As anyone who has experimented with rye bread will know, it is a tricky flour to master, with a tendency to produce a heavy, moist loaf with a ‘gummy’ crumb. I’ve had many attempts at replicating the light, springy loaves we used to buy from a Jewish deli, and have finally come up with a formula which, although slightly more complicated, produces a fine result.
The breakthrough came when experimenting with the use of a ‘poolish’ to bake baguettes. A poolish consists of a flour/water mix to which a tiny amount (one-eighth of a teaspoon to a pound of flour) of fast-acting yeast is added, and the result left to work overnight. More flour and a little more yeast is added to create the final dough which is exceptionally springy and light.
The light rye bread is achieved by mixing a poolish (made with white flour) with a sourdough starter made with rye. The springy, open texture of the poolish helps counterbalance the heaviness of the rye, and the addition of a good dose of caraway seed gives it that unmistakable flavour.
The process may seem a little complicated – and it does require you to have an active sourdough culture available – but in practice it takes no longer than a classic sourdough bread.
The quantities below are sufficient to bake four good-sized loaves.
Strong white flour 300g
Yeast One-eighth of a teaspoon (yes, that’s right !)
The sourdough starter
Rye flour – light 400g
Sourdough culture – about 200-250g but it’s not critical. The less you add the longer the dough will take to work. The important thing is to remove, prior mixing the final dough, the same amount of culture for next time.
Yeast One tablespoon
Caraway seed 30g
Salt Around 25g according to taste and blood-pressure levels.
Total weight 3255g
In the evening, mix the poolish ingredients in one bowl and the sourdough starter in another, and leave overnight. The next morning remove, from the sourdough starter, the amount of culture you used and put it back in the fridge for future use. Put the poolish and the starter into one bowl then add the remaining flour, water, yeast, salt and seeds. Knead on a floured surface for 10 minutes. Put in a large bowl and cover with plastic or clingfilm and leave to rise for 2-4 hours depending on temperature. Knock back, divide into four loaves and shape as desired. Final proving then takes a further 1-2 hours following which bake for 30-40 minutes in a hot oven. If you can’t fit all four loaves in the oven at one time it’s a good idea to prove the first two loaves in a warm room and put the remainder in a cool place to retard the process slightly.