Rye breads have not shown up in my kitchen often; I’ve heard that it’s a whole different animal to deal with. Why bother with rye bread with all its known liabilities in bread-making quality? Rye flour has very little gluten to form the open crumb structure we tend to like in our breads. Rye is high in amylase enzyme, known to break down dough structure causing a dense, gummy, pasty texture. At the same time, I believe that rye should be given equal opportunity to show its stuff before writing it off totally. Besides bringing a different wheat flavor to the table, rye bread brings with it the distinct mushroom, potato and green notes typical of the rye grain. Wait, the sourdough leaven adds malty, sweaty and vinegar notes. It is all about flavors!
This recipe comes from Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread. The percentage of rye is 25 percent of total weight of flour, high enough for the character of the grain to shine while minimizing the tendency of rye bread to becoming dense and cake like. The rye-wheat combination totals 50 percent. Bread flour makes up the remaining 50 percent of total weight of flour in the dough. There is sufficient amount of gluten in wheat and bread flour in this recipe to ensure good leavening. Sourdough, with its large amount of acid-forming bacteria, plays a key role here in building the mature rye culture. The presence of sourdough is crucial in stabilizing the baking quality of the final dough by inhibiting the enzymatic activity, the so-called “starch attack,” the culprit for the gummy texture.
Note that a small amount of yeast is used in this recipe. See the cheat sheet below for details. The mixture of sourdough bacteria and yeast shortens the fermentation process. This bread takes about three hours to complete, an added bonus if you are short on time. The bread can be made without commercial yeast. Do expect bulk and final fermentation to take at least 50 percent longer.
What’s working for this rye-wheat recipe? Plenty. The relatively open and moist crumb structure, a gentle tang, a slight whole-rye flavor note, and good keeping quality. It’s well worth taking the time to test drive this 50 percent rye-wheat bread -- the first step towards the more robust rye bread with higher concentration in rye flour.