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A Journey Into Bread Baking World

Russian Sour Rye - a recipe from 1940 book

This is probably the simplest sourdough rye bread recipe possible. It only has 3 ingredients: dark rye flour (type 1740, read more about rye flours in my previous post), water and salt. And it comes from a great book called 350 Varieties Of Bakery Products by Plotnikov and Kolesnikov published in 1940. It is the first recipe in the book and is used to describe several bread making techniques.

One important thing to note is that, as the name implies, this bread is sour. Very sour. If you’re not used to really sour rye breads, you might not like it. But this bread is a good starting point in learning how to bake rye.

This recipe requires 100% rye sourdough starter so you should have one in advance. If you only have a wheat starter then you can re-feed a portion of it with rye over the course of a few days to minimise wheat content. Russian starters usually have hydration around 80%, but I’ve recalculated the recipe to 100% hydration starter since this is what most of people have. You can use my Sourdough Calculator if you have different hydration or want to make any adjustments.

Before starting

A lot of people struggle with rye dough and find it very hard to deal with, especially 100% wholemeal dark rye flour. I have a post with tips and tricks for handling and mixing such doughs in most painless way, so it can be a useful read before proceeding.

Another reason behind rye struggles is rye chemistry and bio-activity. In short, baker must follow exact instructions or there is a very high risk of destroying the dough. Forget everything you’ve learned about wheat breads and just follow the instructions. If you wish to learn why rye is different I suggest you read Ginsberg’s book called The Rye Baker. And once you master basics of rye baking, you’ll be able to make your own adjustments to suit your taste.

Rye dough requires moist and warm environment to ferment and proof. Putting it into the fridge won’t do any good, so make sure you can keep it between +29C and +30C somewhere. I use oven with a light on and I monitor temperature with Bluetooth oven thermometer. I use water spray to keep it moist inside and cover the dough with a towel to limit evaporation.

While bread recipe requires only three ingredients, you might want to have some extra stuff to make the bread exceptional by forming a protective layer on its crust. You will need wheat flour, starch and water to do that. Such layer is created on most of rye breads in Russia, Belarus and Baltic states. Potato starch is most commonly used in the region, but corn starch works as well. Some seeds might be used to decorate the bread, but are not required. Russians use caraway, cumin, fennel, coriander, sunflower and pumpkin seeds in rye breads, but you can experiment with what you like. Please note that this recipe should not have seeds inside the dough.

Recipe

The recipe itself is super simple and it is using a two stage dough: first you make sourdough, then you make final dough. This bread can be baked in a tin in a brick shape or on a baking tray/pizza stone in an oblong shape. Rye breads are never scored and rarely dusted with flour. Dough is usually pricked with a stick of some kind before baking. I use chopsticks for that.

Here’s bakers formula with weights adjusted to 600g loaf. You can also use this spreadsheet to adjust total dough weight if needed. Please note that sourdough section in the spreadsheet is only used to calculate final dough contents correctly, it SHOULD NOT be used to build your sourdough. Use Sourdough Calculator for that. I’m working on improving this unfortunate situation.

Overall formula

Ingredient % Weight
Dark Rye Flour 100% 348.84g
Water 70% 244.19g
Salt 2% 6.98g
Total 600.00g

Sourdough

Ingredient Weight
Starter 31.72g
Dark Rye Flour 158.59g
Water 123.70g
Total 314.00g

Final dough

Ingredient Weight
Dark Rye Flour 174.42g
Sourdough 313.95g
Water 104.65g
Salt 6.98g
Total 600.00g

Time required: 12 hour sourdough build, 2 hour bulk fermentation, 1 hour proofing, 40 minutes baking = 16 hours including mixing and shaping.

Sourdough build

Warm up water to +35C, mix in starter until dissolved completely, then mix in rye flour. Cover the container and leave for 12 hours at room temperature (about +23C). Sourdough should double in size and become very bubbly inside. If you wish to bake after work, then it is a good idea to mix sourdough before going to work. If you wish to bake on a weekend morning, then it would be better to start in the evening of the day before.

Final dough

Warm up water to +35C, mix all ingredients together in a bowl until fully incorporated and no dry spots left. There is no need to knead the dough. Cover the bowl with kitchen towel and place in moist warm place at +29C to +30C for 2 hours.

Shape the dough into an oblong. The purpose of shaping is to degas the dough and to set its shape. There’s no need to build surface tension as there’s no gluten involved. You can use wet shaping (preferable for tin baking) or dry shaping (preferable for stone baking). Wet shaping is when you shape your loaf on a wet surface with wet hands. Dry shaping is when you dust the bench and your hands with flour. Try not to introduce too much flour into the dough at this stage. I personally find wet shaping to be easier to deal with.

At the end of the shaping the surface of the dough should be smooth without any cracks or holes. If you have holes, cracks or are dissatisfied with uniformity, you can re-shape the dough. You can re-shape it multiple times as there’s no gluten to overwork and destroy.

Once the shaping is done, place the dough into oiled tin upside up or dust it with flour and put it into baneton upside down. Cover with towel and put into warm moist place at +29C to +30C for about 60 minutes for final proofing. The dough should raise and almost double in size, but the best proofing indicator is that its surface started getting cracks and holes.

Crust improvements

Most rye breads in Russia and countries around it has some kind of a crust enhancement. Its purpose is to seal the moisture inside the bread and prolong its life as well as to improve bread visually. This specific recipe calls for a wheat wash before baking and starch coating after baking.

To prepare wheat wash, take 5 grams of wheat flour and 20 grams of water, mix together and wash the top of your loaf before putting it into the oven. You probably won’t need all of that, but you should have an even coating which fills all of the cracks and holes formed during proofing.

To make starch coating take 5 grams of potato or corn starch and 150 grams of cold water. Mix together in a pan and heat it up until boiling stirring constantly. Once it starts to boil, remove from heat and let it cool. Starch coating is applied to the top of the loaf right after you get it out of the oven and while it is still hot. You will only need a fraction of the slurry you’ve made, but it can be challenging to make less.

Baking

Put the dough on a tray and prick three vertical holes. I use a chop stick to do that. The holes should go through to the bottom of the loaf.

The book recommends baking at +300C for the first few minutes which is the temperature used for most of rye breads in the region. Such high temperature sets the crust and prevents cracking. Bakeries usually have two ovens: one is constantly running at +300C and above and another is running at +210C and below. Such setup is a luxury to have at home.

My way of baking rye breads is to pre-heat my oven to the maximum temperature (my oven gets to +290C), put a loaf inside for 10 minutes, then change temperature to +210C and open the oven door half way for about 5 seconds to release excessive heat without introducing too much cold air. Too much cold air will result in bread collapsing. Then bake for 25-35 minutes more. The bread is ready when its internal temperature reaches +92C and it sounds hollow when thumped from the bottom.

After baking

Remove the bread from the oven and place it on a wire rack. Wash the surface with starch coating. Let it cool down and rest for at least 12 hours before cutting. I prefer to store my rye breads inside a cotton bag which is then put inside a plastic bag. Cotton bag absorbs excessive amounts of evaporated water which can condense on a plastic and lead to moulding and it also protects thin plastic bag from being damaged and getting dirty so that plastic bag can be re-used for months and years. Plastic bag on top prevents moisture loss.

All in all this is a very simple recipe even if this post is quite big. There are only three major stages here: sourdough development, dough development and baking. They all require minimal amount of ingredients and just a couple of manual actions: mixing and shaping. Everything else is basically waiting. I hope this recipe will help you to dive into a beautiful world of rye baking!