Sneak Peek: Learn how to make Hearty Rye Bread with a recipe that lets your bread machine do the hard work of mixing and kneading. Shape by hand and bake the loaf in your oven to ensure a dependable outcome.
One of my readers taking my FREE bread machine email course asked for a dense rye bread recipe at her husband’s request.
Since I didn’t have one, I started experimenting with rye bread with the same enthusiasm my grandson displayed after discovering he could turn lights off and on.
With the pandemic in full swing, regular flour was scarce, not to mention rye flour. So this project was a challenge and a bit expensive.
Finally, I found a winner after too many tunnels and ugly cracks, but lots of tasty toasted cheese-on-rye-bread sandwiches. I hope my reader’s husband is satisfied and that you will be, too, when you get a chance to try it.
This rye bread is dense and hearty by design. It is excellent for a loaded sandwich or a panini as it is sturdy enough to hold many ingredients. However, don’t expect a soft, squishy loaf. The crust is slightly chewy, even more so if you glaze it.
HEADS UP! Start this recipe the day before you want to bake it. The extra time equals more flavor.
This particular recipe solved three of my biggest challenges with rye bread. I couldn’t be happy until I could bake a loaf that would satisfy these requirements.
1. A dense but consistently fine texture without a lot of holes or tunnels
2. A loaf that wouldn’t burst or crack in an irregular pattern on top despite deep slashes before baking
3. A round loaf or boule that bakes up high enough to make nice slices for sandwiches
Please keep reading to find out my solutions to these challenges.
But first, let’s talk about rye flour and what makes it different from wheat flour.
What You Need To Know About Rye Flour:
- It’s high in fiber.
One slice of rye bread itself has about two grams of fiber, which is not too shabby for bread. “Its high-fiber content makes it a heart-healthy grain good for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol,” Sussi says. “Its slow transit time [in your digestive system] and ability to be only partially digested is beneficial for gut health.”https://www.wellandgood.com/is-rye-bread-good-for-you/
2. Rye flour prolongs freshness. A homemade loaf of rye bread will stay fresh for about three days. I’ve read that European bakers used to add small amounts of rye flour to many of their loaves simply as a preservative. Bread made with 100% rye flour will reportedly keep for weeks.
3. Rye is not gluten-free. Rye flour is high in gliadin but low in glutenin. Therefore, it has a lower gluten content than wheat flour. However, it also contains a higher proportion of soluble fiber. This quality is going to have an impact on any bread that contains rye flour.
Rye bread dough tends to spread horizontally as it rises instead of vertically. While the flat shape doesn’t affect the taste, it won’t make for a great sandwich shape or a pretty loaf. The higher the percentage of rye flour in your recipe, the more it will spread.
4. Rye flour makes bread dough sticky. That’s why a bread machine is ideal for mixing up this recipe.
“Because of the sap-like gum that appears naturally in rye, and because of its water-binding capacity, rye doughs will always feel moist and sticky when you test them with your finger. This makes it easy to add too much flour during kneading, so be careful not to add more than a tablespoon or two more than the measurement given in the recipe.The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook—Beth Hensberger
5. It’s crucial to bake rye bread thoroughly. The center of the bread should reach 200˚-207˚F (93˚C). Use a quick-read thermometer, if possible. If you don’t check and end up taking it out too soon, your bread is likely to be doughy and sticky in the middle.
6. Allow plenty of time for rye bread to cool before slicing or wrapping it. Allow more time for rye bread because of its high moisture content. Cool for at least one hour. Some say three hours.
Solutions to three common problems with rye bread:
1. How can I keep from getting holes and tunnels in my rye bread?
Use a bread machine to mix and knead the dough. You don’t have to worry about over-kneading, which is easy to do with a stand mixer. You also don’t have to worry about under-kneading, which is tempting when doing it by hand.
As you press the dough into a flat circle before forming the dough into a ball, be sure to press all the air bubbles out first. This process is more straightforward if you let the dough rest 10-15 minutes after taking it out of the bread machine pan.
2. How do I keep free-form rye bread from flattening out while baking?
Use a container like a mixing bowl or round casserole dish with steep sides to force the dough to rise upward during the second rise instead of spreading outward. You could call it “Paula’s modified version of a proofing basket or banneton.”
When you dump the dough onto your prepared baking sheet before baking, use your hands to push the dough to the middle and upward carefully. (See video.)
Quickly slash the loaf on top. Then, immediately place the prepared loaf into your preheated oven before it has time to spread out.
3. How do I keep rye bread from cracking unpredictably on top?
Even though I slashed the top of my rye bread with a sharp knife, many of the loaves would crack and “burst out” in other places while baking. It must be a common problem because I see it in many pictures of rye bread on the internet.
When you use a proofing basket, banneton, or steep-sided bowl for the second rise (as seen above), place the bread dough ball into the bowl with the smooth part of the ball of dough at the bottom of the container (the part that will eventually end up on top).
Uses olive oil to lubricate a glass or plastic bowl so the dough can slide out on its own. It’s less of a floury mess than a banneton and gives the crust a wonderful flavor along with a slight sheen.
When the dough has doubled in size, this is how you do it.
Turn the bowl over and let the bread fall out onto the cookie sheet. If it won’t slide out, use a skinny spatula to loosen it on the sides. (Use more oil next time and make sure you don’t miss any spots.)
Now the dough ball will be smooth on top like the picture above. Next, make decorative cuts with a sharp knife or lamé to help steam escape and give your bread some expansion cracks.
If you are unclear about how to do this, be sure to watch the video.
Ingredients and substitutions:
- WATER: Use spring water if you have it. Otherwise, tap water is fine. I do not heat the water in this recipe. Cool water (not ice cold) is best. It is not necessary to heat the water as we do not need to dissolve the yeast.
- MOLASSES: Molasses is traditional in rye bread and adds an important dimension to the flavor. However, it is optional in this recipe. Leave it out or substitute 2 teaspoons of sugar.
- SALT: I use table salt or sea salt, sometimes Kosher salt. If using Kosher salt, increase the amount by 1/4 teaspoon.
- RYE FLOUR: Stone ground dark rye flour was my flour of choice for this recipe for a not-so-scientific reason. It was available. In these days of flour shortages, we are lucky to get any kind of flour, much less rye flour. Light or medium rye flour will probably work, too, but I have not tested them.
- ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR: Since my marching orders were for a DENSE loaf, I chose all-purpose flour. Normally, I use unbleached flour, but all I could get the last time I bought some (pandemic in progress) was bleached. It worked fine.
If you prefer, you can use bread flour for a slightly lighter texture.
- CARAWAY SEEDS: Caraway seeds are another traditional but optional addition. Interesting fact: In the United States, bread labeled as “rye” nearly always contains caraway unless explicitly labeled as “unseeded.” If you don’t care for caraway, this may be the perfect reason to start making your own rye bread.
If you want to use something else, the best substitute for caraway seeds to use in rye bread is dill seeds and anise seeds. Dill seeds and anise seeds have the same licorice-like taste and they won’t overpower the cake or bread with a pungent flavor or aroma.
- YEAST: Instant or bread-machine yeast (same thing) does not need to be dissolved. I use it in all my bread-machine recipes. You can now substitute active dry yeast without dissolving it first. Just be aware that it may be a little slower on the uptake but it will get there. Allow more time for rising or use a little more yeast (at least 1/4 teaspoon more).
What equipment do I need?
Don’t get me wrong. You can make bread without any of these things. But they are an essential part of my arsenal. These tools are helpful, especially if you want to make bread following this recipe (and many of the other recipes on this website).
Note: You can see all of these things and more in my Amazon store. As an Amazon associate, I earn from qualifying purchases (but it doesn’t make your cost any higher).
- BREAD MACHINE: The DOUGH cycle is all I use in this recipe (and almost all of my bread recipes) so you don’t need a fancy machine.
Note: I don’t recommend doubling this recipe. The dough is dense and sticky. A double recipe would likely over-stress your bread machine.
- DIGITAL SCALES: Weighing the ingredients precisely, especially the flour, is an important factor in your success with this recipe. If you don’t have scales, see this article about the proper way to measure with measuring cups. In short, don’t be a scooper.
- SILICONE BAKING MAT: If you plan to make much bread, it’s a good idea to get some of these. Use them to roll out the dough. They keep the floury mess in one small area. If you are making a free form loaf, like Ciabatta, you can leave the shaped dough on the mat (brush off extra flour) and transfer it to a baking sheet.
Clean-up is a breeze. Either throw the mat in your dishwasher or wipe it off with a wet cloth.
- WATER SPRAY BOTTLE: Water is important in this recipe. Instead of using flour to handle the stickiness, you will spray your mat or countertop with water, along with your hands. It works like magic.
No water sprayer? Set a bowl of water next to your work area and sprinkle the water on the mat.
- BENCH SCRAPER: This is such a handy tool–especially for bread makers. Use it to manipulate dough. In this recipe, you will spray it with water just like you do your hands. These are available in plastic or metal with a nice grippy handle. The latter is my favorite.
- 2-QUART MEASURING PITCHER: My secret for making a rye loaf that doesn’t burst on top is a glass or plastic bowl that holds at least 1 1/2 quart of liquid. The straighter the sides, the better. Try a 2-quart batter bowl. My favorite is the smallest OXO plastic mixing bowl of the three-piece set.
- A LAMÉ OR SHARP KNIFE: A lamé is a special tool designed to slash the top of bread. A really sharp knife or a new single blade razor will also do the job.
- FLAT COOKIE SHEET: Because this is a “free-form” bread, you will want a flat cookie sheet so it will brown evenly all over. If all your cookie sheets have rims, turn one over and place the bread on top.
- COOLING RACK: Rye bread has a long cooling period. A cooling rack is a must to avoid a steamed bottom. If you are a baker of any kind, you will find many uses for these.
Four ways to make a lighter-textured rye bread:
- Use less rye flour compared to wheat flour. For example, if the recipe calls for 2 cups of bread flour and 1 cup of rye, decrease the rye flour to 1/2 cup and increase the bread flour by 1/2 cup.
- Use light rye flour instead of dark rye flour. Dark rye is a whole grain flour. Light rye does not contain the bran or the germ. It’s comparable to the difference between whole grain wheat flour and white flour.
- Use bread flour instead of all-purpose flour. Generally speaking, all-purpose flour contains less protein and therefore, less gluten than bread flour and whole grain flour.
- Add vital wheat gluten for more rising power. Start with 2 tablespoons to 3 cups of flour. You may have to add some additional water–start with 1 tablespoon at a time.
I was specifically looking for a loaf of hearty and dense rye bread for this recipe, so I didn’t add any extra gluten.