5 tips for making rye bread: how to bake your best rye loaves ever

Have you ever wanted to bake a loaf of rye bread, but felt too daunted to give it a try? These tips for making rye bread will leave you feeling dauntless in no time.

Baking rye bread uses all the same basic techniques you’d use when baking a standard all-purpose flour loaf. You just need to manage your expectations: if you understand how rye flour dough acts – which is different than dough made with all-purpose or bread flour – you’re more likely to be happy with your results.

Whether you want to make nut-and-fruit studded pecan-raisin rye; a light, caraway-studded sandwich loaf; dense pumpernickel bread for hors d’oeuvres, or richly flavored sourdough rye, we have the recipes you need; and after reading this post and practicing with a few loaves, I guarantee rye bread will daunt you no longer!

Chewy Semolina Rye Bread via @kingarthurflour

Tip 1: What kind of rye flour should I use?

White/light rye, medium rye, dark rye, or pumpernickel – what’s the difference? Let’s compare these rye flours to wheat flour.

White or light rye (they’re the same flour, different names) is the rye equivalent of all-purpose flour. It’s milled from the center (endosperm) of the rye berry, but doesn’t include the oily germ at the very center, nor the fiber-rich bran that forms the berry’s outer skin.

Medium and dark rye are also milled from the center of the rye berry, and neither includes the germ. However, as the miller “scoops” the center out of the berry, and gets closer and closer to the outer bran layer, the color of what s/he mills darkens: the closer to the bran, the darker the flour. Dark rye flour has been milled closer to the bran than medium.

And how about pumpernickel, a.k.a. whole rye flour? It’s rye’s version of whole wheat flour, including bran, endosperm, and germ: the entire rye berry.

Which should you choose? White/light rye, without any trace of bran, will give you the lightest-colored, highest-rising bread. As you go from white to dark to pumpernickel, your bread will become slightly darker, and will naturally rise slightly less. The Caraway Rye Bread pictured above is made with about 28% pumpernickel flour; as you can see, its color is a rich, warm light brown. And, since its rye flour is supplemented with all-purpose flour, its texture is light, as well.

How to make Chewy Semolina Rye Bread via @kingarthurflour

That’s unbleached bread flour on the left; pumpernickel on the right. Note pumpernickel’s slightly purple hue; this very slight blue-spectrum tint is a trademark of dark rye or pumpernickel.

Tip 2: White flour + rye flour = the highest-rising rye breads.

For high-rising rye breads, use “white flour” – unbleached all-purpose or unbleached bread flour –  in combination with rye. The extra protein in either of those wheat flours balances the lack of gluten-forming protein in rye flour – as does vital wheat gluten, a couple of tablespoons of which can be added to rye flour dough to help it rise.

Rye bread made with 100% rye flour will be dense and heavy; think some of those all-rye breads you find at artisan bakeries, the ones sliced off an enormous loaf and sold by the pound. If you’re looking for a lighter, softer sandwich bread, bread or AP flours are your best friend. And the higher percentage of rye flour in your recipe, the more you should lean towards higher-protein bread flour.

How much white flour should you use? The more white flour in the loaf, the higher it’ll rise and the lighter its texture will be. So this is entirely up to you and your tastes. Experiment with different percentages of white flour/rye flour until you find the bread texture you like the most.

Let’s make a sample loaf of rye bread: Chewy Semolina Rye.

Like most recipes, our Chewy Semolina Rye Bread is a combination of rye and wheat flours: in this case, pumpernickel, bread flour, and semolina, a coarse flour milled from high-protein durum wheat.

In a large bowl, or in the bucket of your bread machine set on the dough cycle, combine the following ingredients:

1 cup + 2 tablespoons lukewarm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons minced dried onion
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten, optional; for higher rise
1 cup King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
1 cup pumpernickel flour or Perfect Rye Flour Blend*
1 cup semolina
2 teaspoons instant yeast

*So, what’s this Perfect Rye Flour Blend? A handy combination of white and medium rye flours, pumpernickel, and unbleached bread flour, with the flavor and color of rye, and the rise of bread flour. Think of it as training wheels for rye bread bakers!

Mix, then knead — by hand, mixer or bread machine — until you’ve made a smooth, slightly sticky dough.

How to make Chewy Semolina Rye Bread via @kingarthurflour

Tip 3: Rye dough isn’t as supple as wheat dough.

If you’ve never made rye bread before, you’ll be surprised by the dough’s consistency, especially if you’re making a loaf that’s at least 50% rye flour. The dough is more clay-like than elastic (left, above); this is fine. Don’t try to “knead it into shape.” It will never become as “supple” as a typical wheat-based dough. Even when fully kneaded (right, above), it probably won’t form a smooth ball; you’ll need to shape it into a ball prior to its first rise.

Shape the dough into a ball, place it in a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise, covered, for 1 hour. It should become nice and puffy. If you’re using your bread machine, simply let it complete its dough cycle.

How to make Chewy Semolina Rye Bread via @kingarthurflour

Tip 4: The more rye in your dough, the more slowly it will rise.

The loaf above is only about 28% rye flour, so it rises vigorously. Breads that include a greater percentage of rye may take hours to rise, both in the bowl, and once they’re shaped into loaves.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: relax.

Chewy Semolina Rye Bread via @kingarthurflour

Some rye breads, like our Westphalian Rye, rise for up to 24 hours!

OK, back to our Chewy Semolina Rye.

How to make Chewy Semolina Rye Bread via @kingarthurflour

Gently deflate the dough, and shape it into an oval loaf; place the loaf on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.

Or shape the dough into an 8″ log, and place it in a lightly greased 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ bread pan.

Note: I’ve made a double batch of dough here, so I can try both types of loaf: free-form, and sandwich loaf.

Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let it rise until it’s very puffy, about 60 to 90 minutes.

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 400°F with a rack in the center.

Spritz the loaf with water, and sprinkle it with the seeds of your choice, if desired.

How to make Chewy Semolina Rye Bread via @kingarthurflour

Tip 5: Seeds and rye bread are natural partners.

Whether you’re kneading caraway seeds right into the dough or sprinkling Everything Bagel Topping on top, as I’ve done here, seeds are responsible for much of rye’s typical flavor.

A rye loaf made without seeds won’t deliver that signature “deli rye” flavor you’re probably looking for. Full-flavored caraway, fennel, and/or anise seeds complement rye’s inherently mild taste. As does our Deli Rye Flavor.

Chewy Semolina Rye Bread via @kingarthurflour

Sourdough starter is another natural companion to rye flour. Try our Sourdough Rye Bread, and you’ll see what I mean.

How to make Chewy Semolina Rye Bread via @kingarthurflour

Now, while it’s not usually as critical to slash rye bread before baking as it is, say, baguettes, I still like to do it. Slashing bread keeps it from tearing (often along the side) as it bakes by giving the rising dough a path for expansion. And while rye doesn’t usually have the oven spring (i.e., the degree to which it rises in the oven) that white bread does, the slashes do ensure an even upward rise.

Plus they look nice.

Bake the bread for 25 to 30 minutes, tenting it with aluminum foil after 20 minutes to prevent over-browning. When the loaf is fully baked, a digital thermometer inserted into its center should register 190°F.

Remove the bread from the oven, and place it on a rack to cool. If it’s in a loaf pan, turn it out of the pan onto the rack. Cool completely before slicing.

Chewy Semolina Rye Bread via @kingarthurflour

See what I mean about looking nice? Slashes give the loaf artisan panache.

How to make Chewy Semolina Rye Bread via @kingarthurflour

And here’s my sandwich loaf. Notice that whole-grain color, from just a relatively small amount of pumpernickel. The more rye flour you use, the darker your bread will be.

But for truly dark pumpernickel, the kind you see at the grocery store, most professional bakers have a secret:

Chewy Semolina Rye Bread via @kingarthurflour

Caramel color, a dark powder added to dough that gives the resulting bread rich chocolate color – like that in this Dark Pumpernickel-Onion Loaf.

So many rye breads, so little time! From light, soft sandwich rye to dark, dense loaves perfect for the smorgasbord, which kind of rye bread is your favorite? Tell us in comments, below.

Do you have a rye bread question you don’t see answered here? Call our Baker’s Hotline. We’ve got devoted rye bread bakers who’ll be happy to help.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. marianna

    Greetings, I am in the midst of making sourdough bread . 600 gr of rye plus 400 wholewheat white, all organic. The dough has risen beautifully. My question is – do I need to knead the dough for the second time, and let it rise for the second time or gently divide the risen dough and shape it into loaves for second rising? With wholewheat white i do 2 kneading – 3 rises all together. Thanks,

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Marianna! If you ever have a question that needs an immediate answer, please reach out to our free and friendly Baker’s Hotline. If your loaf hasn’t been shaped yet, you’ll want to give it a gently deflating fold, but you don’t necessarily need to knead it again. So once risen, deflate gently, shape, and let rise in your finished loaf form for a total of 2 rises. Annabelle@KAF

  2. Helena

    I have durum flour at home right now, could I use that rather than going out to buy semolina? Or would that mess with the texture/other factors too much?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Helena! That substitution should work out. The durum flour is a bit finer so it may absorb more liquid, we’d recommend holding back a few tablespoons and adding them if needed. Happy baking! Morgan@KAF

  3. Dan

    HI – I currently use a 6 month old rye based sourdough starter in all my breads. I was just gifted a bag of your rye bread improver. I note that it has sour in it (i assume its a dried starter culture?). Will this clash at all with my sourdough starter? Will this have any negative impact on the rise/fermentation?

    Looking forward to your thoughts! Thank you!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Dan! It will be just fine to use the Rye Bread Improver in conjunction with your rye starter. The improver helps to improve the texture, flavor, and rise of your rye breads. We hope this helps clarify and happy baking! Morgan@KAF

  4. MA

    Hi! I just made the chewy semolina bread today. First time ever with rye. I just pulled it out of the oven and noticed three things I don’t like – 1) it reeks of vinegar – is that normal/expected? 2) it’s brown on the sides but the top looks as pale as when I out it In the oven, and 3) none of the bits and seeds I pressed on the top have stayed – they all just fell off when I turned it out of the pan. Any thoughts?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, fellow baker. We’re sorry to hear that you’re having some trouble with the Chewy Semolina Rye Bread recipe. It sounds like your loaf might have over-proofed — the strong vinegary smell and lack of browning are indicators that the loaf over fermented. The rest times given in recipes should be used more like guidelines, as the temperature and humidity where you are can cause the dough to rise faster than expected and even more so when rye flour is used. When the dough is ready to go onto the next step ion the recipe, it will be puffy in appearance but not quite doubled. Brushing the loaves with water and then sprinkling on the seeds should help them stick, but you can also try rolling the shaped loaf on a damp tea towel and then rolling it in the seeds before setting the loaf to go for its second rise. We hope this helps and happy baking! Morgan@KAF

  5. Larry Schweitzer

    I’d like to duplicate my grandmothers rye bread. She was a German from Russia, came in 1911. She baked every Saturday and we showed up every Saturday afternoon to get the goods. Her bread had a very tough crust, very large internal bubbles and was fairly stretchy, elastic. Color was nearly white inside. Family members remember that she used 50% rye & 50% white flour. How do I get there?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Larry! The open crumb and chewy texture you’ve described comes from a higher hydration to the dough. We might suggest checking out our Chewy Semolina Rye Bread recipe and then experimenting to create a bread similar to the kind your Grandmother made. Best of luck and happy baking! Morgan@KAF

  6. Sue Dodson

    30-35 years ago, I had a recipe for dark rye bread. No white flour. No waiting to rise. I baked a round loaf. Great results! Due to health issues I stopped baking and lost recipe Today I went to 5 stores before I found dark rye bread I am ready to bake.
    Do you have a similar recipe?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hmm, that’s very interesting, Sue! We’ve not heard of a recipe quite like that, especially the part about no rise time. Was it a type of soda bread? While we don’t have quite what you’re looking for, we do have several wonderful rye recipes that you could try out while you hunt down that old favorite, like our Russian Black Bread or our Sandwich Rye Bread. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

  7. Kathleen Johnstone

    Isn’t the “gummy” texture in the baked loaf due to the lack of deactivating the enzyme amylase with a sour before baking?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Kathleen! It sounds like you might be referring to “starch attack” which has to to with overactivity of amylase enzymes in rye breads, particularly if they have a large percentage of rye flour. Sourdough is often times used in rye breads to slow down that amylase activity. Gumminess can also come from under-baking or over-proofing the dough as well. We hope this helps and happy baking! Morgan@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Evelyna! This recipe includes some semolina flour because we find that semolina and rye create a nice flavor profile, but if you’re looking for a similar recipe that doesn’t call for semolina we’d suggest our Caraway Rye Bread recipe. In the Chewy Semolina Rye Bread recipe, if you’d like to leave out the sugar you can you’ll just want to keep in mind that the rise times might be a little bit longer than listed in the recipe. We hope this helps and happy baking! Morgan@KAF

  8. Donald Ribble

    Why does my rye bread always have a gummy texture? I follow the recipe exactly but that doesn’t seem to help. I have made several KA recipes, but still the same results.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Donald! Most often when a rye bread has a gummy texture it is because it the dough is a bit over-proofed — we’d suggest checking on your dough about 15 to 20 minutes sooner than you have been to see if it might ready to move onto the next step a bit faster than listed out in the recipe. The gumminess could also be from cutting the loaf while it is still warm. It is best to let a loaf, really any kind of bread but especially rye, cool completely before slicing it. We hope this helps and happy baking! Morgan@KAF

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