Mixing rye dough — tips & tricks
Rye dough can be discouraging — it’s sticky, it’s heavy, it’s hard to deal with. And while it doesn’t require kneading for gluten development, proper mixing is very important. If the dough is not mixed properly there might be dry spots inside and uneven distribution of sourdough and flavouring agents like salt and seeds will result in poor bread quality and taste. The importance of mixing quality grows with the ratio of rye flour and its wholeness: dark rye is harder to mix than light rye and 100% rye is harder to mix than 50/50 rye/wheat combination.
I’ve tried multiple different mixing techniques and I’d like to share the one which made my life a lot easier. This technique is based on a method provided in an old Soviet book called 350 Varieties Of Bakery Products by Plotnikov and Kolesnikov. In its basic form it doesn’t require any tools except for baker’s hands, but I’d also like to note a few tools which make my mixing a lot easier.
I’ve found that the order in which ingredients are added to the mix is very important. When easier to mix and dissolve ingredients are added first they will be distributed more evenly in the final dough resulting in better bread quality. Mixing order will also delay and minimise the hardest phase of the process making your life easier. My recommendation is to follow the following order:
- Water and other liquids if required.
- Water soluble ingredients like salt, treacle, sugar, etc.
- Leavening agent like sourdough, baker’s yeast, scald, etc.
- Flour and other non-soluble ingredients like seeds.
It is also worth noting that flour and other non-soluble ingredients should be mixed together before adding to the dough because they will be added in portions.
Mixing water, solubles and leaven
Tools to use: spoon.
Water should be pre-heated to a desired temperature so that once the dough is ready it has desired target temperature. Target temperature for rye doughs is usually above +25C yet all ingredients are usually cooler unless you live in a warm climate, so pre-heating water is essential. If you mix in a heavy bowl made from something like glass then bowl might need pre-heating as well, otherwise it will cool down the dough. I usually pre-heat bowl by filling it with warm water from tap and I usually pre-heat my dough water to about +38C to +40C.
Next step is to add and dilute all of the water soluble ingredients like salt and treacle. Just add them in and stir like you’d normally do.
Once that done, add all of your leavening agents. Usually your leavening agent is simply a sourdough. But some recipes might call for some complex ingredients like scalds, etc. Make sure to mix everything properly — you should end up with a batter like mixture in most cases. Rye dough is very stiff and pockets of yeast won’t be able to disperse evenly without this step. Lack of gluten stretchiness and yeast pockets will results in a very bad crumb in a rye bread.
Adding flour and everything else
Tools to use: spoon.
As explained above flour mixture should be pre-mixed and we will be adding it in portions. Add two-three table spoons at a time and mix it in until there are no dry spots and clumps left. Your dough will become more and more sticky and stiff with every spoon added. Mixing it in gradually makes the overall process much easier and manageable. And it will become impossible to mix with the spoon once you add all of the flour. Stop and proceed to the next step.
Tools to use: your hands, bowl with water, vinyl gloves (optional), scraper (optional)
By the time you reach the hardest part of this mixing technique your dough should be 90% ready and effectively you’ve made your life much easier. Now it’s time to get your hands dirty. And sticky.
No rocket science here sadly, just mix the dough thoroughly with your hands until everything is incorporated. Remove excessive dough from your hands with a scraper or spoon and wet them from time to time, but try to avoid introducing too much water into the mixture. And that’s it! No need to knead or fold, just mix properly.
I’ve found that dough doesn’t stick to vinyl gloves as much as it does stick to my hands. That also applies to tools like scrapers and spoons: dough sticks more to metal and less to plastic and wood. I also try to mix it with just one hand keeping the other clean just in case.
Mixing rye can be hard yet it’s probably the most important stage of rye dough development. But I believe it can be made a bit easier using this method, at least it helps me. I hope my mixing technique will help you as well and will make your baking days more pleasant.