Despite the total time needed for a loaf of this rustic bread to emerge from the oven, this simple rye bread recipe is one of the easiest I’ve come across.
Wording my eats
For years I’ve adamantly been refusing to hop on the food blogger wagon. It seems I’m about to eat my words yet again – or word my eats, as the case may be.
While I owe many of my netizen friends many a recipe (I have a list and I’ll be getting to all of you eventually), @prokka has been more persistent than others in reminding me of his request for the recipe to a simple rustic rye bread that I posted and overtly bragged about on Instagram recently.
The particular difficulty that I have, and what has most likely been the greatest deterrence in sharing any of my recipes, is that I don’t measure anything when I’m cooking or baking. This makes it a tad complicated, if not damn impossible, to explain to others how to recreate what I do in the kitchen.
So bear with me through these recipes as I explain why NOT TO MEASURE ingredients and how to know when just right is enough. If you can’t be bothered to read, jump straight to the recipe. But I can’t guarantee it won’t all come out a disaster if you opt for the easy way out.Jump to Recipe
Baking without measure
I’ve always been known for having very little tack and no measure. It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that the same can be applied to my baking. The measures you see below are approximations.
There is good reason behind this, as anyone who has mastered the art of baking will tell you. If they’re honest. Ingredients differ so greatly and so often that any precise measure is a blatant lie most of the time.
How hard or soft is the flour you’re using today? How big or small are the eggs? Are you using American or European-style butter (look it up, the difference is about 20% fat)? What kind of oven are you using? And, most importantly, what’s the weather like today, outdoors and in your kitchen?
I cannot possibly tell you exactly how much of what to use for this rye bread recipe or any other dish. This recipe calls for 500-ish grams (or anywhere between 3 1/2 and 4 cups) of two kinds of flour combined. If it’s a hot and humid day, you’ll need a little more. In extremely dry weather, you’ll use a little more warm water.
Do the weather conditions and ingredients you’re using really make that much difference? Oh, God, yes they do! Baking is more science than art. All of those amateur bakers who have you thinking they’re exceptionally talented – are simply working off of a shit ton of experience. I can give you some tips and a place to start. But you’ll have to gain the experience on your own.
Sourdough starter hack
Only a sourdough rye bread is a real rye bread. Some will even have you believing that only a wild yeast starter is the only true rye bread starter. Unfortunately, a good sourdough starter is hard to come by in most parts of the world.
A dear friend recently sent me a recipe for pão alentejano, a traditional artisan sourdough bread hailing from the Portuguese province of Alentejo. The recipe called for traditional starter for the bread, which the author said could “easily be obtained by asking any local baker for a bit.” In Portugal, of course. Where I and most of you reading this can’t very well just pop over when we feel like it.
This sort of thing, in today’s globalized day and age, has irked me to no end. Fortunately, my paternal grandfather owned a bakery in Serbia about a century ago and my aunt picked up a few tricks from her father.
Though my aunt passed away a couple of decades ago, I managed to recall some of what she did with her phenomenal (and inimitable it would seem) baked goods when I was a child. When I started out making sourdough, I quickly gave up on any instant yeast and, as I couldn’t get my hands on legit baker’s sourdough starter, I did what she used to do.
I’ve included the ingredients in the recipe below. For the how-to on the sourdough starter hack, click on the hyperlinked text to open in a new tab.
Simple Rye Bread Recipe (with sourdough starter hack)
Rustic Light Rye Bread Recipe
- 400 g rye flour plus extra for kneading and dusting
- 100 g bread flour a.k.a. grano duro or T-500 flour
- 50 g fresh yeast
- 50 ml warm milk
- 1 tsp white sugar for proofing yeast
- 3-4 tbsp olive oil extra virgin, obviously
- 1-2 tsp salt sea salt or fine salt, depending on preference
- 1-2 tbsp (optional) sunflower seed, caraway seed or chopped olives add into the dough or top the loaf, to taste
- 2-3 tbsp warm water add as needed
- Prepare and set aside all of the other ingredients and proof the yeast first. And no, instant yeast is not an option for rye bread. For my fake sourdough starter hack using fresh yeast, sugar and milk, see the link in the explanatory text above.
- Mix the flours and salt in a large bowl and make a crater in the middle. Add the proofed yeast and olive oil, then mix with wooden spoon. Rye flour tends to be drier than white or all-purpose flour, so you'll need to add some warm water to evenly combine the ingredients. Add warm water (body temp. is perfect) one tablespoon at a time until the dough is workable but not sticky or wet. If necessary, add more flour, a sprinkle at a time to get it right.
- Preheat oven to 220°C/430°F at least 30 minutes before baking.
- Plop the dough onto a floured surface. IMPORTANT: Kneading for a full, uninterrupted 10 minutes or until completely smooth is bullshit. If you're kneading by hand, as I do, you're likely working fast and using plenty of muscle. Knead for 5 minutes AT MOST, until the texture is RELATIVELY smooth. A few flour kinks in the dough are better than a completely smooth, gluten-ridden, hard mess. If your kneading is on the gentle side or you're using a machine, knead for 5 minutes, then evaluate where you are before you knead any more. Dust with more flour or add more moisture (dip your hand in warm water, sprinkle the dough, then continue kneading), if necessary. This is rustic, simple, old-school bread. Don't overdo it.
- Grease a clean bowl with a little olive oil or butter. Lay the ball of dough in the bowl and cover with cling film, then place in a warm place to rise. This first rise will take at least an hour or two in relatively warm weather (late Spring or early Autumn in the northern hemisphere). No shortcuts, like keeping the bowl close to the oven or a fireplace. Dough needs a stable, constant temperature to rise, not necessarily added heat. Proofing on a very hot and humid day will take less, about 45 minutes, and up to three hours in cold, dry winter weather. Letting the dough rise overnight (or at least 6 to 8 hours) in a refrigerator, known as a slow rise, is also an option, if you have time, and will yield a wonderful, thin, crispy bread crust.
- When the dough has about doubled in size, tip it over gently back onto a lightly floured work surface. Now is the time to add raw sunflower, caraway seeds or chopped olives to taste (entirely optional), then knead gently and briefly (a minute or two) to work out the air bubbles. Shape into whatever shape loaf, lay the loaf on a baking tray, then covered with lightly oiled cling film and let rise for another hour or two. The second rise won't give quite as much floof as the first, but the loaf should nearly double in size again.
- Make sure the oven is well heated. Remove the cling film from the loaf, dust the loaf with more rye flour, then use a very sharp knife to make a 3 to 4 diagonal slashes in the loaf (to let it breathe in the oven as it bakes).
- Pop the loaf into the hot oven. If you're working in very hot or dry weather, toss 5 or 6 ice cubes into the oven bottom as soon as you place the loaf in. If weather conditions are extremely dry and hot, place a baking tray or small oven-safe dish with a little cold water in the oven below the loaf. Bread needs both heat and a little humidity to bake properly.
- After 15 minutes, turn the oven down to 200°C/390°F and let bake another 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the type and size of oven you're using. You know your oven best and I'm afraid that exact baking time is something you'll have to try and err on yourself.
- When it's done baking, remove the loaf, wrap it in a cotton or linen kitchen towel or cloth, making sure it's tucked in well on all sides, then lean it upright to rest and cool. This keeps the bread nice and soft and the crust crispy, but soft.
- Best served while hot with butter or at room temperature with a bowl of olive oil for dipping and thinly sliced Dalmatian or Montenegrin prosciutto.