13 Tips to Know before Baking Rye Sourdough Breads

1. The dough becomes denser, as the proportion of rye flour increases.

Rye bread is so dense because rye contains very high levels of pentosans which prevents gluten to be formed in the dough. Since gluten cannot be formed in rye flour, the dough is unable to trap the gasses from fermentation, resulting in a dense dough and baked loaf.

The forming block of gluten: gliadin and glutenin proteins are present in rye flour,but pentosans compete with gliadin and glutenin for moisture, which prevents the development of gluten.

Rye breads are made today as a blend of rye and wheat flour. The higher the proportion of rye flour in the dough, the lower the availability of gluten in the dough, impairing the dough’s ability to trap rising gasses, and the denser the dough and baked loaf becomes.

2. The dough rises slower, as the proportion of rye flour increases.

As more rye flour is present in the dough, the slower the dough rises. Although fermentation happens very rapidly in rye doughs, the gasses produced by fermentation easily dissipates out of the dough, causing the dough to rise very slowly throughout the fermentation reaction.

When baking rye breads with a high proportion of rye flour, do not expect to see a significant rise in the dough during the fermentation period.

If you would like your rye bread to rise better and be less dense when baked, use a higher percentage of wheat flour. The gluten in wheat flour is able to trap fermentation gasses, causing a significant improvement in rise and reduction in density over a rye flour dominant bread.

3. Bulk fermentation time is reduced, as the proportion of rye flour increases.

Proportion of Rye flour in DoughBulk fermentation time at 25 CelciusFinal Fermentation Time at 25 Celcius
40%60 minutes60 minutes
50%50 minutes60 minutes
60%40 minutes60 minutes
70%30 minutes60 minutes
80%20 minutes60 minutes
90%15 minutes60 minutes
100%15 minutes60 minutes

The table above gives us a rough guideline for the appropriate bulk fermentation times for various proportion of rye flour from 40% up to 100% as laid out by Jeffrey Hamelman . As the proportion of rye flour in the dough increases, we must reduce the bulk fermentation time.

As the proportion of rye flour in the dough increases, the dough’s ability to trap gasses reduces, hence a long bulk fermentation time will not present any further benefit to the dough’s rise. Additionally, since rye flour ferments very rapidly, a longer bulk fermentation time for a dough of high proportion of rye flour will be too acidic and sour.

100 percent Rye Dough

4. Increase hydration levels, as proportion of rye flour increases.

Rye flour absorbs more water than wheat. Hence, when baking with rye flour, we need to increase the water content of the dough to achieve the same desired dough consistency. Rye dough should be fairly wet and loose in texture, as these wetter doughs ferments better to bring out the fuller flavor of rye.

Table below gives you a rough guideline on the approximate hydration levels corresponding to the proportion of rye flour in the dough; do not be afraid to add or reduce water, most importantly we are trying to achieve a dough of a wetter consistency.

Proportion of Rye flour in DoughHydration Level

5. Mixing becomes gentler, as proportion of rye flour in dough increases.

Since rye dough do not have as much gluten as wheat doughs, it is not as supple; do not try to knead it into shape. It feels more clay-like, with little to no elasticity.

As proportion of rye increases, mixing should be gentler to prevent fragile pentosans from releasing water and causing a pasty dough to form. Hence, as the proportion of rye flour in the dough increases, second speed mixing time reduces while first speed mixing time increases.

The table below is a guideline for mixing times using a stand mixer (KitchenAid type mixer). The higher the proportion of rye flour in the dough, the dough’s strength and stretchability reduces.

Proportion of Rye flour in DoughFirst Speed Mixing Time with Stand MixerSecond Speed Mixing Time with Stand MixerDough Consistency after Mixing
50%2.5 minutes5 minutesPerceptible gluten development, dough has some strength and stretchability from high proportion of wheat flour.
60%2.5 minutes3 minutesSlight gluten development, dough has little strength and stretchability from wheat flour.
80%3.5 minutes2 minuteVery little gluten development, dough has very little strength and stretchability.
100%8 minutes0No gluten development, dough has no strength and stretchability.

6. Acidity is important to nullify the activity of amylase enzymes to prevent gumminess.

Rye breads have a tendency to be gummy from the high quantity of naturally present amylase enzymes in rye flour. Amylase enzymes breaks down the structurally important starch molecules in the flour into reducing sugars which are consumed by yeast and bacteria which undergoes fermentation.

When too much of these structurally important starch molecules are broken down into non structural reducing sugars, the crumb will be baked into a gummy and gooey mess; this is commonly known as the ‘starch attach’ in rye breads.

Bakers have discovered that amylase activity grinds to a halt when acidity of the dough drops below pH 5.0. Hence, the use of a sourdough starter as the leavening agent is highly recommended when baking rye breads as the sourdough starter acidifies the dough and reduces the amylase enzyme activity.

An innoculation of at least 30% is recommended for baking rye breads; the weight of flour in the sourdough starter (or levain) should be at least 30% of the weight of total flour in the dough. An innoculation of at least 30% is required to inhibit amylase enzyme activity to prevent starch attack in rye bread.

7. Modern rye bread use molasses, syrup and dark cocoa powder to darken the bread.

Traditionally, dark colored rye breads (pumpernickel rye bread) are made using only 4 ingredients: flour, water, salt and yeast. The extremely dark coloration of rye bread is achieved through baking the bread in a receding heat over a very long duration of time. The low heat allows amylase enzymes to remain active for a longer period of time, increasing the amount of reducing sugars in the dough, which caramelizes and turns the bread into a rich dark brown color.

However, not all of us have the time to wait 12 hours for a loaf to bake. Hence, modern day rye breads includes the addition of molasses, syrup and dark cocoa powder to help darken the bread artificially over the normal 40 minute baking at 235 Celcius.

8. Shape into larger loafs to prevent thick crust from forming.

Since rye breads are unable to form gluten, its dough will be dense, which tends to cause a thick crust to form. Divide and shape the dough into larger loafs of at least 700g in weight to prevent a thick crust from forming, as a larger loaf losses less moisture than a smaller loaf during baking.

A larger loaf has a lower surface area per volume ratio than a smaller loaf; the surface area of one large loaf is smaller than the surface area of two smaller loaf of the same weight. Hence, a larger loaf loses less moisture to evaporation during the bake, and a thinner crust is formed on the surface.

9. Bannetons are useful as proportion of rye increases.

As the proportion of rye increases, the dough will tend to be too weak to hold its shape after shaping. Hence a banneton will come in very handly when baking rye breads. A 100% rye bread will not be able to hold its shape at all since there is zero gluten development in the dough.

10. Use a dough docker instead of a razor blade for scoring rye bread.

Since rye breads are weak by nature from the lack of gluten, scoring rye breads with a razor blade will severe too many gluten strands, likely cause the dough to flatten out. Instead, rye breads made with more than 80% of rye flour are scored using a dough docker instead of a razor bread.

A dough docker is a small hand held roller with many protruding sharp pins on it. We simply roll the docker over the dough, which creates many tiny holes in the dough to guide the expansion of the dough during oven spring, without creating excessively weak areas in the dough that causes the dough to flatten out.

11. Baked in a bread pan to hold its shape.

When baking with a very high proportion of rye flour, it will be difficult for the dough to be shaped and baked without any support as the dough will likely flatten out. Hence, it is very common to bake rye breads in bread pans which helps to hold the bread in shape as it bakes.

12. Steam is vented earlier in the bake as proportion of rye flour increases.

The higher the proportion of rye in the dough, steaming should be reduced to prevent the loaf from flattening out.

Rye doughs do not have sufficient gluten to keep itself upright when it is baked, hence if too much steam is introduced, the crust formation will be delayed, which causes the loaf to flatten out as there is a lack of a hard outer shell to hold the loaf in shape.

For breads up to 50% rye flour, the steam is vented after 15 minutes to allow the loaf to finish baking in a dry environment. As the proportion of rye flour increases, steaming time is also reduced to prevent the loaf from flattening out. At 90% rye flour, steam is vented after only 5 minutes.

13. Rye bread needs a longer cooling period for the crumb to stabilize.

A full 24 hours cooling time is required for rye breads in order for the crumb to firm up and for full flavor of the bread to develop. If the rye bread is cut open before it is cooled sufficiently, you will find the crumb to be gummy, and the flavor less intense.

Rye breads pairs well with cheese, cured fish, meat, butter and jam. As rye breads are quite dense, usually sandwiches made with rye breads are single-sided; double-sided rye sandwiches can be too much work for the jaw.


Hey there! I'm Sam, your go-to pal for all things sourdough. I've been baking and kneading for 10 fun-filled years, and I can't wait to share the joy of turning simple ingredients into heavenly sourdough bread with you. Grab your apron and let's dive into this amazing world of sourdough bread together on this blog.

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