Lesson 3: Recipe for Sourdough Wheat and Rye Bread

People have been baking sourdough bread for as long as they’ve been baking bread at all. If it was really that complex and difficult, it would never have found its way into our modern, convenient times.

This loaf is the one I bake most often; you might call it my signature loaf. It is beautiful and aromatic, and has a flavor I still crave and enjoy even after years of baking and eating it. It’s also a perfect loaf to begin with—and to make and make again until you have your technique down.

For details on managing your time around the baking of bread, click on this link: Managing Your Time.

Ingredients for one 2-pound loaf

1 cup (8 ounces) sourdough starter
1-1/8 cups-1-1/4 cups (9.5-10 ounces) room temperature filtered water; or, you can replace up to 1/3 cup water with whey
1-1/2 tablespoons barley malt
2-1/2 cups (12 ounces) whole-wheat bread flour
½ cup rye flour (2.2 ounces), plus additional for dusting dish towel or banneton
½ cup (2.2 ounces) white bread flour
5 teaspoons sea salt (I use Celtic Sea Salt)
olive oil for bowl
rolled oats or cornmeal for dusting loaf
Single-edged razor blade and spray bottle
A heavy lidded pot, ideally cast iron and at least 4 quarts


  1. In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the starter, water (and whey, if using) and barley malt. (The barley malt helps give the loaf its distinctive crust.) Stir until the ingredients are combined and the starter is dispersed throughout.
  2. Add the flours and, with your hands, mix the dough into a ragged mass, rubbing the newly-formed dough against the side of the bowl to pick up any stray bits of flour. The dough should be wet enough that you can do this and the bowl should be fairly clean when you are through. If it is not, add a spoonful of water or two and pick up any remaining flour. Strive for dough that is on the wet side, but not altogether soggy.
  3. Cover the bowl and let it sit on the counter top for at least 20 minutes or up to 1 hour.
  4. Add salt and knead the dough for 10 minutes. If you use your hands to knead the dough, it should be as wet as it can be, yet still dry enough for you to handle. If you use a stand mixer, the dough should be wet enough that it only just clears the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl. Using enough water will ensure a good rise and an open, airy crumb.
  5. When you are finished kneading, form the dough into a ball, put it into a lightly-oiled bowl, and let the dough rise, covered, for 3-4 hours at about 75 degrees. If your room is warmer, let it rise for about 2 hours.  If your room is cooler or your starter less vibrant, compensate by giving the dough a longer rise; in the winter, this rise might take up to 6 or 7 hours.
  6. Remove the dough from the bowl and gently shape it into a boule (to be described in the weeks ahead). Then let the boule rest on the counter top, seam side down and with the bowl inverted over it as a cover, for 20-30 minutes. The goal is for the seam to disappear and the dough to be smooth enough on the bottom that the loaf holds together.
  7. Meanwhile, dust a smooth cotton or linen dish towel—one with no texture or pill that will “catch” the dough—with a generous helping of rye flour. Place the towel inside a medium-sized bowl, floured side up. (For a simpler approach and a beautiful finished look, you can also use a floured banneton (to be described in the weeks ahead). When the dough is ready, invert it so the seam is face-up and place the loaf on top of the towel in the bowl. Pinch closed any bottom creases that remain opened. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise for 1-2 hours more, depending on the temperature in your kitchen. Then transfer the covered dough to the refrigerator.
  8. The dough should rise in the refrigerator for 8-36 hours. One hour before you are ready to bake, place a heavy, lidded pot inside the oven and preheat it to 450 degrees. At the same time, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it begin to come to room temperature on the counter top.
  9. When the pot and oven are adequately preheated, remove the pot from the oven and line the bottom with a small piece of parchment paper. Then dust the surface of the bread dough with rolled oats or cornmeal and gently invert the dough into the parchment-lined pot seam-side-down. (The side with the oats or cornmeal should rest on the bottom of the pot, and the floured side will now be the top.) Using a single-edged razor blade, slash the top in a tic-tac-toe pattern with a wide center square. Then, using a spray bottle filled with warm water, spritz the inside of the pot, cover it quickly, and place the pot into the oven for 5 minutes.
  10. Using thick potholders, carefully remove and uncover the pot and spray the inside once more. Cover it again and put the pot and dough back into the oven for 40 minutes more. When the bread is ready, it will have a deep brown crust and an internal temperature of 207 degrees.
  11. Remove the bread from the pot and let it cool on a rack for at least 1-1/2 hours before slicing. While it’s tempting to slice the bread sooner, the steam contained within the loaf extends the baking. So cutting it before it cools will make the crumb gummy and negatively affect the quality of the loaf.

For helpful notes on the recipe, click on this link: Notes: Sourdough Wheat and Rye Bread

If you have questions, email me using the “contact” page of my website and I will do my best to help you.

Next Up: How to Make a Boule

Copyright 2014, Ellen Arian, Ellen’s Food & Soul