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Beguiling mountain rye

Preparation Time: 3 days Baking Time: 90 minutes Yield: 2 loaves

Portuguese mountain rye

 Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid’s fabulous book “Home Baking” started me on a bread-baking odyssey some months ago. One of the recipes I tried, is for a Portuguese mountain rye loaf, well two actually. It’s kind of a bulk recipe.

Anyway, the dough seems to be very moist, and therefore difficult to work with. I’ve made it about a half dozen times, with mixed results, until I decided to exclude one of the cups of water. What a difference! I finally figured out that what appears in the book is actually wrong, and tweaking it the way I did makes all the difference.

It relies on a poolish (only the first time) and a starter, and takes a couple of days, but that allows you to fit it into your busy life. It’s become part of my weekly bake, along with my standard rye loaf.

Proportionately, it’s about 60% rye and 40% wheat flour, but it is beguilingly delicious, particularly toasted. Daughter Alex said to me the other day: “Please stop baking this loaf, Dad. It’s just too delicious to resist!” Like me, she has a wheat intolerance. My poolish uses rye instead of bread flour, a departure from the original recipe.

The loaves it produces, are floury and gnarled, riven with fissures and barely round. Nonetheless, it is lovely, with a moist light crumb, and large bubbles, due no doubt to the long yeasting time.

Ingredients, Selection and Preparation


½cup lukewarm water

½cup light rye flour

Thumb size piece fresh yeast OR 1/2tsp dried yeast

(Rye starter)

1 cup lukewarm water

2 cups light rye flour


3 cups light rye flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

3 cups lukewarm water

4tsp salt

5 cups bread four


Prepare the poolish three to four days before you wish to bake for the first time. In a small mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water, then stir in the flour. Cover tightly with cling-film, set aside to ferment for 12 to 36 hours.

For the starter, in a large bowl, dissolve the poolish in the lukewarm water and stir in the two cups of rye flour until smooth. Cover with cling film, and let ferment for 24 hours. Refrigerate for up to 24 hour if you wish.

The evening before you want to bake, sift the whole wheat flour and rye flour evenly over the starter. Cover with a kitchen towel and plastic, and stand in a warm place overnight.

Three to four hours before you want to bake, stir in 3 cups lukewarm water and 1tsp salt until smooth.

Lift out two cups to form your starter for the next batch, stored in a zip seal bag in the fridge. You’ll never use yeast again for this bread!

Add 3tsp (1tbsp) of salt and sift and stir in one cup at a time, five cups of bread flour. Knead until smooth with a wooden spoon initially, then with well-floured hands (the dough will be moist and quite sticky), and place the dough in a well-oiled large bowl, covered with a kitchen towel, in a warm place to prove for three to four hours. It should almost double in size.

Place a baking tray or unglazed quarry tile in mid-oven, and heat to 250 deg C. Once the oven is at temperature, turn out the dough on a well-floured surface, and divide in half.

Pour a ½cup of bread flour into a medium bowl. Drop half the dough in the bowl, and toss the dough for up to a minute until it so a rough round. Cover the other half of the dough with a kitchen towel.

Turn the dough out onto the tile (baking tray), and bake for 15 minutes at 250 deg C then turn down to  220 deg C for 30 minutes.

The loaf is done when it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Heat the oven back to 250 deg C, and repeat with the other half of the dough.

Place on a rack to cool uncovered for 24 hours. Keeps well for up to a week in the fridge in a zip seal bag.

Refresh the starter a day or two before you plan to use it, or weekly if unused for more than seven days: discard half, and stir in 1 cup lukewarm water, and two cups light rye flour.

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