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The thing is, rye is a very weak flour, so you need to have a very vibrant, healthy starter for this recipe. (Just give yourself time to feed it and you'll be fine.) Make sure you feed your starter at least three times in the 24 hours before you start the recipe to give it lots of va-va-vavoom. And for the best rye flavor, feed it with rye flour.
Rye also needs to be combined with another flour in order to have sufficient rise. If you don't have bread flour and are using all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour, be sure to add in the recommended amount of vital wheat gluten.
And remember, rye doughs tend to be sticky – this one in particular. Be careful not to add too much flour or the final loaf will be tough. (If you're like me, you'll have a hard time not adding in more flour, but as the Beatles said, “Let it be, let it be…”)
Sourdough Rye Bread
makes 2 1-3/4 lb loaves
for a version of this recipe using weight measurements rather than volume, click here
3 1/2 cups active sourdough starter
1 3/4 cups water
3 Tbls butter, cut up
1 cup whole rye or dark rye flour
5 cups bread flour (or 5 cups all-purpose flour + 3 Tbls vital wheat gluten)
2 3/4 tsp sea salt
4 tsp caraway seeds
Combine all ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Knead for 5-6 minutes. Refrain from adding additional flour – this dough should be wet and sticky. Let the dough sit for 5 minutes.
After the rest period, scrape the sides of the mixer bowl, then knead the dough again for another 5 minutes.
Pour the dough onto a well-floured board, divide in two, cover with a tea towel, and let rest for 30 minutes. Place each loaf into a 9×5 loaf pan and let rise until almost doubled, usually about 2 hours.
As the dough is nearing the end of its rise, preheat the oven to 450 degree Fahrenheit and place a shallow pan on the bottom rack. When the oven is fully preheated, put the loaves on the middle shelf and pour 1 cup of recently boiled water into the shallow pan.
Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350 and bake for another 40-45 minutes until the loaf reads at least 190 on a thermometer.