2 min read

Sourdough happens

Ok, so everyone and their companion animal is baking sourdough at the moment. I’m still hoping for a bit of comparative advantage for a lazy and woo-free account. I like rye bread, and there are well-established biochemical reasons that it’s hard to make good rye bread with baker’s yeast – in the pH range where yeast grows well, rye amylases mess with the dough structure.

Sourdough starter

You don’t need any special “wild yeasts” in a sourdough starter – the yeasts are already present on the grains and in the flour. Mix rye flour and water into a creamy paste. Every day or two, double the amount (you will quickly have to start discarding the excess). Over about a week it will start bubbling and acquire a fruit and vinegar smell. Some people on the internet will say you need chlorine-free water. They need to talk to Paracelsus


In the afternoon, take half your sourdough starter and add

  • water
  • salt to taste (I use about 1 tsp for 500ml of water)
  • caraway seeds if you like them (about twice as much as salt)
  • kibbled rye or steel-cut oats if you like (a few tablespoons)
  • gluten flour (14 cup if you have it)
  • rye flour (as much as you can mix in)

Leave it overnight in an unheated NZ kitchen in autumn (10-15°C).

In the morning, knead in a little more rye flour. It will still be sticky and wet, but it shouldn’t be absorbing lots of flour. Shape into loaves, slice thin cuts in the top, and leave somewhere where the temperature is comfortable.

In the evening, bake in a very hot oven for 15 minutes, then in a moderate oven for about 30 minutes, until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.


Wheat-based sourdough genuinely benefits from the whole complicated sourdough folding ritual. Rye sourdough doesn’t care.

Other interesting things to add include walnuts, thyme, coarsely ground coriander seed, a few tablespoons of bitter English marmalade, buckwheat flour, chopped dried apples, celery leaves. Not all at once.

It’s not that useful to add fats: the crust gets softer and you might as well save the calories and use butter or sour cream or crème fraîche when eating it.

This isn’t going to give you the sort of rye bread that Daily Bread or Olaf’s produce, but (ex hypothesi) they aren’t available, and even if it’s not A-grade bread it’s a good B+.