How to make rye bread

Updated on 11 November 2016 | 0 Comments

Everyone knows rye's good for you, but what exactly is it and how do you bake with it? Jennifer Ah-Kin shows us how to 'give rye a try'.

Rye is one of those foods that just can't help sounding good for you. Add in words like high fibre, whole grain and low-GI, and you're left feeling positively saintly as you tuck into a slice of toasted rye bread and snack on those more-ish crispbreads.

But what is rye? Is it a type of wheat or not? Does it contain gluten? And, faced with a non-descript bag of rye flour from your local health food store, what exactly can you do with it?

Grain of truth

Rye is a type of cereal grain, related to but not part of the wheat family (i.e. our usual white and wholemeal flours). It thrives in areas where wheat cannot and is more tolerant of colder climates – hence its popularity in Eastern and Northern Europe.

No need to knead

Not being part of the wheat family, 100% rye breads are therefore wheat-free. (Always check the ingredients though, as 'rye breads' sold often contain a proportion of wheat for a lighter texture.)

However, rye flour does contain gluten, and it's the qualities of this gluten that make rye significantly different from wheat flour. Whereas the gluten in wheat flour is both extensible (allowing the dough to stretch with air) and elastic (allowing it to spring back and thus gives a chewy texture), the gluten in rye flour does not have this elastic behaviour.

Because of this, rye dough has a sticky and clay-like texture, and naturally produces much denser, heavier loaves than wheat (especially compared to white wheat loaves). On the bright side, a dough made with 100% rye doesn't need to be kneaded, as its gluten structure does not benefit from the stretching involved in traditional kneading.

Come over to the dark side

A note on light and dark rye: light rye is the wheat-equivalent of white flour, while dark rye is the equivalent of wholemeal flour. Remember to use more water with dark rye than light rye, due to the higher bran content.

Crispbreads across Europe

Another key use of rye flour is in the making of crispbreads. Scandinavia in particular has a long tradition of rye crispbreads, with the Swedish knäckebröd, Norwegian knekkebrød and Finnish näkkileipä.

In the UK, rye crispbreads were first produced by The Ryvita Company, founded in 1925. It's easy to imagine that little has changed since; it's not often you look at the back of a packet and find fewer ingredients than expected, but in the case of their Original crispbreads, you'll find just three ingredients: wholegrain rye flour, rye flour and salt.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? Here's how to make your own.

What to serve with crispbreads:

Ross Lewis' cured salmon

John Gregory Smith's Persian lamb stew

A spoonful of 'good' caviar


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