Perfecting your rye loaves with our recipe

Readers have asked us why their rye breads and pumpernickels seem to have so much more “whole-grain” character than what they remember from childhood (rye and pumpernickel are pictured here in Mark Luinenburg’s beautiful shot from our book). While whole-grain character is nice, it isn’t the traditional approach to rye breads (at least for those available in the US; some European rye styles are very high in bran). The reason for our readers’ results is simple: most rye flour that’s readily sold in US supermarkets is very high in bran. You’ll get a less “whole-grain” result if you use a lower-bran (fiber) rye flour, usually labled as “medium rye.” Medium rye produces breads with a gorgeous custard crumb and noticeably less whole grain character. The hole structure is more “open” as well.

For our book, we decided to avoid this complexity and just keep the total proportion of rye low, but if you’re a rye bread fanatic, read on.

In every market we’ve surveyed, it appears that Pillsbury has stopped distribuing its medium rye product. In U.S. supermarkets, that generally means you have two choices: Hodgson Mill All Natural Stone Ground Rye Flour, which is 17% fiber by weight. Then there are the Bob’s Red Mill rye products, which range in fiber content between 15% and 23%. True medium rye, which isn’t widely distributed in stores in the US, is about 13% fiber by weight; you can find it on mail order.

If you are a true rye fanatic, you won’t be disappointed. The holes will be large and airy, the crumb less tight, even if you decide to increase the proportion of rye flour in our recipe (you may find you need to slightly increase the water after about 30% rye by volume, and don’t exceed 50%). You’ll see true “custard” crumb from the earliest loaves in a batch. And the flavor is fantastic.

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87 thoughts on “Perfecting your rye loaves with our recipe

  1. i have made numerous batches of the rye from the book, and i have had great results. i grind my own rye in my vita mix blender using whole organic rye
    berries. i did try to increase
    the amount of rye, which resulted in a very gummy interior. when i use the recipe as written, it is some of the best rye i have ever made

  2. I tried out the recipes from your book after receiving a review copy, and I have to say they’re absolutely amazing. It’s so wonderful to be able to get such great results with so little time and effort.

  3. Heather,

    Thank you so much for your wonderful review. I was just looking at your site yesterday. It is really fun to read and I am honored to be a part of it.

    I’m glad you enjoyed the book and thanks again!

    I will attach a link so others can check it out!

    Zoe

  4. Jeff, thanks for the comments on my blog page. My question is whether my techniques will work with you guy’s recipe. My dough/crust comes from Peter Reinhart’s “American Pie,” which I freeze (the dough balls, not the book) until I need them. After several hours of thawing, the less than baseball-sized dough balls have risen enough to fill up a quart-sized freezer bag. Here’s the recipe, my personal techniques following…..
    ……………………………
    5 cups unbleached bread flour
    1 1/4 tsp. of active dry yeast or 1 tsp. of instant yeast
    2 tbs. olive oil
    1 3/4 cups water (room temperature)
    1 tbs. honey
    2 tsp. salt
    Makes 4 – 10 oz. balls
    ……………………………
    I pour out a little olive oil on the countertop, smear it around with my hand, then begin spreading the dough into a disk shape. I flip it over a few times during the process, and sometimes stop for a few minutes, do something else, then come back. The dough is very elastic, often shrinks back, and after “relaxing” can be spread out very thinly. BUT, because it’s so thin, and so oily, I then fold it in half, move it on to a piece of aluminum foil, open it back up, top it, and place it into my preheated to 550 oven. I use an inch thick kiln shelf (superior to baking stones), so when I open the door after an hour’s preheat, there’s almost no heat loss. My timer has already been set for 8 minutes, and when it dings, the pizza’s done. I’ve eaten brick oven pizza in several places here in NC, but nothing I’ve ever eaten compares with what I make and bake at home.
    ………………………………..
    My resultant crust is not cracker thin, but pretty doggone thin with some nice air pockets in the edges. I use King Arthur bread flour, vs. all-purpose, and honey instead of sugar. Transferring the pie on aluminum foil prevents me from having to use copious amounts of corn meal on a pizza peel, the taste and texture of which I don’t care for. How do you think using the olive oil sheen on the counter top with your recipe for olive oil dough, found on page 134, would work using my tecniques?
    Later-Tom

  5. Hi again, Tom:
    Our Olive Oil Dough on page 134 has a slightly higher oil content than your recipe, so the final result, after you use all that additional oil on your countertop, may be a bit oilier than what you’re used to. Maybe just decrease the oil in our recipe slightly and try it (replace what you remove with water)? Should work fine. Another option would be to use any of the non-oil enriched recipes we specify for Neapolitan Pizza on page 135, then just be a little more generous with the oil on the countertop.

    I often do something very similar to what you do at home, on a silicon mat (Silpat). I just push out the dough with my fingers on the Silpat, so there’s no rolling or stretching. There’s virtually no cleanup. If I want oil enrichment, I just drizzle it over the dough once it’s flattened out.
    Thanks for all your interest!
    Jeff

  6. Hi Tom,

    Could you tell me more about your kiln shelf? Where did you purchase yours? What material is it made from? Does it require any special care or handling? Does you have to pretreat it?

    Thanks for any help you can give.

    Barbara

  7. Barbara, and anyone else interested…you can buy kiln shelves from most any pottery supplier. I have 36, 1″ X 12″ X 24″ shelves in my kiln, and they are fired up to 2300 degrees. Occasionally one will develop a crack, after many years of use and abuse, and I will pass them on to friends and family for use in their ovens. My shelves are made from cordierite, and the one I use in my oven was cut to eliminate a crack, and still came out at 12″ X roughly 20″. I suggest you google the keywords “cordierite kiln shelves”, along with your state, to come up with a location near you. Due to their weight, it can be fairly expensive to pack and ship them, so you want to purchase as close to home as possible. I did a search prior to writing this, and found a supplier in Florida (Axner.com) that has an 3/4″ X 18″ X 18″ for around $27.00, and 1″ X 12″ X 24″ for around $30.00. They also have a 3/4″ 21″ round for around $30.00. Thicker is better because they hold heat much longer, which is good when company comes over for supper and you are cooking more than one pizza. Those 1/4″ thick little baking stones can’t compare, and are very often more expensive. Kiln shelves require no pre-treating. Wash any dust off with soap and water (anything that comes from a pottery supplier is gonna be dusty!), slide into your oven, and start baking!
    Blessings-Tom
    PS-I have a good recipe for a basic pizza sauce on my pottery web site, n2clay.com. Oh yeah…thanks Jeff!

  8. Thank you, Tom.

    On other subjects, another reader asked about the typo on page 29 of the book, which erroneously says to place the stone on lowest rack. It should say “the middle rack.” (See our “Errors” tab on this website). There was also a question about the N.Y Times article, regarding inconsistencies in how the article covers the dough (compared to what we say in the book). Bottom line is that any cover that’s close-fitting but not completely airtight works well. Plastic wrap or a plastic lid are great; for the first day or so I usually leave the plastic lid on my bucket open a crack. Whether you need to do that or not depends on how airtight the lid actually is.

    Finally, a reader is finding it difficult to incorporate a whole cup of whole wheat flour in her basic light whole wheat (page 74). It’s true, whole wheat absorbs more water than white. To get the last bits of flour incorporated, reach into the bucket or bowl with very wet hands and squash the mixture together. You may need to use a LITTLE extra water to finish the job, but don’t overdo it.

    Jeff

  9. HI Tom,

    You are so kind to provide all this information! Thank you so much. I will check out your leads.

    You are correct, I am a mom, who loves to bake bread and hang out in the kitchen for any reason. Your website is amazing. I had a great time reading the posts and looking at the pix and recipes. Keep up the fantastic work!

    By the way Jeff and Zoe, I baked the basic Artisan rye recipe last night and was surprised at the great results. The last time I baked rye bread was about 25 years ago, and it was such a dismal failure, it took me this long to try again. I guess I’m a little slow to give second chances, but I’m happy I did!

    Barbara

    Barbara

  10. Jeff, I printed out the errors and glued them into the back of the book. As my oven only has 4 shelf configurations, I go one above absolute middle, but everyone’s oven is different, and this eventually becomes seat of the pants stuff. When I’m baking bread, I use a plant mister to spray water as soon as I put the dough in, and again 5 minutes later, vs. a tray of water underneath. I also check the core temperature of my baguettes with a digital insta-read thermometer, baking until it hits 210 F. Thanks for the hint about the Silpat.
    Later-Tom

  11. Hi Barbara,

    I’ve heard that story a lot about the rye bread in particular. It was one of the breads we worked hardest to get just right. We both have great memories of really good deli rye and it was important to make a bread that would live up to them.

    Tom, thanks for the info. I’m going to look into getting a shelf as well. I’ve been wanting to build a kiln style oven outside so I can really get it cranked up but this might be a good solution until that happens.

    Thanks, Zoe

  12. Zoe,
    Barbara and I exchanged a few e-mails this morning, and I had just written her that I was hoping to build a wood-burning oven in an old kiln shed later this year. Minnesota Clay in St. Paul has kiln shelves like I’m referring to. Just be sure and measure your oven racks so the shelf fits, and get the thickest kiln shelves you can find that will fit that space.
    Blessings-Tom

  13. Hi Tom, Do you have plans you are working off of to build your wood-burning oven? If so I’d love to know which one.

    I do pottery, when I’m not baking bread, so I know about Minnesota Clay and love any excuse to browse.

    Thanks! Zoe

  14. Jeff and Zoe, just getting around to making my first batch of dough. Thank goodness I finally looked at the errors section because I was becoming totally stymied by the 1 1/2 T being one and a half packets yeast. I had bought a “yeast spoon” from King Arthur and was trying to figure out how the measurement could be so different! So, according to my faulty English major math, I am assuming that 4 1/2 tsp. is the same as 1 1/2 Tbs. and I should use two 2 1/4 tsp. scoops of yeast?
    I am also wondering if the yeast should be stored in the freezer.
    By the way, Sam’s Club has the rubbermaid 6 qt. containers, three for $22.

  15. Hi Jill,

    Sorry for the yeast confusion. You are correct, 1 1/2 Tbs = 4 1/2 tsp. So a half batch would need 2 1/4 tsp.

    I store my yeast in the refrigerator for up to a year with no problems. The freezer won’t hurt the yeast either.

    Thanks for the Sam’s club tip!

    Zoe

  16. Zoe,
    Regarding the wood-burning oven, I’m not sure yet what I will do, even after considerable research over the last few years. I will probably build some type of igloo shaped oven, but not sure whether it will be from scavenged hardbricks or some type of homemade castable slathered over a sand form. As long as it can take the temperature, I’m not sure the materials are as important as durability. I have built 2 castable kilns, and 2 soft brick car kilns. I’m kind of into scavenging for free stuff, and live in a small community with about 80 other potters, so finding the materials shouldn’t pose too big a problem. My only design concern is whether or not to incorporate a chimney. Old ovens didn’t use one, but were designed so the flames and smoke curled up out of the top of the front door. There is a formula that has to do with width X height X door size in order for it to work though. Good luck with your own efforts!
    Blessings-Tom

  17. Hi,
    I am glad you have the Errors page listed…I didn’t know that was an error regarding the location of the oven rack (not the lowest shelf but closer to the top). I am wondering, in the master recipe, pg 26, you say to use unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour. Does that mean to buy flour that is unsifted, or does it mean just not to sift the flour before using it? All but one of the flours on our grocer’s shelves is presifted. LOVE the book! I grew up with my mom always making homemade bread and I remember how much work it was for her but we loved it!

  18. Kerry:
    Even if your flour says that it’s “pre-sifted,” it packs down in the bag and realistically, it’s not sifted by the time you get it. What we’re saying is that regardless of what the flour’s label says, you don’t have to sift before using the “scoop and sweep” method to get consistent results. You can buy flours labeled “pre-sifted” or not and I don’t think you’re going to see different results.

    I’m glad the book calls back memories of family and homemade bread… thanks for trying out our approach.

    Jeff

  19. Thanks Tom,

    We live in the city and have a tiny lot that I am constrained by. My husband has been drawing up plans and thus far they are the igloo shape as well. Once you figure out what your design is please let me know!

    Best, Zoe

  20. Can the master recipe be prepared as just a ‘half batch’?? I am single and have a small (5′ tall) fridge so space is a bit of an issue. Thought maybe a half batch would be good.

    Also in reading about baking stones, I have a very thin one which needs to “go away” but in the meantime, am wondering if a Pampered Chef stoneware pan would work. Has anyone used that?

    Thanks much, am very much looking forward to baking when I get back from my upcoming residency.

    Ann

  21. Hi Ann: The recipes work just as well as half-batches, go ahead and do it. We’ve had lots of comments from people who are finding that our approach is perfect in households where you just need a little bread.

    I’m not familiar with the Pampered Chef brand, but if it is unglazed, it should work well. There may be sticking problems if it has high sides though… you’ll need to use cornmeal on the outside of the formed loaf. It may be a bit tricky if the pan is actually a loaf pan with high sides.
    Jeff

  22. Ann: One other thing: The thin stones may be a bit less durable than the thick ones, but it should work fine under your loaves. Jeff

  23. Hi Ann,

    I’ve had a lot of people tell me they are trying it in a preheated cast iron flat griddle or even a large cast iron pan. They seem to work well. This is just another idea if you don’t have a stone.

    Enjoy! Zoe

  24. Randi: Thanks so much for starting a topic for us on eGullet. I had trouble registering there when I tried last month… there’s some kind of members-only qualification, isn’t there? Meanwhile, feel free to post whatever you like here. Be aware that it is moderated (by Zoe and I), and there is a delay. Jeff

  25. Hi Tom,

    Thanks for the link to that site, it is amazing. It makes you want to move to the French country side and do nothing but bake bread! Wait, I already wanted to do that!!!

    Thanks, Zoe

  26. Continuing to enjoy the bread and making converts every day. Your book seems to be flying off the shelves, and deservedly so.
    This is just a suggestion — it would be handy to have a little table of what I can make with each type of dough. That is, if, say I have made the peasant bread, just look the next baking day to see I could make the pita, naan, or whatever from a little list, rather than look back and forth. It could be posted here on the website.

  27. Hi Linda,

    That is a great idea! I think it is one of the greatest things about this method that you can use the dough in several ways.

    We work on that for an upcoming post!

    Thanks, Zoe

  28. I really agree! It makes me want to try all of them, because I know I can make different things from each dough– super versatility! BTW, I had to send some yeast home with my daughter last night. I had already given her the book, but after tasting the rolls I made with the last part of the current dough, she wanted to make some bread NOW.

  29. Hi,

    This question applies to the white breads more so than the rye, but as a rule, I am having trouble getting my breads to brown properly on the top. I am certain I am baking the loaves long enough; at times I’ve even overbaked them in an effort to acheive a darker color, but they usually come out a sickly pale (though the flavor is fine.) I look at your photos and am so envious! What do you do to get such a deep, rich color? I am using a baking stone on the lowest rack of my oven. Should I move the rack closer to the top? I have a gas oven. I would appreciate any suggestions.

    Thanks for your help,
    Barbara

  30. Barbara:
    In our Tips and Techniques chapter, we talk about this. One good approach is to start the loaf (on a stone) near the bottom of the oven (I’m assuming you’re using steam, with a full cup of water in the broiler tray). Two-thirds of the way through baking, move the loaf off the stone and onto a shelf near the top of the oven. Bottom of the oven crisps and browns the bottom crust, top of the oven crisps and browns the top crust.

    But it’s harder to get deep brown color with pure white flour. You may find it easier if you substitute even a couple tablespoons for whole wheat or rye. Nothing else needs to change in the recipe.

    Also, check your oven temperature with a thermometer, and consider a longer pre-heat. Thanks for working with it, and let us know how it comes out.

    Jeff

  31. Barbara: Just noticed that you’re baking on the lowest rack of your oven. That’s your problem, and we contributed to it through our typo in the Master Recipe, where we specify the lowest rack! IT SHOULD HAVE SAID MIDDLE RACK. We put it on our “Errors” tab on the website, but that probably isn’t enough; the publisher is in the process of correcting. You may not need the shelf-switcheroo once you correct this.

    Sorry, Jeff

  32. Hi Barbara,

    There is also a mistake in the Master recipe that says to have the stone on the bottom rack, instead of the middle rack where we intended it to be. This may be an easier way to accomplish the crust color than moving it from shelf to shelf. Try and see which gives you the results you like.

    Do check the oven temp as well.

    Have you seen our errata sheet that has all of the unfortunate mistakes we missed while editing the book? There is a page dedicated to it on this site.

    Thanks, Zoe

  33. Hi Jeff,

    I should have been paying closer attention to the letters that had to with typos, but I was sort of glossing through those.

    OK, I will try your suggestions, using the middle rack and also adding some whole grain flour. I bake about every other day, so I can let you know pretty soon how it works out.

    Thanks so much to all your careful attention to detail, and for your quick reply.

    Will be in touch again soon.

    Barbara

  34. RE: KILN SHELVES – hate to burst anyone’s bubble…

    I make my living as an artist and this leads to lots of artist friends. Was teaching/facilitating last week with a potter in the group so I asked her about old kiln shelves — her comment was NEVER, EVER use an old kiln shelf for food as the “kiln wash” has some nasty chemicals in it and it is doubtful they wouldn’t remain in a shelf that is made of pourous materials. I’d be a bit suspect of new shelves as well, since they aren’t really meant to be cooked on.

    As an artist, I know the hazards of many of the materials we use, and know of many artists who are no longer able to work due due to the chemicals they’ve been exposed to. There are no regulations for chemicals in art supplies and OSHA doesn’t necessarily visit individual studios (thank God!).

    Again, I hate to burst anyone’s bubble but it is always better to be safe than sorry!

  35. Hi Ann,

    Thanks for that info! I do pottery as a hobby and I had meant to ask my instructor about this issue. They won’t let us even eat in the studio because of all the dust and other toxic things flying around in the air. It hadn’t occurred to me that the shelf too would be a problem!

    Thanks, Zoe

  36. Kiln shelves, redux…
    I’m sorry I didn’t give any thought to kiln wash – I haven’t used it in years, having discovered early on that it usually causes more problems in the firing than it alleviates. Kiln wash can be dangerous in it’s pre-fired state, just like many other chemicals we potters use, and is made from silica and alumina. Kaolin is a form of alumina (and the usual ingredient in kiln wash), and is used in Kaopectate, an over the counter medication for upset stomach. In fact, the only 3 ingredients are kaolin, bentonite, another clay that keeps the kaolin in suspension, and water. I haven’t heard of anyone dying from kaopectate ingestion yet. Silica in it’s raw state is harmful when breathed, as long-term exposure causes silicosis, a lung disease. Once it’s fired, it’s not a problem, although I wouldn’t suggest eating it in the matrix of kiln wash either. Any of you drink from glass? Silica. How about clay pots (stoneware, commercial china, porcelain, earthenware)? Silica is a major ingredient in the glazes that cover those pots too. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t use a shelf that had been used in a student situation and had been painted with kiln wash. The kiln shelf I use in my oven never had kiln wash applied, was initially fired to well over 2,400 degrees F, and until a small stress fracture appeared (the end of which I sawed off), was regularly fired in my kiln to 2,300 degrees. In fact, I think you will find the chemical composition of “baking stones,” like the Pampered Chef brand, and cordierite kiln shelves to be very similar. The only conceivable difference would be in the ratios of (the same) materials. Having made pots for 32 years (the last 30 full-time), and having built 4 kilns along the way (plus consulting on several others), and learning more than a little about refractories and the other elements we potters use in our livelihood, that’s my 2 cents. For those of you that have contacted me away from this forum and have already ordered kiln shelves, rest assured, you’re not going to die from baking bread or pizza on a kiln shelf.
    Later-Tom

  37. Thanks Tom!

    A very interesting debate. Thank you for offering to talk to people more about this if they want to pursue it as an option!

    Zoe

  38. Hello Jeff,
    Thank you for the commment on our blog! We are just a few girls sharing recipes, and I’m glad you found us. I haven’t had a chance to try your bread recipe yet, but as you can tell from the post, Aunt Becky is a big fan! It is on my list of recipes to make…and I will add a link to your website as well.
    Thanks again.
    Min

  39. Jeff and Zoe,

    I wanted to (finally) report back to you that the trick about raising the baking shelf really solved the problem of my crusts not browning. I actually baked my loaves on a baking stone placed on the upper third shelf of my gas oven, with the pan of water on the lowest shelf. I got a gorgeous crust, both top and bottom.

    Thanks for the help.
    Barbara

  40. Great to hear, Barbara. Every oven is different and we’re finding that most readers who are looking for perfect crust have to play a bit with shelf position until they get what they’re looking for.

    Jeff

  41. The deli-rye was the first bread I tried with (within hours after the book arrived last week) your technique and each subsequent loaf was better than the last (Even when I forgot the whole slashing with the knife part).

    I am especially pleased that the concepts in the book are easy enough that my children can also be active bread bakers. (ages 12 and 9)

  42. Hi Amysue,

    Thank you so much for trying the bread and getting your kids involved. My two boys (6+8) are in the kitchen with me all the time. I even brought the bread recipe to their school and baked it in class. They loved it!!! It is wonderful that you get your kids baking now.

    Thanks and enjoy the book!
    Zoe

  43. I am really enjoying your book. I made the deli rye yesterday and substituted one cup of quinoa flour for one cup of all purpose. It turned out great. Had some friends over for soup, salad and your bread and it was fantastic. I was even able to send a loaf home with one who is battling cancer. Thanks so much!

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