In Denmark, where I grew up, sourdough rye bread is king!
We have it for breakfast, for lunch and sometimes even for dinner. It is an essential part of the famous Danish Smørrebrød, an open faced sandwich topped with any number of different ingredients, ranging from the simple boiled potato with mayonnaise and chives, over various types of patés, cheeses, lunch meats or marinated herring, to the very elaborate roast beef or fried fish fillet with remoulade.
The bread is traditionally made using a sourdough starter and no or very little commercial yeast, and then left to rise for many hours, sometimes as long as 20 hours.
My rye bread is no different. Over the years, I’ve experimented with various versions of rye bread recipes using yeast instead of a sourdough starter. They turned out OK but always seemed to be lacking depth. Sure, they were quick to make but they never quite satisfied me.
A few years ago, I decided to bite the bullet and go through the week-long process of creating a proper sourdough starter from scratch. Now that I finally have a sourdough pet of my own there will be no going back for me.
I have since created a post on how to make a sourdough starter from scratch. You can find it here. In that post I also cover how to maintain a sourdough starter for eternity.
Breads made with sourdough not only taste better, they are also much healthier for you.
Sourdough breads are made with naturally occurring bacteria and wild yeasts which digest the starches and gluten while making the bread rise. This process also creates an acid – essentially the “sour” in sourdough. The result is bread with less gluten (some even say that sourdough breads have less gluten than breads labeled “gluten free”), with a longer shelf life and a pleasantly sour taste that most people like.
Traditional sourdough breads actually lower the glycemic load of meals, making your entire meal healthier. It helps to slow down digestion, making whatever you ate more likely to be available as energy rather than being stored as fat. Win win! You can read more about the wonders of sourdoughs here.
Why did it take me so long to start baking with sourdough?
I grew up with sourdoughs. My mom baked sourdough rye breads. But in my late 20’s I left my home country. And for many years, I lived in the tropics. Keeping a sourdough starter alive and well in that extreme climate proved impossible – at least for me. But now that we have moved to a much more temperate climate, my little sour pet is thriving!
About This Recipe
A word of caution: making sourdough bread is not an exact science. There are many factors at play. Every sourdough is different and the temperature in your kitchen will change with the seasons. And so you must adapt. But once you’ve made this bread a few times you’ll get a feel for the process – when to start and how long they need to rise – for it to fit into your schedule.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have had to adjust and even change my plans to accommodate my sourdough bread’s sometimes finicky schedule. The things we do for good bread…
Sourdough Rye Bread
- 2 bread forms about 10cm x 21cm (inside measurements) I use silicone forms.
- 300 g whole rye or whole oat kernels
- 100 g whole pumpkin seeds
- 100 g whole sunflower seeds
- 50 g chia seeds
- 50 g whole flax seeds
- 15 g sea salt (about 2 teaspoons)
- 1 tablespoon malted barley syrup optional
- 800 ml boiling water
- 200 to 250 g highly active sourdough starter See the text above for a link to my helpful sourdough starter tutorial.
- 300 g whole rye flour
Day 1, evening: Soaking the seeds.
- In a large bowl combine the whole rye (or oat), the pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, and salt. Add the boiling water and the syrup, if using. Stir to mix well. Cover with a cloth and leave on the kitchen counter until the following day
Day 2: Mixing and rising (and maybe baking).
- On the next day start your process in the morning. Sourdoughs take time to rise.
- Start by giving your sourdough starter a fresh feeding. This will make it highly active. Once it has doubled in size (this needs to happen in six hours or less for it to be highly active), add it to the bowl with the seeds; then add the flour. Stir until the flour has been completely mixed into the dough. Make sure you get all the way to the bottom of your bowl.
- Divide the dough evenly between two silicone bread forms. If you do not use silicone forms you will need to oil your forms very well.
- Cover the breads with a damp dish towel and leave to rise for several hours. I usually leave my breads on the kitchen counter until sometime during the evening, after which time I transfer them to my cold basement or to the fridge, depending on how much they have risen. There they'll rest overnight, still covered with a damp dish towel. This slow-rise allows the flavors to develop. Sometimes during summer, the rising happens quite fast. If this is the case you'll need to bake the breads that same evening before they start to deflate. You can also try to force the rising process by placing the breads in the oven with the light turned on. This provides the breads with enough heat to be able to rise in 6-10 hours. Once they have risen by about a third they are ready to be baked.
Day 3: Baking.
- If your breads have been resting in a cold place overnight, bring them back to room temperature by leaving them on the kitchen countertop for a few hours.
- Heat the oven to 180º C (350º F) on the normal oven function (don't use the fan setting).
- Gently brush the breads with water and bake them in the middle of the oven for 2 hours.
- Remove the breads from the oven and gently remove them from the forms. If they don't slide out fairly easily, then bake them another 5 minutes before trying again. This is where silicone forms make it easy. Once removed from the forms place the breads back into the oven, turn off the oven and leave the breads in there while the oven cools down.
- Remove the breads from the oven and leave them to rest on the kitchen countertop, wrapped in a clean dish towel, for at least 12 hours. I personally never slice my breads until at least one full day but more often two or even three days after baking them. Waiting for a couple of days will allow the breads to become firmer and easier to slice. The resting time will also allow the flavors to develop further. After this resting period you can keep the breads in the fridge, in a sealed bag, where they will stay perfectly moist for a week. If you need to keep them longer, just slice them up and freeze.