Dark sour rye

There’s been nothing wrong with my bread lately. Far from it, all has been going swimmingly, which is why I’ve had nothing to share here. Who wants to read “another fantastic loaf” every week? But I have also been looking for a challenge, and an online recipe from a site new to me – aortafood – offered the challenge I was looking for: an almost 100% rye sourdough.

Kasper Fogh, the editor of Aorta, says that this bread:

takes a bit of time and dedication in the beginning, but once you’re hooked, you’re most likely going to keep baking.

It does indeed take time, with a two-stage dough, and it is also well worthwhile. Fogh’s recipe starts with making a sourdough starter from scratch, and ends with holding 500 gm of the dough back as the starter for the next batch. I have my sourdoughs, and certainly don’t need another half-kilogram ravening beast to keep fed, so my first task was to adapt his recipe to my needs. Along the way, I halved the amount of bread.

rye sourdough starter
First build after 12 hours

Fogh starts with 500 gm of sourdough, made from roughly 250 gm of rye flour and 400 ml of water. That’s 160% hydration. I needed 250 gm, which I decided to reach over two builds, starting with 10gm of my normal, 100% hydration, white flour starter. You can use any starter you have.

Starter: day one

Mix about 10 gm starter with 25 gm whole rye flour and 40 ml water. Set aside, covered, until lively and bubbling. It’s cold in the kitchen at the moment, so I left it for 13 hours.

Add 100 gm whole rye flour and 160 ml water and mix to a smooth paste. Set aside again for about another 12 hours.

rye sourdough
Second build, after 13 hours; 24 hours total

Dough: day two

At this point, the starter had just about started to collapse in on itself. Time to make the first batch of dough. In this, I followed the original recipe.

  • 250 gm of your starter (add a little salt and pour the rest into a hot frying pan for a quick restorative pancake)
  • 125 gm rye grains
  • 25 gm flax seeds
  • 75 gm wheat flour (not sure why; may try without next time)
  • 250 ml water
  • 10 gm salt
  • 3/4 tablespoons honey (truth is, I just approximate and hope for the best)

Mix it all up, cover with a tea towel and set aside for a day. Consistency is pretty soupy.

Bread: day three

rye sourdough
First dough after 24 hours (right), second dough (left)

Inhaling deeply, there was the familiar sourdough aroma but also something a bit more acrid. Delicious. Now, more fun with numbers. Fogh removes the same amount of starter as he started with. I did not plan to do that. So I had to subtract my 250 gm – approximately 95 gm of flour and 155 gm of water – from the ingredients for the final dough. So, to the existing dough, add:

  • 455 gm whole rye flour
  • 295 ml water
  • 10 gm salt
  • 3/4 tablespoons honey

Mix it all well with a strong wooden spoon. There’s no way you can knead it for 10 minutes as Fogh advises. He does say it will be “the thickness of heavy mud,” which rather precludes kneading anyway. A good spatula and a strong spoon plus some muscle will get everything mixed.

Oil a loaf pan with a fairly neutral oil and pour the thick mud into the pan. A wet spatula helps to push the dough into the corners and smooth the top. Set it aside to rise for 4 to 6 hours.

Bake at 170°C for 1 hour 45 minutes, then remove from tin and bake a further 15 minutes. Allow to cool thoroughly before slicing.

The finished loaf; handsome is as handsome does
The finished loaf; handsome is as handsome does

This is where I came unstuck. My tins are 10 x 4 x 2.5 inches and somehow, because I had fixed in my mind that I was making only one loaf, I prepared only one tin and even when the thick mud came almost to the rim, rationalised that as it was almost 100% rye it wouldn’t rise much. It did rise, overflowing the tin and, even though I tried manfully to corral it, spilling out onto the baking stone. But all was by no means lost. The gobs on the baking stone turned into wonderfully crunchy things, and the major surplus I smoothed out on a piece of baking parchment to create a free-form crispbread.

Eat: day four

rye sourdough slice
Moist, chewy, dense but not heavy

This is a seriously good loaf. I sliced it upside down, as the top crust was a little brittle and I feared it would break up if I attempted to slice it normally. The crumb was dense but not heavy, moist and chewy, with enough rye bitterness and enough sourness too. Great with sweet jam and savoury cheese alike. A keeper.

I am, as Kasper Fogh warned, hooked, and I will keep going. Two thoughts for next time. I wonder whether adding the rye seeds to the starter, as it builds, might render them slightly softer in the final bread. They may be a bit too chewy. Also, I can’t decide whether to make two loaves in my existing tins, which would be the simplest solution, or try and get some of those disposable containers twice the volume of my tins, which would result in a larger slice.

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