Russian Sourdough Dark Rye Bread

Rye bread
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Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 45 mins
Total: 75 mins
Servings: 20 servings

Russian sourdough dark rye is a hearty bread meant to accompany a main-meal soup and, maybe, some chunks of pickled herring. Or try it in a grilled cheese sandwich with Eastern European flair!
This bread takes some planning. The rye sour needs to be made 4 to 5 days ahead of baking day but, oh, it is so worth it.
Just remember, rye doughs tend to be sticky, so don't keep adding additional flour to eliminate the stickiness. This is the way it should be.
SHORTCUT: Purchase a live sourdough starter.


  • Rye Sour:
  • 1 package/2 1/4 teaspoons yeast (instant, not rapid rise yeast)
  • 1 cup water (warm to the wrist)
  • 1 1/2 cups flour (medium rye)
  • 1 slice onion (raw, thick)
  • Dough:
  • 1/4 cup water (warm to the wrist)
  • 1 package / 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast (instant, not rapid rise yeast)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 4 1/2 cups flour (unbleached, all-purpose)
  • 1 cup water (boiling)
  • 1/2 cup pumpernickel or coarse rye meal
  • 1/4 cup cooking oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons coffee (instant)
  • 1/2 ounce chocolate (unsweetened)
  • 2 cups flour (medium rye)

Steps to Make It

  1. Rye Sour: Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup water and blend in 3/4 cup rye flour. Stir in onion, cover with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature. Let the sour rise and fall back. After this, stir the sour twice a day for three days. Remove onion and add remaining 1/2 cup water and remaining 3/4 cup rye flour. Cover and set aside. When the sour has risen and fallen once more (probably 1 more day), it is ready to use.

  2. Activate the Yeast: In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup warm water, yeast, sugar and 1/4 cup of the all-purpose flour. Cover and set aside for 15 minutes or until bubbly.

  3. Make the Dough: Meanwhile, in a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the boiling water, pumpernickel, oil, salt, molasses, instant coffee, and chocolate. When this has cooled, add the rye sour, yeast mixture, 2 cups medium rye flour and the remaining 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour. Mix until dough comes away from the sides of the bowl, then knead 5 minutes.

  4. Let the dough rest, covered, for 5 minutes and then knead another 5 minutes. Lightly coat a large bowl with cooking spray and place the dough in it, turning once to oil the top. Cover and let rise until doubled.

  5. Punch down dough and divide in half. Shape each into a round or oblong loaf and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover and let rise until doubled.

  6. About 15 minutes before you want to bake, place a pan on the lowest rack of the oven for water to be added to create steam, and place another oven rack directly above it for the bread. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

  7. When ready to bake, slash the loaves with a lame bread-slashing tool or razor blade up to three times diagonally or once lengthwise and brush them with cold beaten egg whites.

  8. Pour 2 or 3 cups of water into the pan to create steam. Place loaves on the rack directly above. Bake 35-40 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer registers 195-200 degrees. Remove from oven and turn out of pans. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Rye bread has a gummy texture if eaten hot.