Crunchy Bottoms

Striking the caloric balance. Barely.

Dark Rye Bread with Raisins

Dark Rye Bread with Raisins

My first introduction to rye breads came in the form of pumpernickel bread, those dark brown, unimaginably dense bricks (not loaves) of bread made with coarsely ground rye grains and rye berries. I hardly think of them as bread. In fact, I placed my mug of iced tea on a slice lying on the table thinking that it was a coaster, and it was only after my mom picked up another hefty slice to slap me away – I suffered oblong bruises – that I realised I just ruined her snack.

I didn’t take to pumpernickel very well. The musky earthiness, sweet-sour tang, grainy bits and coarse texture made me feel like I was gnawing on rabbit food. Suffice to say, dark rye breads didn’t get much of my attention as well.

And then I started getting my bread geek on, and all of a sudden, I saw how unearthly beautiful the dark rye fissures in a misty blanket of white looked on the loaves I saw occasionally in Cold Storage or Carrefour. I wanted them. I wanted to craft those crevices.

And then, I couldn’t find dark rye flour (because what demented person would want to bake artisanal breads at home? I mean, sheesh!).

Dark fissures.

Oftentimes, Bob’s Red Mill’s dark rye flour beckoned to me, but I was put off by the price. Phoon Huat’s normally larger variety of flours stopped short at light rye flour and a dark rye bread mix that I didn’t care for.

Then I stumbled across a 1kg bag of dark rye flour at the Phoon Huat/Red Man at Chip Bee Gardens, and I’m almost ashamed to recall the Dark-Rye-Happy-Dance that I did in the store. I grabbed it without thinking, went home, dug out a recipe from Richard Bertinet, tweaked it, and made my dark beauty.

Crumb Shot

 Now before I continue, here’s a tiny warning: Geek Alert (Risk: Low).

This is a bread I will be making pretty often, alternating between my trusty wholegrain sourdough, because rye has all sorts of health benefits that is mainly attributed to its high fiber content. You know, the whole lowering cholesterol levels, heart disease jazz.

That said, rye isn’t easy to handle because even though rye and wheat are similar in many ways, it is the type of amylases that the each possess that drastically alters the baking process. Rye amylases destroy whatever potential structure and strength the dough could have achieved, so don’t be surprised if your loaf looks flat. Wheat gluten is far stronger than rye gluten as well, so the crumb (the holes) are airier, larger, and more open than you could ever hope to achieve with a 100% rye flour bread, whether light or dark. Think of rye as…limp. It doesn’t rise very much. The poor thing needs a little help along the way.

But here’s the secret to taming rye: A metal bench scraper, and a sizable fermented dough.

1. A metal bench scraper is crucial in any bread-making process – it’s like a third hand, so to speak, because it handles wet doughs/sticky doughs easily, cuts, folds, and cleans your work area after you’re done. It’s inexpensive, and all of a sudden, bread-making just seems so much more appealing and less of a hassle.

2. The inclusion of some percentage of high protein bread flour and a dough starter is essential if you don’t want an incredibly dense loaf. The fermented dough builds strength, without you having to knead it that much, the longer you leave it to ferment. Multiple foldings per hour of the main dough are needed as well to strengthen the structure further.

I’m glad I got what I wanted. I always need more holes. And along with a smattering of anise-y caraway seeds and a teaspoon or so of fragrant ground coffee beans, you get the most perfect accompaniment to aged cheeses and salty ham – earthy, deep, full-bodied flavours so musky and complex that you’d be amazed with what mere dark rye flour can birth.

I’m not ruling out throwing raisins into the fray next.

UPDATE: I made a batch today, tweaking this recipe further, adding 100g of raisins, and half a teaspoon more of caraway seeds. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better. The recipe below has been updated. My mom declared this her favourite all-time dark rye bread, good enough to eat on its own. Here’s a shot of the crumb below, more open than ever. Perfect.

With Raisins

(Submitted to Yeastspotting)

Dark Rye Bread with Raisins

adapted from Crust, by Richard Bertinet

Rye is very tricky, in that it has this tacky, gooey-ness that makes hand-kneading a major pain and would very probably leave you sobbing into brown-gunked hands. I’ve tried. Not to discourage anyone, but this dough requires a stand-mixer with a dough hook attachment to prevent potential misery, and also because I upped the hydration content of the dough to achieve a more open crumb than is usual for dark rye breads. A fermented white dough prepared the day before is crucial in attaining a good crumb, and it doesn’t take long to mix up.

Equipment: Metal bench scraper (your best friend), stand mixer, plastic container with a lid/large bowl covered with plastic wrap.

Makes: 2 large loaves or 3 small loaves.

For the Fermented White Dough:

  • 200g bread flour
  • 140g water
  • 3g salt
  • A pinch of instant yeast


1. Mix all the ingredients for the fermented white dough together in a bowl.

2. Turn out onto a clean surface and knead briefly to combine most of the ingredients together. Don’t worry about dry lumps.

3. Place the dough into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Leave to rest at room temperature for 24 hours or in the fridge for up to 48 hours (bring out to warm up for at least an hour before using if you have placed it in the fridge).

For the Dark Rye Dough:

  • 400g Dark Rye Flour
  • 120g Bread Flour
  • 340g Fermented White Dough (all of it)
  • 11g Salt
  • 410g Water
  • 1 tsp Caraway Seeds
  • 1 tsp Ground Coffee (not instant coffee)
  • 100g Raisins


1. Combine all the ingredients together, except the raisins, in the bowl of your stand-mixer (or a large bowl if you’re doing it by hand). The dough will be very sticky, but it’s normal. Mix the dough for 8-10 minutes. Add the raisins and mix till well distributed.

2. Lightly flour your work surface and turn out the dough. Flour your hands and form the dough into a rough ball. Flour a large bowl/plastic container and place dough inside. Leave to rest for 1 hour.

3. Flour your hands and with the help of your bench scraper, turn out the dough onto your floured work surface. Using your bench scraper, fold the dough repeatedly into itself, from the outer rim to the center, to form a rough ball again (folding is impossible because the dough will just tear away in your hands instead of stretching at this point). Replace in the bowl. Cover and rest for 1 hour.

4. Repeat step 3.

5. Lightly flour your work surface, turn out the dough and divide into 2 large, or 3 small loaves with your bench scraper. Roughly shape each piece into your desired shape (I gently rolled mine into rough batards).

6. Place shaped doughs onto a liberally floured couche (cloth), at least 10cm apart. Cover with another couche and let rest for 1.5 hours.

7. Preheat oven to 250C. Sprinkle your peel with semolina or normal white flour and gently transfer your loaves from the couche onto the peel by slipping your hand under the couche and carefully tipping the loaf over onto the peel. Be as gentle as possible to retain the air in the dough.

8. Slash the doughs if you wish (I didn’t. I let them blossom on their on in the oven). Open oven door, slide the loaves in. Mist the oven if you know how to (not recommended if you’re unsure of how to). Bake at 250C for 5 minutes before turning the heat down to 210C for the next 20 minutes. The bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom after baking.

9. Turn off the oven and leave the loaves inside for another 10 minutes. This will produce a good, thick crust.

10. Remove loaves from the oven, and let the bread cool completely. Store the loaves in a ziplock bag in the fridge if they are not consumed within 3 days. They will keep for a few weeks in the fridge, longer in the freezer.

8 responses to “Dark Rye Bread with Raisins

  1. delicieux May 24, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    I LOVE rye bread, I have it everyday for breakfast, but have never made my own. I’m bookmarking this recipe to try after our holiday as it looks fabulous! Thanks for sharing 😀

  2. richard bertinet May 25, 2011 at 1:14 am

    very good looking loaves !
    happy baking
    richard b

  3. Carol S May 31, 2011 at 2:34 am

    oh-oh, a new challenge for a newbie bread-maker. I so majorly love dark rye and need-need-need to try this… Great pics too, by the way!

    • Christine Leow May 31, 2011 at 9:10 am

      Thank you! Are you going about it hand-mixing? I’ve never tried doing that so I can’t say for sure how that’s going to turn out. Let me know it turns out! Rye is quite the challenge 😉

  4. Pingback: Dark Rye 35% with Raisins and Walnuts « Crunchy Bottoms

  5. Sang March 13, 2012 at 12:07 am

    Dear Christine,
    Your rye loaf looks really so good, its not easy to find such nice loaf of bread here and I can’t wait to try it. May I know where can I purchase caraway seeds?


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