Sourdoughs are my favorite breads to make. Making something so tasty with so few ingredients is a challenge worthy of effort. The only time we eat any other bread here is when I make something else for somebody else, or I have specific need, like to write a blog post. We’ve settled on this sourdough rye as our “pain du jour.”
First of all, you’ll need a strong starter. I used to maintain separate starters for white, wheat and rye sourdoughs, but eventually realized the flavor was pretty much the same if I used white starter for any of them. There are purists who claim otherwise, though I’d challenge you to a blindfold taste test. While there are multiple sites and books that spell out methods for making your own starter from scratch, I bought freeze-dried starter from Sourdoughs International because I was intimidated by the whole process. They have an interesting variety of cultures from all over the world. I bought San Francisco culture 25 years ago and have had no problems with it ever. I have learned to make starter from scratch though, and found that leaving it to ripen in an oven with just the oven light on provides a perfect environment.
During the heyday of our market baking years we made sourdoughs 3-4 days a week. Since I’ve retired it takes a little more attention to keep it going strong. It’s kept refrigerated in a large covered ice cream bucket in case I want to make multiple loaves and need a lot of starter, but usually there’s no more than a cup in it. A day before making dough I discard all but 1/2 cup of starter and refresh that with six ounces of filtered water and six ounces of bread flour. After 12 hours I discard all but one cup of starter, then refresh it with nine ounces each of water and bread flour. After another 12 hours refresh with 12 ounces each of water and bread flour. You should see bubbly activity after the first 12 hours, but if there’s not much, go ahead and do the second refresh. If nothing happens after another 12 hours you might have to begin with fresh starter, but I’ve let mine sit untouched for as long as 3 months and that can require extra refreshments. As long as you see some bubbling activity after refreshing it once or twice and it smells sour but pleasant, you can bring it back to life.
We’ve experimented with different percentages of rye and found 1/2 rye, 1/2 bread flour gives the texture and flavor we prefer – enough rye to make it obviously rye, enough white bread flour to keep it from baking into a brick. Since rye has no gluten, if you want the loaf to do anything besides just sit there you need to help it out. That’s another reason the starter has to be very active. No yeast here so you’re depending on the starter to do the heavy lifting.
– Joan, 19 January 2018
- ½ cup (145 grams) strong sourdough starter
- 1 cup (222 grams) lukewarm water
- 2 cups (210) grams rye flour
- 1¾ cups (210 grams) bread flour
- ¾ teaspoon salt
Pour starter into the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in water. Mix salt with the flour, then add the mixture to the bowl. Mix on low until all of the flour is incorporated. Check the dough to make sure it’s not too stiff (add water just a tablespoon at a time if necessary). Rye makes a sticky dough but it should not feel stiff and dry. Knead on medium speed for about 5 minutes. Turn it out onto the counter, grease the bowl with butter or spray and put dough back into the bowl. Cover with a tight lid or large plate and let rise in a warm spot (70°F) for about 12 hours. If your kitchen is very cool, a heating pad turned on low and covered with an oven mitt or pad will provide a good base under the bowl.
By the end of 12 hours the dough should have risen, though it may not look doubled. Turn it out onto a counter and form it into a tight ball, tucking ends underneath, coat well with flour and place it on a greased cookie sheet. A greased bowl a little larger than the loaf and inverted over the doughball will help maintain humidity while it does its final rise, taking 1-2 hours. Start preheating the oven to 400°F 30 minutes before baking. Again, the loaf may not look doubled in size but it should be noticeably larger and may be showing small cracks. Make slits in the top as desired. Bake about 40-45 minutes. Cool completely before bagging or freezing. We don’t bag it for at least a day so we can enjoy that crust as long as possible.