How to Bake a Traditional German Rye Bread

In the interest of health, I’ve focused my bread baking obsession of late on 100% or near 100% whole rye sourdough loaves. I’ve used as my guide a nicely illustrated book How to Make Bread by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. His specialty is just the sort of rustic German style breads I’ve always wanted to learn to bake. What I love in particular about his caraway rye sourdough loaf (pictured above) is the crust. Unlike most other breads you don’t slash it before tossing it in the oven. The goal is a kind of perfect imperfection–a hard, thick crust with as many fault lines as the state of California. And this is a bread that requires no kneading so you can easily fit it into a busy schedule.

Here’s how I make it (recipe based on Hadjiandreou’s caraway rye sourdough):

350 grams dark rye flour
150 grams white bread flour
10 grams sea salt
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
250 grams rye sourdough starter (see step one)
400 grams warm water

1. The night before I want to bake I take a tablespoon of rye starter (see our video on how to make a starter) and mix it in with 125 grams of dark rye flour and 125 grams of bottled water.

2. In the morning I mix all the ingredients together. Ideally, let the mixture rest for a half hour to an hour before shaping it, but I’ve skipped the rest period and the loaf has turned out just fine.

3. Form into a boule (round) and dust heavily with rye flour. Place the boule in a 9-inch wooden proofing basket (banneton). You can improvise a banneton with a wicker basket.

4. In the late afternoon or evening when you get back from work preheat your oven to 450°F. I have to crank my old oven up almost to the broil setting to get it hot enough, so just beware that there’s considerable variability in oven temperature.

5. Commercial bread ovens have steam injection systems that create that nice hard crust. There are two ways to simulate steam injection at home. One was is to preheat a dutch oven or casserole dish, large enough to hold your loaf, when you warm up the oven. When you’re ready to bake, toss the loaf into the per-heated dutch oven or casserole dish and put on the lid. Take the lid off when the loaf begins to brown which is usually around 2/3rds of the way through the baking. Alternately, bake the loaf on a pizza stone or cookie tray. Preheat a shallow pan in the oven and, just before it’s time to bake, pour some water in the pan to create steam. Close the oven door immediately. Of the two methods, I prefer the dutch oven/casserole dish method. Note that if you have a Le Creuset cassorole dish they are now selling an oven proof knob for the lid. Bake the loaf for 30 to 35 minutes.

It’s in German, but you can see this exact style of bread being baked in a wood fired oven. Note the steam is created by mopping the oven just before the loaves are tossed in:

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  1. Beautiful looking loaf, I thought I’d share my technique. I tried over and over with the dutch oven but I always flopped my loafs or degassed them too much when putting them in. What I do know is form my boule on a piece of parchment paper, preheat a stone and also my dutch oven upside down in the oven or sometime a pyrex bowl and then transfer the loaf to the stone and cover it with the dutch oven. I get the same crust and I get to control the shape of my loaf a little better and I don’t ever worry about burning myself. Need to make sure the oven sits flat on the stone though because you are capturing the moisture in the bread and don’t want to loose that.

    • Great idea! I’m going to try this! I too have had my share of misshaped loaves due to the “flopping” step.

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  3. One question, does this bread sit in the basket all day….. To double in size…? What am I looking for? Thankyou, wonderfull website.

    • Hi Patrick–it will not rise as much or as fast as bread with commercial yeast. It’s hard for me to say when I know its ready. It comes with trying it several times. If it’s too dense when done you need to let it rise longer the next time. If it flattens out too much, like a pancake, when you remove it from the form then you need to let it rise less next time. Temperature is also a factor. That being said, it will taste good even if it’s under or over proofed. Let me know how it goes for you and please leave another comment if you have any trouble. Best of luck.

    • Im just starting my starter today, and I will keep you posted. Your two hour response time was very impresive, Ill keep you posted, thank you.

  4. Hallo! Guten Tag! I am just returned to the States from Bavaria, where I partook daily of delicious German breads. I am trying to recreate them here now. I have made a %50 rye sourdough loaded with soaked sunflower, flax and sesame seeds, and I used a sourdough starter that has a mix of rye and AP flour. But that recipe still used commercial yeast as well.
    I want to make the Bauernbrot, or farmer’s bread, that is traditionally a rye sourdough, with the Carraway seeds. I see that your recipe does not use a commercial yeast and wondered, how do I know if I need the commercial yeast or not? How do I know if my starter will work? It is the sort of starter that I feed a day or two before I bake with it, then I take some out for the baking, feed it some more and stick it back in the fridge til the next round of feeding/baking.
    Many of the traditional recipes seem to use a ‘sponge’ and the soaker seeds instead of a constant feed starter. What is the difference in the end loaves? Do you know?

    • Guten Tag! I’d suggest picking up a copy of Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s Book How To Make Bread. He’s got a couple of good German bread recipes made with a sourdough starter as well as clear instructions on how to make and feed a starter. To sum up the process, you mix flour and water and feed every day. After a week it will start bubbling and smell yeasty. From that point on you either keep it on the counter and feed it every day or stick it in the refrigerator.

      I think that breads made with a starter taste better and are better for you (sourdough starters essentially pre-digest the flour for you through their microbial magic). You know the starter is ready to use when it floats in water and when it makes a successful loaf. It’s easy once you get the hang of it. But don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. I’d encourage you to try to make German bread at home either with commercial yeast or with a starter. You can’t get good German bread here so you have to make it yourself.

  5. I tried this recipe. Followed the recipe except that onchanged the white flour to wheat. but the final dough turned out to be too wet. I should have add water slowly because every flour is different. In the end I added another 1.5 cups of flour. It rise beautifully after 2 hours of proofing. However it turned out to be dense.

    • This is not a recipe you can go all whole wheat with–will be too dense. There are other recipes in Hadjiandreou’s book that are 100% whole wheat and very good–such as volkornbrot, but the dough is handled differently with much longer fermentation times.

    • I have not tried it with 100% rye. You would need to add more water, most likely. I’m working on some 100% whole rye recipes but they aren’t ready for blogging about just yet. If you do try it let me know how it works.

  6. I make 100% rye bread,I use sour dough, the dough is tricky to work into a kneadable loaf, but with patience it comes together, you should always aim for a sticky dough, and doesn’t need to be kneaded for long ,only to shape the loaf.I cook it in a wood stove for a long slow cooking….

  7. Lovely bread, I baked it and it came out wonderful. I used emmer wheat flour instead of white bread flour.The dough was very sticky though and extremely difficult to work with, so the second time I tried it with less water (308gr, 68% hydration) and it came out just fine. The crust is equally lovely and crusty. Very different crumb texture, more dense and crumbly, less “masticky”, but very nice. I want to try different flour mix like maize, barley or buckwheat, if you have tried anything like that please post it! Thanks :)

    • I’ve been working on a spelt bread recipe that is similar to this rye bread recipe (except that there is no white flour). I’d still recommend a higher hydration level, however, as whole wheat soaks up a lot more water. I’m pushing 90 to 100% hydration. The dough can get difficult to work with so often I’ll use a bread pan instead of trying to shape a loaf.

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