey crust from the maillard-reaction.

Elasticity: The spongy crumb gets back to its original shape immediately.

Pores: The pores are small to very small and well distributed.

Taste: Strong but tasty, slightly acidulous, malty and filling.

The pure rye bread is not for people with false teeth or for little babies. The bread is perfect with cold cut or raw meat, but also with jam or avocado. The small pores keep the butter and spread well distributed. Try it with a bitter dark beer, and the 2 will combine to a mutually perfection.

Step 30: Comparison:

Usually people in Germany prefer a wheat-rye mix, called grey bread. The wheat gives more structure. The characteristiscs compared to the pure rye bread are:

Shape: The loaf doubled in size while the size is determined by the cuttings.

Crust: The crust is mainly due to carmelisation and has a smokey aroma, a little bit floury.

Elasticity: The crumb is very spongy and has medium softness.

Pores: The pores are small with some medium sized close to the cuts and at the outer bottom.

Taste: It is medium strong and has medium sweetness.

An allrounder for any occasion.

Step 31: End:

The bread is ready to be served after 1 day of resting and can last up to 12 days.

I hope my explanations were comprehensible and complete. This is my entry for the bread challenge 2017, if you liked it, you can help me by clicking on the vote button. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. I can give out some codes for premium time for those who want to complete the bread class and gain even more knowledge about bread making. Just let me know in the comment section.

Thank you in advance, and enjoy your bread!

Bread Challenge 2017

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