100% Russian Rye

Welcome to the fascinating world of rye bread. For this recipe, which I have learned from two bakers, Andrew Whitley of Bread Matters and Paul Merry of Panary, you will need a rye starter and a bread tin. You will also learn a new technique, wet shaping.

The bread tin is what is commonly known as a two pound bread tin. These vary in dimensions but, as an example, one I have here has base dimensions 19cm x 9cm and is 6.5 cm high.

Either make a complete new starter substituting wholemeal rye flour for wheat flour or take 50g of your wheat starter and refresh it with 100g water and 100g rye. Refresh it twice over a couple of days. Finally, 24 hours before mixing the dough make up the following refreshment using water that is barely warm – just take the cold off it.

*% of the flour weight

Don’t be surprised that the starter is so wet compared with the wheat starters in the book.

Use wholemeal rye if you don’t have light rye – sieve some of the bran out if you wish. Again use slightly tepid water.

Start off by mixing as you would with a wheat dough. Add the water and starter to a large mixing bowl, stir in the flour and salt with your hand and then as the dough comes together squeeze it through your fingers repeatedly until everything is incorporated. By now you will have discovered how sticky rye dough is. Scrape your hands clean with a plastic scraper.

Rye has a different sort of gluten to wheat and it doesn’t develop like wheat gluten so there’s no point in doing much kneading. Just cover the bowl and let it stand for up to an hour to allow the water to be fully absorbed and for fermentation to start.

Oil your bread tin. Fill a bowl with water and thoroughly wet your hands and your dough scraper. Scoop out the dough into your wet hands and squeeze it one way and the other to remove any air bubbles. Squeeze it to roughly the shape of your tin and drop the dough in. Smooth the top with a wet spatula.  The whole thing will look very unpromising – but do not fear.

Cover the tin with a bit of oiled cling film and prove for about 3½ hours – be guided by what you see. After about two hours you will be thinking disaster. But gradually it will stir itself. It will only rise half to three quarters of an inch but that’s enough.

Preheat the oven to about 240C. Bake for 15 minutes then reduce the temperature to 180C and bake for a further 45 minutes. Turn off the oven. Remove the bread from the tin and return to the cooling oven for 20-30 minutes with the door wedged slightly open.

Cool completely on a wire rack. Wrap in greaseproof paper/clingfilm/freezer bag and leave at least until the following day. The flavours of rye develop as it ages – even in the freezer.

To make Borodinski, add a little ground coriander to the dough and sprinkle a few coriander seeds in the base of the bread tin – little flavour bombs waiting to explode when you bite into them.