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Making Bread with Rye

rye_ear_250 - Tom Barnes - tomRye bread is “black bread” (best pronounced with a west-country accent) as opposed to “white bread” which is an interesting aspect of its culinary trajectory as white (and shimmering) is the signifier of industrial food modernity…there is no chorleywood rye bread!

A bit of history

Historically, English Rye bread seemed to vanish from the plate with industrialisation and Empire, but was seemingly on the wane long before…as soon as wheat became more widely available. The English do not have the same liking for and deep roots with Rye, as do Germanic and Scandanavian people.

Nevertheless, it is not despised and is widely mentioned in history as a component of the maslin (mixed) loaf, which is the English equivalent of a genuine pain de campagne. This varied according to the harvest and could be composed of varying mixes of what was available, from largely wheat with some Rye or Spelt, to acorns and field peas in less favourable times.

The Maslin Loaf

Maslin was the great yeoman’s loaf, usually about 3kg and would have been the basis of the “ploughmans lunch”. This loaf was invariably a sourdough, whereas the lord of the manor and family ate a manchet loaf which was wheaten and leavened with barm yeast, so bread underlined class, as it still does to a large extent.

Maslin Loaves

There is more to this however, as a yeasted Rye bread is always lacking, and it would seem Rye actually requires to be made as a sourdough to balance its cloying nature, which is definitely mirrored in the bakery practice of the rye-eating countries.

Digestion and nutrition

Rye is very digestible and nutritious when made as a sourdough, but doesn’t lend itself to sweet toppings such as jam (dare I say nutella), but harmonises well with savoury flavours, again seen in the toppings favoured in the rye-eating lands. An oft mentioned archaic favourite with rye bread, is butter and sliced radishes with salt. 100% rye sourdough bread is a wonderful remedy after a “big night” if thinly sliced and eaten alone, to which I can attest!...a friend of the liver.

Rye flour

Rye flour is usually sold in two forms, as 100% wholemeal and is also sifted much as is wheat to “white” rye, creating a fabulous anomaly as “white” rye is dark in colour and makes a brown dough. It is also available widely as a meal, often very coarse, which is used for making pumpernickel which I have covered in the bakers blog.

The dark or wholemeal rye is measured by its ash content, so Shipton mill sells a 1350 dark rye, with a high ash content and a sifted light rye 950 with less ash. The ash number refers to the remnant when 100g of flour is incinerated (1.35g), so a higher ash content means a more complete or wholemeal flour and reflects the amount of minerals in the flour. Shipton’s sifted Rye is a 70% flour in that 30% of bran and germ is sifted off, much as in white wheat flour.

Working with Rye

Rye is difficult to work or knead as a 100% rye dough. If it is easy, the dough is too dry. It must stick to your hands. Remedy this to some extent by being deft…faster baker-like movements, which come with practice, or keep hands well-floured, oiled or moistened with water (or Gin if you prefer).

Schwarzbrot - proofed and ready to bake (recipe below)Rye dough is very forgiving and will usually ferment its own way out of a bit-of-a-mess! There is little point kneading rye, as there is virtually no gluten to develop, and thorough mixing to “clear” the dough is all that is required. It is not like a wheat dough.

The addition of some wheat flour is common practice and helps overcome the textural challenges. Rye/wheat doughs are more tractable, but only to a point…rye always introduces some gumminess/stickiness.

Wheat flour can be added in any proportion which suits your dream. White flour such as Shiptons traditional organic white, used 50% with a whole or sifted rye flour makes wonderful bread, as does a mix of our stoneground organic wholemeal wheat and wholemeal rye…they are very different breads but this demonstrates the range of options.

Maslin - ready for the oven (recipe below)When using wheat flour with rye, some kneading is necessary to develop the wheat’s gluten so as to achieve a lighter structure…which is the point of adding wheat to rye really. It is still sticky however, and using lighter “rolling” movements when kneading is more useful than kneading deeply and energetically as with a wheat flour dough. With rye, one aims for a shape, not a well-rounded wheat dough-like result.

Rye bread often contains caraway seed, dill seed or onions. These are all traditional additives and are personal or regional preference, so experiment to find which you prefer.


Some tips for working with rye:

  • Water for all breads 25°C …tepid/lukewarm
  • Warm flour briefly before making dough
  • Warm tins briefly…take the chill off the metal
  • An electric blanket set on “low” is the home-bakers winter friend. (“a warm spot”!)
  • Make bread with grace


Once you've been tempted, have a go at these recipes, there should be something here for everyone:

Rye breadsNew York Deli Rye

A traditional version of the famous loaf of Jewish ancestry from the lower-east side of New York. Widely enjoyed and eaten with preserved meats such as pastrami, this is an easy and friendly way to enjoy rye bread. Read more ...

The Yeoman's Loaf

.. or English Maslin, or French pain de campagne. This is of course an approximation and no historical accuracy is implied, but it is close to the original(s), and one of my favourite breads. Read more ...

Schwarzbrot .. 100% Rye

This is a classic Black Bread! Hefty and flavoursome, but very light on the digestion. Perfect for a savoury meal. Read more ...

Light rye bread using wild yeast - rated Best Recipe

Last, but by no means least, we have a fabulously crusty loaf that was contributed to our site by Tobs and is the best rated recipe on our website. So that's a great recommendation from you to you! Read more ...

And please don't forget to rate and comment on the recipes, so others know how you found them. But above all, enjoy them!