Rye makes dense, heavy bread, as it has very few gluten-forming proteins. It is very tasty, though, and well worth making. You could replace some of the flour (perhaps 250 g) with strong white bread flour to lighten it if you like, but I love the full flavour of pure rye and as long as it is sliced thinly, its texture is a pleasure, not a chore. Kneading it is somewhat less satisfying than with high-gluten doughs, in that it doesn’t become stretchy, or resilient, or silky. In fact, it doesn’t seem to change much at all. This means less work for you, though; 5 minutes should be quite enough. I also suggest shaping the loaves straight away, giving them a single, long rise. Rye bread doesn’t seem to benefit from the usual longer process of rising and deflating, which mainly serves to develop the structure of high-gluten breads.
- Yield: 2 loaves
- 1.1 kg dark rye flour, plus extra for dusting
- 25 g salt
- 600 ml warm water
- A ladleful of sourdough starter
- A good slug of sunflower oil (optional)
- Combine the rye flour, salt, water and starter in a large bowl and mix to a dough, adding more flour or water if needed, to make a soft, easily kneadable dough. Mix in the oil, if using. Turn the dough out on to a clean worktop and knead for about 5 minutes; you’ll probably need extra flour as it will be quite sticky. Divide the dough into two or three, shape into loaves and dust well with flour.
- Leave to rise somewhere fairly warm, covered, ideally in well-floured proving baskets. You can use linen cloths or wooden boards, but as it is so low in gluten, unsupported rye bread tends to spread outwards rather than upwards, giving you flat loaves. Loaf tins would give higher, though less attractive loaves. Your dough needs to double in size, which can take anywhere from 1–4 hours, depending on the temperature of the dough and vigour of your starter. When almost ready, place your baking stone or tray in the oven and preheat the oven to 250°C/Gas Mark 10, or as hot as it will go.
- When ready to bake, turn your loaves, one at a time, on to a peel and slide them on to the baking stone in the oven or remove the tray, turn the loaves on to it and return to the oven. There is no need to slash rye bread. It will hardly rise, so slashes would barely open up anyway, and it is likely to crack attractively in the oven, especially if it has been well floured. Bake at the high temperature for about 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 180°C/Gas Mark 4 and bake for a further 20–30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.