Week 19: Russian Rye

Americans don’t eat enough rye breads. Peter Reinhart, author of the Bread Bakers Apprentice likens them to IPAs, “When you get hooked, you really get hooked, just like when somebody falls for a strong IPA beer. Then all of a sudden nothing else satisfies you.” I’m starting to agree with him. This is a dark, complex loaf — as satisfying to make as it is to eat.

I have three rye breads on my list, and this is the second. (See Week 11: Sandwich Rye). I was introduced to Beth Henspreger’s recipe from “The Bread Bible” via the Smitten Kitchen blog, then made a few adjustments on my second try for the perfect loaf.

Black Russian Rye Bread | adapted from Beth Hensperger

  • 1/2 oz active dry yeast
  • Pinch of sugar
  • ½ cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)

Add the yeast and sugar to the warm water. Stir to combine. Let rest while you gather the other ingredients. If it doesn’t foam up, you’re out of luck – you need another jar of yeast!


  • 2¼ cups water*
  • ½ cup dark molasses (not blackstrap)
  • ¼ cup ( ½ stick) butter
  • 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate

* The original recipe calls for 2 cups water and ¼ cup cider vinegar. The molasses and the unsweetened chocolate add their own bitterness; I prefer a more mellow flavor. Either works.

Put water, molasses, butter and chocolate in a pot and heat until butter is melted. Transfer to a bowl so it can cool to room temperature. (This is important – the first time I made this, I didn’t transfer it, and then forgot it should be room temperature when I went to add it to the flour. Not good!)


  • 1 cup wheat bran
  • 2 tablespoons caraway seeds **
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots***

** The original recipe also calls for ½ teaspoon fennel seeds. I am saving those for when I make Swedish rye, to give each loaf it’s own distinct flavor.

***If you don’t have shallots, you could use dried onion. But shallots are easy enough to throw into other dishes, (really good in a vinaigrette), so you might as well use it!

Combine these ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.


  • 2.25 ounces whole-wheat flour ****
  • 12 ounces rye flour
  • 13.5 ounces bread flour

****If you have it, go ahead and add 2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten.

Add flours to the bowl of a stand mixer. Or just a big bowl if you are going to knead by hand. Mix with the paddle to combine. Scoop out 1 cup to reserve for hand kneading.


Now you’re ready to make the dough!

  1. Add the bran, seeds, salt, espresso powder and shallots to the flours and mix to combine.
  2. Add the cooled-down liquid mixture, and yeast/water/sugar
  3. Mix with the paddle on low speed until smooth. Turn up to medium and beat about 3 minutes.
  4. Slowly start adding the flour, mixing well with the paddle after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, as needed.
  5. Once you’ve added all the flour (except that one reserved cup),change to a dough hook, and knead on low speed for about 3 minutes
  6. Dust the counter-top with some of the reserved flour.
  7. Scrape the dough off the hook, and the sides of the bowl and turn out onto the floured counter-top. Put the rest of the reserved flour on top.
  8. Knead it until you’ve got a nice, dense dough ball, scraping the dough off the counter with a bench scraper, (or spatula) when necessary. Do not add more flour!

First Rise

  1. Place in an oiled bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size — might take anywhere from 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
  2. Turn dough gently out onto the counter, and separate into two pieces.
  3. Form into a round, pulling down the sides to form a tight skin on top, pinching in at the bottom. (check out the tips page for video instruction on “How to stop your dough from spreading out flat!”)
  4. Place rounds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, seam side down. I like to have one round and then shape the other into an oval.

Second Rise

  1. Cover and let rise until puffy and almost doubled in size – about 45 minutes to an hour. (check out this other video, “When is my bread ready to bake?” here).
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  3. When ready to bake, dust lightly with flour, and score (how-to video on Tips page)
  4. Turn oven down to 375, and quickly place loaves in for baking.
  5. Bake 45 ~ 50 minutes, until reaches 205 degrees.
  6. Make sure to let cool completely before slicing! Here’s why.
“The real thing puts you on your knees” -Jeffrey Hamelman

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