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Rye Bread: Tips, Techniques, & What Not to Do

Updated on August 9, 2013

I like a challenge. I sometimes wish this was not true of myself, but let’s be honest here. If you have read my previous hub on the first time I made yeast rolls and then my subsequent hub on the second time I made yeast rolls, you know that I don’t give up easily. I am no quitter, and I will not throw in the proverbial dishtowel when I know others have succeeded. Well, this time around, I decided I would tackle rye bread, and not just any rye bread, but a pretty complicated recipe. Of course, I don't do anything simple.

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You also may be aware that my boyfriend (previously known as my soon-to-be-fiancé) likes bread. He truly is an aficionado of food in general. It is one of the greatest joys of my life to cook for him, and he is a very grateful consumer of my trials in the kitchen. One of his favorite foods is a classic Reuben sandwich. Recently, we ate at South Hills Market and Café in Charleston, West Virginia (more on that later) for lunch, and he ordered the Reuben. While he was eating this amazing Reuben sandwich with cheese, dressing, and saurkraut dripping down his arms, he commented, not on the savory corned beef or complex flavors of the Russian dressing or even the delicate Swiss, but on the bread. Correction: the “exquisite” rye bread. “Mmm,” he said in between mouthfuls, “This rye bread is exquisite. I love rye. It is my favorite.”

Challenge accepted.

I came home and immediately began perusing King Arthur Flour’s website for rye bread recipes. King Arthur Flour is a source I trust when it comes to recipes. Many of their recipes have blogs with pictures and advice, in addition to user comments, Q & A, and ratings. I found a couple of recipes I was interested in, and one that sounded particularly delicious. I had to order some special ingredients, so my challenge was delayed by a few weeks, but alas, my supplies finally arrived and I began.

It's always a good idea to get all your ingredients and tools ready before beginning a recipe. This ensures you have everything you need and don't have to stop part-way through a recipe to hunt for a measuring spoon.
It's always a good idea to get all your ingredients and tools ready before beginning a recipe. This ensures you have everything you need and don't have to stop part-way through a recipe to hunt for a measuring spoon.

Having never made rye bread before and being fairly new to bread-baking in general, I read (and read and read and read) the tips and techniques, in addition to all the ratings and reviews for the recipe I decided on. I knew the final product would be a dark loaf. I knew the dough would be sticky. I knew I had to watch the rise time, and it may take a while compared to white bread. I knew that I had to be oh-so-careful, because rye bread dough can be temperamental. Suffice to say, I thought I knew it all. I was sure I would make the best rye bread he had ever eaten. I told myself this would NOT be like the infamous yeast roll disaster (insert maniacal laughter here).

I’ll not bore you with the gruesome details of the process, but I am sure you have an idea of how this challenge turned out. Bad would be an understatement. If I told you I did it twice, I’m sure you would think me crazy, so I will leave that part out. This is the end product:

Uh-oh
Uh-oh

Where did I go wrong? Let me count the ways!

Everything I read said rye bread dough would be sticky. Sticky does not mean wet! Listen to the dough. It will tell you what it needs. Rest assured, I am not hallucinating. Watch the video below. What is the dough telling me? It is screaming, “More flour!” Did I listen to the dough? Of course not. I listened to the recipe. Mind you, I know with bread dough there are many factors at play, such as the temperature and humidity of the environment, where the flours have been stored (freezer vs. refrigerator vs. cabinet), mixing method, water temperature, and so much more. Yet I chose to ignore all of that, because I did not trust my own instincts. Bad idea.

Next bad idea, which was almost a good idea: I let the dough rise in the oven. I even put my formidable dog on guard to keep anyone (ahem, my boyfriend) from turning the oven on and melting the plastic container that contained the bread dough. That does not sound like such a terrible thing; however, what I failed to take into consideration was that I had used the oven earlier in the day to make carrot cake cupcakes (these were NOT a fail; these were fantastic!!!), so the oven was not room temperature. The oven was probably quite warm. In fact, it was too warm. My rye bread dough rose very fast. Much too fast, as in the first rise was doubled in 45 minutes rather than the projected 1.5 hours. Hmm. This should have been a clue that something was wrong, but I trudged on, ignoring the obvious.

Faithful dough-watching dog: always a good idea!
Faithful dough-watching dog: always a good idea!

After the initial rise, I took the dough out of the oven, and gently punched it down (“Why is sticking so much to my hands and my silicone mat?” I wondered) and shaped it into a loaf. According to the recipe, I should have been able to put the shaped loaf on a baking sheet for the final rise, but looking at the dough I knew it did not have enough structure for that. I made a good decision at this point and placed the shaped loaf in a well-greased loaf pan.

Again, it rose much too fast. 45 minutes fast. I was bound and determined to let it rise for at least an hour (another bad idea), so I let it continue even though the dough was telling me not to. While I was preheating the oven, I took the dough out of safekeeping in the microwave to look at it. There were holes in the top of my loaf. They looked like tears (paper tears, not crocodile tears…we’ll get to the crocodile tears soon enough).

The Final (Worst) Error

When I peeled the Saran Wrap off the dough, the dough immediately started to fall. This cannot be happening!!! I thought, “I can still save it!” (I am a nurse at heart…I truly believe I can save any living thing and yeast IS a living thing). I decided to quickly put the dough in the hot oven to bake. I had read somewhere that sometimes dough picks back up when placed in the oven, though in hindsight I believe that tip was related to slashing bread dough purposely prior to baking. Nonetheless, I quickly grabbed the loaf pan and hastily (bad idea) tried to put it in the oven. I said I “tried” to put it in the oven, but I guess that is wrong. The dough did end up in the oven, just not in the pan. In my haste, I whacked the bottom of the loaf pan on the oven rack and the well-greased loaf just flipped out of the pan onto the rack. Yes, that is what I said. My 3 hours worth of work dumped out onto the oven rack. I would have taken pictures of that, but I had to move quickly to keep the house from burning down. I donned my silicone oven mitts and yanked the oven rack out of the oven and threw it on the sink. At this point, my boyfriend started to walk into the kitchen from outside and I yelled, “OUT, OUT, GET OUT!!!” Knowing me well, he asked no questions, immediately turned around and walked back outside without seeing the mess I had made.

(Breathe. More maniacal laughter. Breathe. Take pictures!!!)

A minute or so later, I walked outside and apologized briefly for my insanity and invited my boyfriend back into the kitchen to at least have a laugh at my expense. Love his dear heart, he didn’t laugh at all (I think he was too grieved to laugh…he was really looking forward to a homemade Reuben for dinner). I turned my back for half a second, just long enough to hear him say, “Let me help you,” then I heard skin sizzling. I turned around in time to see him hopping around, holding his hand, and then screaming. Yes, screaming. The oven had been preheated to 425 degrees, which means the rack the dough was dumped onto was also 425 degrees, which means the bare hand that he used to try to pick up the oven rack to clean it (like I said, love his dear heart) was cooked immediately when he grabbed the rack. Oh. My. Goodness.

Fortunately, we dunked his hand in a glass of ice water and kept it there for a while, then repeated that several times during the hour and miraculously, he did not lose any fingers. In fact, he didn’t even blister (part human, part superhero?). But the rye bread, well, that was not salvageable. It was a total loss. Indeed, it was a bad day. I was glad we had carrot cake cupcakes; otherwise, we would have just starved to death.

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Lessons Learned

You know me, I think everything is a learning experience, so these are my lessons learned. Hopefully, you can learn something from them as well.

  • Listen to the dough!
  • Don't just dump all the liquid ingredients in at once. Add the liquid ingredients slowly while mixing or kneading until you get the right consistency. Add more liquid if needed, based on the consistency of the dough.
  • If it needs more flour, add flour.
  • Do trial runs. Do not try to make every single ingredient from scratch the day you are planning to actually eat the meal for the first time.
  • Do not place dough in an overly warm place to rise. It will rise too fast and not develop enough gluten to hold its structure later.
  • Be careful when putting the dough into the oven. Flipping dough out into the oven is never fun and can be dangerous!
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy at all times! (I'm going to sew a fire extinguisher pocket onto my apron).
  • Warn others if there are 425 degree objects in the vicinity.
  • Always, have a back-up plan for dinner to prevent utter despair in the event your new recipe does not turn out as expected. (Thank goodness for carrot cake cupcakes).

© 2012 Leah Wells-Marshburn

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    • profile image

      Johnb500 3 years ago

      I like this weblog so considerably, saved to my bookmarks. bakefggfkack

    • nurseleah profile image
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      Leah Wells-Marshburn 4 years ago from West Virginia

      brenda12lynette, your mother was absolutely right! It's hard to do anything when you're in a bad mood, but especially make bread from scratch. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting.

    • brenda12lynette profile image

      brenda12lynette 4 years ago from Utah

      Bread really does have a mind of its own. My mother always told me the number one trick for making bread is being in a good mood. I've noticed when I'm anxious or rushed, my bread is just not as good. Thanks for sharing!

    • nurseleah profile image
      Author

      Leah Wells-Marshburn 4 years ago from West Virginia

      tlpoague, thank you for sharing! It is nice to know I'm not the only one out there who has made hockey pucks instead of biscuits, but I won't even get started on that one. My poor boyfriend has heard me say too many times, "Don't slam that door!" or "Be careful!" "Don't open the microwave!" "Don't turn on the oven yet!" Lol. He is beginning to think of the kitchen as a minefield, just waiting for something to go wrong. At least I can laugh at my own neuroses.

    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 4 years ago from USA

      This experience sounds similar to when I made my first biscuits. Let's just say they were harder than a hokey puck. I had a wonderful grandmother that use to show me her tricks when making bread, and it is something that can't be rushed. Even with years of experience, I still have those moments of an oops! waiting to happen. For Thanksgiving this year, I spent hours working on making the perfect roll from scratch. In under five minutes they fell when my hubby put the turkey in the oven. He has accidentally shut the oven door harder than planned and it shook the bread enough to fall. We had flat bread instead of rolls, but no one cared.

      Great hub here with lots of tips to help others! Thanks for sharing your experience.