Baking Bread ~ Rye Memories

rye abstract

I’ve been experimenting with sourdough starter for two weeks now and my freezer is bursting with bread and bread dough! While I was working on the starter and waiting for it to take off, a food memory took over my brain.

Rye bread. GOOD rye bread, slightly dense, chewy, with deep malty rye and caraway flavor. The rye train of thought then chugged on to…

Grilled Swiss Light Rye

Rye bread coated with salty butter and grilled with gooey, melted swiss cheese.

The sandwich of my college days.

I really don’t know how a small-town college with 5,000 students twenty minutes from the Alabama border had the best Grilled Swiss on Light Rye in ALL the land. The rest of the snack bar options were pretty standard and ordinary (soy burger patty, formerly frozen pizza, salads and cold sandwiches).

This sandwich was extraordinary, it was a spring blooming daffodil in a sea of southern pine straw.


Once this food memory was in my head I couldn’t let it go. It consumed my every thought. I went out and bought some rye flour organic sprouted too, didn’t even know that existed! and some caraway seeds. It must have even been on my brain while sleeping as I awoke in the morning with the scent of rye bread in my nose.

With my sourdough starter ready it was time to bake bread!

I mixed it and let it rise.

Then I shaped my loaf and let it rise again. As I was slashing the top and sprinkling it with seeds, it started to deflate, along with my perfect rye dreams.

Oh no! What do I do? Re-mix it and let it rise again? Leave it in the pan and let it rise some more? What if it gets over proofed and turns into a holey crumbly mess?

I was impatient and unwilling to wait for rye rapture.

In the end I baked it as it was and everything came out fine. Well, it did not rise as high as I expected, but the crumb was good!

Sliced Rye

I was almost too excited to let it cool all the way before slicing it, but I held out. Then I realized we were out of swiss cheese. One quick trip to the store lucky me, the good swiss was even on sale! and I was ready for rye nirvana.

Butter on bread taking time to get all the corners so the outer crust gets all browned too, a little sprinkling of salt, lay it down on a sizzling hot griddle. Slice my good swiss and place it on the hissing, bubbling, browning bread. Top with more buttered rye. Flip, brown some more. Done!

grilled swiss light rye

Wait! Can’t eat it yet, have to take a few pictures first. One bite…heaven. Pictures, then eat. The smell and taste bring back so many memories. The long lines, cafeteria trays and sweet lunch ladies at the counter; white elastic trimmed caps on their heads like food service halos.

The feel of my laminated student ID in hand as I approach the cash register. Air smoky from the grill, orange red formica booths slightly messy with the remnants of a prior inhabitant’s lunch. Gleaming chrome napkin dispenser so full you can’t pull one out without tearing it. Napkins so transparent and flimsy you need a handful for one sandwich.

And then suddenly the most wonderful memory of all. Spending time talking, laughing and enjoying a meal with friends. Not just any meal. The best Grilled Swiss on Light Rye in ALL the land, with crinkle cut french fries and diet coke I know, I’ve mentioned my addiction to soda before though. Like a good wine compliments a meal, the carbonation cut through the flavorful fattiness of the butter and cheese and the caffeine helped me stay alert through my afternoon classes.

My alma mater has changed so much. Enrollment has doubled, everything is new and the snack bar at “ye olde student center” is gone. No more Grilled Swiss on Light Rye. It’s okay, I have my memories. And now I have my homemade Grilled Swiss on Light Rye too!

Instructions and recipe follow, so you can make your own rye memories.

If using sourdough starter, follow King Arthur Flour’s Sourdough Starter Recipe.

Rye Closeup

Light Rye Sandwich Loaf

1 teaspoon caraway seed*

1/4 teaspoon celery seed*

1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic

1 cup sourdough starter*

1 & 1/3 cups rye flour (I used organic, sprouted rye)

1 teaspoon active dry yeast

1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 cup warm milk*

2 tablespoons molasses

1 large egg

2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter or olive oil

1 & 1/3 to 1 & 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Toast caraway and celery seed briefly in a shallow saute pan, let cool then grind with granulated garlic. Set aside.

Fit mixer with dough hook. Place sourdough starter, rye flour, yeast, salt and ground seed mixture in mixing bowl and mix well. Combine water and molasses and add to the mixer. Mix well again. Add butter, mix again. Add the egg and continue mixing while slowly incorporating the all-purpose flour, 1/3 cup at a time.

You may not need all of the flour, or you may need a little more. Dough is ready when it is slightly stiff, but smooth and very slightly sticky. Cover with cling wrap and let rise for 45 minutes to one hour.

Grease or line a 9 inch loaf pan with parchment.Turn dough out onto floured surface, knead gently a few times and shape into a loaf. I use the flatten gently with hands and make a dough roll method. Place shaped loaf into loaf pan, cover with greased cling wrap and let rise again for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit the last 15 minutes of the loaf rising.

Dough is ready when light touch with the finger leaves a slight impression and doesn’t bounce back. Remove cling wrap and place in the preheated oven to bake. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Cover loaf with parchment or aluminum foil after 20 minutes to prevent over browning.

Remove from oven, turn loaf out of baking pan immediately onto a cooling rack and let cool completely before slicing.

Enjoy rye heaven!

Rye Panorama

*Recipe Notes:

*If you don’t have sourdough starter or don’t want to mess with it, you can make a sponge; a pre-proofed yeast flavor booster alternative yes, I know that is a long description but it does what it says, it improves the flavor of baked goods!

Substitute the following process for sourdough starter:

Mix 1/2 cup distilled water or mineral water (room temperature or slightly warmed) with 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast, and 1 teaspoon honey or agave nectar. Add 1/3 cup all-purpose flour and 1/3 cup whole wheat flour or rye flour. Stir until all of the flour is hydrated. Let sit at room temperature for at least 2 and up to 12 hours before making the rye bread.

*For yeast activation, warm means not more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. You will kill the yeast if liquids are too hot. I heat my liquids briefly and gently in the microwave or in a saucepan on the stove top and use my thermometer to make sure it’s not too hot.

*If you don’t like caraway, use a flavor you like or leave it out. When I made my loaf, I also toasted some black and white sesame seeds as well as extra caraway and fennel seeds to sprinkle on my loaf before baking. They didn’t stick very well after baking, so next time I’ll brush on a pre-bake egg wash to “glue” the seed topping on.

*Next time I’ll skip the slashing. Slashing the top of loaves is done to allow steam to escape a little as it builds, taking your dough with it. I’m working with an 80’s era electric oven with finicky heating elements and every loaf is a mystery until I slice it! Get to know your oven and anticipate it’s temperament and adjust your recipes accordingly.

To my gluten free friends, I’m sorry! I have developed a gluten free faux rye loaf and am putting the finishing touches on that post, stay tuned!