Home > Food, Provenance > Rye bread revisited – again

Rye bread revisited – again

Preparation Time: 24 hours Cooking Time: 35 minutes Yield: a loaf

The ultimate light rye – great loft, slightly moist fine crumb

After about a year’s experimenting with rye bread, the ultimate loaf has finally emerged.

One of the biggest problems with a pure rye loaf is the lack of loft. Even using light pure rye flour, the loaf tends to be quite dense, the slices small. If sliced too thick, it is inclined to be stodgy, and it does not toast well.

Having started working with a poolish of late – a fermentation starter or pre-ferment – in my bread baking odyssey, the thought struck me that perhaps weaving a poolish into the conventional rye recipe may well make a difference.

The origins of the name poolish are not credibly determinable, but the word is used in French to describe a sponge pre-ferment, consisting of equal proportions of flour and lukewarm water, and a pinch of dry, or a thumb-sized piece of fresh yeast.

This pre-ferment with leaven, according to my trusty Larousse Gastronomique, makes the bread lighter, and gives it a characteristic fine-crumb texture, flavour and aroma.

Whereas the traditional rye loaf recipe makes a loaf that rises to about 6cm in height, the poolish version makes a loaf that rises twice as high. The baked loaf has a texture and loft which is akin to a good quality white loaf.

How does this work you might well ask? Well, rye flour has very little gluten, and gluten is the substance that gives bread its structure – the elasticity which allows small bubbles of carbon dioxide released during proving. The poolish seems to compensate for the lack of gluten, by giving the rye dough better structure, hence the greater loft and the lighter texture.

Ingredients, Selection and Preparation


½ cup (125ml) pure light rye flour

½ cup (125ml) lukewarm water

A thumb size piece of fresh yeast OR 1tsp dry yeast: be warned that I only use fresh yeast, so my conversions are approximate. Apparently, as a rule of thumb, the conversion of dry yeast to fresh yeast, is 1:2 i.e. 1g dry yeast = 2g fresh yeast. I buy fresh yeast from the local Pick ‘n Pay or Spar, both of which are more than willing to sell it to the public.

(Bread dough)

1kg pure light rye flour: Eureka Mills in the Overberg mill a range of stone ground flours, which are completely natural, with no additives at all. Available from the bigger Pick ‘n Pay’s from Checkers, and from the bigger Spar stores. I find Checkers the cheapest at R26.95, and the Lion Square Spar the most expensive at R36.95 for a 2.5kg bag of light rye flour.

20g table salt

600ml lukewarm water

60g fresh yeast OR 30g dry yeast


The day before you plan to bake, make the poolish.

Pour the lukewarm water into a small bowl, and dissolve the yeast in it. Sprinkle in the rye flour and stir until thoroughly mixed and smooth.

Cover tightly with a piece of cling film and place in a warm area to ferment. Over the next 24 hours, it will swell alarmingly, touch the top of the cling film, and then recede. This is normal and there is no need to release the cling film.

To make the dough pour 600ml of lukewarm water into a large mixing bowl. Dissolve the yeast completely in the luke warm water.

Empty the entire contents of the poolish bowl (use a spatula to clean out the bowl and scrape of the underside of the cling film) into the water.

Stir the poolish into the water with a fork.

Weigh out and sift the 1kg of rye flour into the mixing bowl, followed by the salt.

Using a large fork, mix the ingredients until a dough forms.

Flour a work surface and your hands lightly then turn the dough out.

Knead the dough for six minutes, flouring your hands as needed, until the dough is elastic and slightly sticky.

What better way to enjoy rye toast, than with two perfectly soft-boiled free range eggs?

Butter or oil a large bread tin (mine is L300mm x W100mm x H90mm), shape the dough into an even, thick sausage that will just fit into the tin, and drop it carefully in.

Cut a slit lengthwise down the entire dough sausage about 1cm deep with a sharp knife. This helps to prevent the loaf from cracking during baking.

Cover the tin with plastic and a kitchen towel, put in a warm place to prove. Note that you’re not going to knock the dough down; you’re going to bake it after the first rise. This also helps to get the greater loft.

While the dough is proving, heat the oven to 240 deg C.

I find a proving time of 20 to 30 minutes allows the dough to more than double in size, and the loaf will have risen above the top of the bread tin.

Place the bread tin in mid-oven once it is up to temperature, and bake for 35 minutes, or until the crust is light brown, and the loaf has a hollow ring when you thump it on the bottom.

Remove from the oven, and cool on a grid for 24 hours, wrapped in a kitchen towel if you want a softer crust, or loosely covered with a kitchen towel if you want a crisper crust.

The loaf keeps well in the fridge in a zip-lock plastic bag, for up to two weeks.

If condensation forms inside the bag, wipe it out with a kitchen towel to prevent the loaf from going mouldy. Enjoy!

  1. Julie
    September 27, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    when do u add the yeast to the bread dough?

    • September 27, 2012 at 5:18 pm

      You don’t add it to the dough. You add it to the poolish, which is made in the very first step in the method. This is a sourdough bread that does not rely on yeast at all other than to make the initial starter.

      • Julie
        September 28, 2012 at 8:47 am

        Ok thanks. Reading the recipe I thought the poolish had 1tsp of yeast and then the bread dough 30g. Im obviously reading it wrong. Many thanks.

  2. Julie
    September 28, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Hi again. Ive re-read your recipe again and I still dont get it. Im obviously very thick. I made a poolish with 1/2 cup water 1/2 cup rye and 1 tsp dry yeast. It did not rise at all. Should it be 30g of dry yeast to the above? Sorry but I would really like to make this bread. Many thanks.

    • September 28, 2012 at 10:45 am

      Hi Julie,
      Sorry I’m getting confused between recipes. I have another bread recipe that relies only on a sourdough starter, but this is not it.
      This one relies on a poolish as well as yeast. I’ve edited the recipe to reflect when the yeast must be added. You dissolve it in the 600ml of luke warm water before you stir in the poolish.
      So sorry for the confusion. Like I said, I do have a recipe that relies solely on sourdough, rather than using any yeast, if you’re interested. It’s a little more tricky to make, but well worth the effort. Let me know, and if you’re interested, I’ll post it.

  3. Julie Barnard.
    September 28, 2012 at 11:30 am

    Thanks very much. I would like to see your other recipe too. Many thanks.
    Regards. Julie.

    • October 2, 2012 at 9:09 pm

      Hi Julie,
      So sorry, I saw your comment last week, and for some reason didn’t approve it or act on it.
      I’ll be posting my other recipe in the next day or so.

  1. February 22, 2011 at 11:23 am
  2. October 7, 2012 at 3:32 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: