I was on a mission to make a tangy rye bread long before I started working with sourdough. It all began when I arrived in St. Petersburg, Russia, on one of the coldest days on record. I’d just come from Norway, where I’d fallen in love with gjetost, a whey-based goat cheese that’s the color of caramel, has the richness of fudge, and melts on your tongue. Before leaving the country, I splurged on a log so large you can’t find it in the States. It was usually served with dry crispbread in Norway. Once I was settled in Russia, I discovered my favorite pairing for the cheese: Russian black bread.
The rye bread I ate in Russian bore little resemblance to what’s typically labeled “Russian rye” in America: no instant coffee, no cocoa powder, no caraway, no corn syrup. It was simply flour, water, and salt, all leavened with a sponge or starter. In other words, a sourdough bread. The problem was getting a recipe. Bread was subsidized when I was in Russia; a rye loaf cost 33p (about $1), and no one I met in the city was making it at home. The bakers where I bought my bread clearly thought I was a crazy American when I asked for the recipe: they started spouting ratios I could barely understand that seemed to start with about 50 pounds of flour.
Since returning to America and learning to bake with sourdough, I’ve made many attempts to capture the flavor of the bread I ate in Russia, using everything from a rye starter to a multiday preferment. In the end, I settled on a bread that mixes my standard 100% hydration wheat-based starter with a blend of rye, whole-wheat, and all-purpose flours. The blend lets you create a free-form loaf with minimal kneading and a long ferment to develop flavor. It’s a fabulous base for a simple layer of gjetost or my vegetarian twist on a full-fledged American classic, the Reuben.
Ready to give it a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
Plan to use your Sourdough Starter and 3 types of flour—you’ll need to spend a lot more time kneading if you only use rye flour.
1. Mix the ingredients.
2. Briefly knead the dough, and then go back to whatever else you were doing. Repeat, repeat, repeat—the quick kneading is your stretch break for the next couple of hours.
3. Shape your loaves. (Bonus! You get 2 loaves per batch.) Let them chill.
4. Bake, cool, eat.
Still need Sourdough Starter? Get it from me for free through January 31, 2019!
Sourdough Rye Bread
560 grams water
420 grams rye flour
300 grams all-purpose flour
120 grams whole-wheat flour
10 grams (~1 scant tablespoon) salt
Set a large bowl on a kitchen scale and add the starter. Measure in the water and stir briefly. Mix in the flours until the dough is combined and sticky. Cover with a damp tea towel; let rest for 30 minutes. Feed your starter.
Uncover the bowl, sprinkle salt over the dough, and then shift it onto a floured surface. Knead for 1–2 minutes. Oil the bowl lightly, return the dough to it, and re-cover to rest. Over the next 3 hours, knead the dough for 1–2 minutes every hour.
After the final kneading, let the dough rest on the floured surface for 30 minutes. Do one last quick knead; the dough should spring back when pressed with a finger. Let the dough rest another 10–15 minutes. Divide it in half using a bread knife, and lightly shape one half. Place it in the oiled bowl and cover with the damp towel. For the best shape and texture, let it chill at least 1 hour 45 minutes; loaf 1 can even sit overnight. Place loaf 2 in a lidded container at least twice its size, leaving the lid open slightly. Refrigerate until a later baking day.
To bake, preheat the oven and a baking stone to 465°F. When the oven’s ready, remove the dough from the fridge, reshape the loaf, and score it with a sharp, floured bread knife, making quick slashes at an angle. Gently place the cold loaf on the hot baking stone and cover it immediately with a large stainless steel bowl. Bake for 35 minutes, remove the bowl, and then bake another 10 minutes. Cool the loaf completely before cutting for sandwiches (see below); a warm loaf is still cooking inside. Makes 2 loaves.
Tips & Tricks
- Rye flour has less gluten than wheat flour, making it hard to stretch and fold like I recommend for Sourdough Cabin Bread. But if the gluten has relaxed enough that you can stretch the dough without tearing it, you can use the double letter fold technique instead of the final knead before shaping.
- I’m hooked on recipes based on ratios: in this case, 1 part starter, diluted with 2 times its weight in water, and turned into dough with 3 times its weight in flour. This means you can scale it up or down as you like. I find it easiest to prep two loaves at a time, baking them a couple of days apart.
- If you don’t have a baking stone, just use a cookie sheet—but don’t preheat it. Do use a bowl larger than the fully expanded loaf; the steam lightens the interior and crisps the crust.
Twice as Tasty
I stopped eating red meat when I was 16, and I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten a real Reuben sandwich. But for a few years, one of our favorite local restaurants ran a deli that was offering a vegetarian Reuben. Featuring smoked beets. And house-made sauerkraut. I could have cared less whether its flavor resembled the corned beef classic. The sandwich was so delicious, I asked the chef how he smoked the beets and quickly began smoking my own veg, to great success, at home.
A Reuben, vegetarian or otherwise, consists of layers of ingredients that you can keep on hand so that you can build the sandwich whenever the urge hits you. If you make them the Twice as Tasty way, all from scratch, there’s definitely some effort involved. But all of that effort happens in advance; come lunchtime, the sandwich is a snap to make.
Ready to give my version a try? Full details are in the recipe below, but here are the basics:
You need to make several Twice as Tasty recipes. Most of them last for months, so you can make the batches as the produce comes into season and keep them on hand—or you can buy equivalent fixings.
1. Mix the dressing.
2. Pile on the fillings.
3. Grill in a skillet and enjoy.
Vegetarian Smoked-Beet Reuben
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Home-Smoked Chili Paste
1/2 teaspoon Horseradish Paste
1 garlic clove, grated or pressed
1 tablespoon butter, softened
2 slices Sourdough Rye Bread
6 slices Swiss cheese
1 large Roasted and Smoked Beet, sliced
4 tablespoons Apfel Sauerkraut
In a medium bowl, whisk together the Russian dressing ingredients: yogurt or sour cream, vinegar, chili and horseradish pastes, and garlic. Butter one side of each slice of bread. Spread about 1/2 tablespoon of Russian dressing on the unbuttered side of each bread slice. Top 1 piece of bread with half of the cheese, followed by the beets and the sauerkraut. Cover with the remaining cheese slices and then the other piece of bread, dressing side down.
Warm a medium cast-iron or other nonstick skillet over medium heat. Place the sandwich in the skillet and cook 3–5 minutes per side, until the bread is golden and the cheese has melted. Makes 1 sandwich.
Tips & Tricks
- Some traditional Reuben recipes broil the sandwich or heat the meat and sauerkraut separately before toasting the bread; this ensures the filling is heated through. But with this vegetarian version, there’s no need to take those extra steps unless you want softer but hotter cabbage in the sandwich.
- If you want a saucier, thicker sandwich, you can pile on more dressing, sauerkraut, or other ingredients. If you go overboard and suddenly realize there’s no way to fit the sandwich in your mouth, weigh it down with a second cast-iron pan while it’s cooking.
- The traditional spread that goes on Reubens is entirely American made and features ketchup and mayo—processed ingredients you would spend a relative fortune on in Russia. Since I’m not creating a traditional Reuben anyway, I opted for more zing and homemade condiments.
- The first vegetarian Reuben I ever tasted featured brilliant red beets and was sweetened with slices of apple. Golden beets, fresh or from storage, bleed less color into the bread while retaining the flavor. If you’re fermenting cabbage, you can add that touch of fruity sweetness straight into the kraut.
- Flipping a grilled sandwich with so many loose ingredients is tricky. I lay a dinner plate serving side down on the cooking sandwich, press my hand on the plate, grab the skillet handle with my other hand, and flip the entire unit so that the plate is on the bottom. It’s then easy to slide the sandwich from plate to pan to cook the other side.
Like what you’ve learned here but don’t have a sourdough starter? Now’s your chance! The 2nd Annual Sourdough Giveaway runs through January 31, 2019. Learn how to get your free sourdough starter here.