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Here’s how to make a wonderful loaf of sourdough rye bread. Detailed, step-by-step tutorial with in-process photos and video. You can do this. Let’s go.

sourdough rye bread on a cutting board
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Why we love this recipe

This is our go-to loaf of sourdough rye bread. It’s flavorful, super-versatile, beginner-friendly, and totally satisfying for more advanced bakers, too.

Sourdough is part science, part art. This recipe hits the sweet spot between art and science — it’s straightforward and detailed but also gives you room to begin relying on your intuition within a safe, comfortable environment.

All that, and it produces a reliable, truly delicious loaf of bread.

This recipe is adapted from Sarah Owens.

What you’ll need

Here’s a glance at the ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe.

ingredients in bowls
  • Whole-grain rye flour. Just like wheat, rye is made up of three parts: bran, endosperm, and germ. Whole-grain flour contains all three parts. If you’re buying stone-ground flour from a small mill, it should be fairly easy to find whole-grain rye. I’ve been using Wrens Abruzzi Rye from Barton Springs Mill for the past year, both in my starter and to make this bread, and it’s wonderful. If you’re shopping at the supermarket, you may need to choose between “medium” and “dark” rye. Medium doesn’t contain the germ, and the definition of dark can vary — but either one will impart a nice rye flavor to your bread.
  • Bread flour has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour. This helps us form the strong stretchy network of gluten that traps carbon dioxide, allowing bread to rise. I tend to use King Arthur bread flour.
  • Water. Use room-temperature water — about 75°F is ideal. We have a water filter, and I make use of it in this process. If you don’t, it’s generally fine to use tap water. If your tap water has a strong chemical smell, you might want to leave it on the counter overnight before using to let any additives settle to the bottom, then pour the water off the top to use in your sourdough-making.
  • I use fine sea salt in bread-making because it dissolves well and doesn’t contain any additives that could interfere with fermentation. You could use a good kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal) if you prefer. Since we measure by weight, you won’t have to worry about volumetric equivalency.
sourdough rye bread on a cutting board

How to make it

Here’s what you’ll to to make a beautiful loaf of sourdough rye bread, along with suggested timing. You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.

Make the leaven

Twelve hours before you want to make the leaven, feed your sourdough starter so it will be ready to go. I like to feed the starter in the morning two days before I want to bake the bread, and then prepare the leaven that night.

making the leaven step by step
  1. Place 10 grams of ripe sourdough starter into a glass or ceramic container.
  2. Pour in 25 grams of room-temperature water (about 75°F).
  3. Spoon in 25 grams of whole-grain rye flour.
  4. Mix well, until there’s no dry flour. Cover loosely and let it ferment at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours.

Autolyse

Next, we’ll hydrate the flours before adding the salt. Autolysis is a rest period that allows the flour to become fully hydrated. This will make the dough easier to work with in subsequent steps and can also contribute to a taller, softer loaf with a more open crumb.

Next-level bread nerd tips: You may be familiar with recipes where the autolyse is a water-and-flour-only affair. Good eye. Technically, adding the leaven before the rest period slightly inhibits some of its benefits — but for this loaf, it’s the right call.

Alternatively, you may be familiar with the idea that rye flour doesn’t normally benefit from autolysis. Since this recipe contains only 20% rye, the short autolyse helps the wheat more than it hurts the rye.

mixing the leaven, water, rye flour, and bread flour in a bowl
  1. Place the ripe leaven into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Pour in the water and use your hand to break up the leaven a bit, distributing it throughout the water. You don’t need to worry about creating a smooth, homogenous mixture — just make sure the leaven breaks into smaller pieces.
  3. Add the bread flour and the rye flour.
  4. Use your hand to mix very well for a few minutes, until you can’t see or feel any dry pockets of flour. Squeeze the dough in your fist, turn your elbow and wrist, release the dough, and repeat. You can see the motion in action in the video. The dough at this stage will be extremely sticky. If you’re used to working with commercial yeast, you’ll quickly see and feel that the sourdough process is quite different. Don’t worry — sticky is what we’re looking for. A bowl scraper will help remove dough from your hand.
  5. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let it sit for 20 minutes.

Add the salt

After the flour hydrates, we’ll add the salt. Salt plays so many roles in the sourdough rye bread-making process. As in other cooking, it’s a flavor enhancer. It also makes the dough stronger and less sticky; regulates yeast activity, allowing fermentation to proceed at a steady pace; and acts as a natural preservative, extending the life of your loaf. It would be pure magic if it weren’t pure science.

adding salt to the dough
  1. Sprinkle the salt over the surface of the dough.
  2. Sprinkle a little bit of water over the salt with your fingers. This really helps the salt dissolve.
  3. Just like in the previous step, use your hand to work the dough, squeezing it in your palm, turning your wrist and elbow, and repeating until you can’t feel any undissolved salt granules. The dough will still be fairly sticky, but much less so than before the autolyse. It should be easier to work with, easier to pull away from the bowl, and easier to scrape off your hand afterward.
  4. This is a good time to assess your dough for moisture. (At first you’ll have to guess a bit, but over time you’ll grow to understand what the dough should feel like.) If the dough feels very stiff and hard to work with at this stage, you can add more water in 20-gram increments. I don’t usually find this necessary with the combination of flours that I use and my New Jersey baking environment, but it’s possible that you will. After mixing, cover the dough again and let rest for 30 minutes. This is the beginning of your 3-4 hour bulk fermentation timeline.

Bulk fermentation / stretch & fold

Bulk fermentation is the period where we allow the dough to work its magic, gaining flavor and volume. We help this process along every 30 to 45 minutes by performing a stretch and fold — sourdough’s gentler alternative to kneading that helps build the gluten structure of the dough. Here’s how to do it.

performing a stretch and fold
  1. Wet your hand so it won’t stick to the dough. Slide your hand under a section of the dough, releasing it from the bowl.
  2. Gently stretch this section up and out a bit. Aim to stretch the dough without tearing it at all.
  3. Fold this section of the dough into the center.
  4. Repeat this process three or four times, turning the bowl 90-ish degrees each time, until you’ve worked your way around the entire dough mass and folded each section to the center. That’s it — you’ve done a stretch and fold! Cover the dough again and repeat every 30 to 45 minutes until the dough is ready to shape. This is likely to take 3 to 3 1/2 hours in warmer conditions, and 3 1/2 to 4 (or occasionally 4 1/2) hours in colder conditions. Especially toward the end of bulk fermentation, take care to handle the dough gently so you don’t tear or deflate it.
Sourdough Rye Bread with Butter and Jam

How to know when the bread is ready to shape

You’ll know that it’s time to move from bulk fermentation to shaping the dough when you see the following cues. Recognizing them will get much easier over time.

  • The dough has increased in volume by at least 1/3
  • You see fermentation bubbles breaking the top surface of the dough and appearing around the sides.
  • If you use a wet finger to gently poke the dough, you can see bubbles trapped inside the dough.

We’ll shape the dough in two steps: pre-shape and final shape.

Pre-shape

This is where we gently turn the dough out of the bowl and form it into a rough round shape.

preshaping the bread
  1. First we’ll turn the dough out of the bowl and onto a floured work surface, doing our best not to tear or deflate the dough. Tip the bowl little by little, and use a bowl scraper (or a silicone spatula if that’s what you’ve got) to encourage the dough to release from the bowl as you go.
  2. Next, using your hands or a bench knife (also called a bench scraper) if you’ve got one, turn the top, bottom, left side, and right side of the dough in toward the center.
  3. Then tuck each of the four corners into the center, creating a rough round shape.
  4. Use your bench knife to carefully flip the dough over, so that the seam side is down. You can use floured hands to gently encourage the dough into a round shape, but we’re mostly leaving it alone at this point to prevent deflation. Cover with your damp towel and let rest for about 20 minutes, until the shape of the dough has relaxed.

Final shape

Now we’re ready to perform the final shaping and tuck the dough into the fridge for a little overnight nap. The purpose of the final shape is to create additional tension and structure while also getting the dough into the basic shape that we’d like for the final loaf of sourdough rye bread.

For this step, you’ll need either a proofing basket (round or oval) or a small mixing bowl that fits the loaf fairly snugly. You can choose whether to flour the inside of the basket or line it with a cloth liner. (I use a cloth napkin.)

final bread shaping
  1. Use your bench knife to flip the dough back over so it’s seam-side up. If there’s any excess flour on the top of the dough, brush it off with your hand so it doesn’t prevent the dough from sticking to itself. Tuck the top of the dough toward you a bit.
  2. Then stitch in the sides to the center, section by section, alternating sections from the left and right down the length of the dough until you reach the bottom. (Refer to the video for visual cues.)
  3. Starting from the bottom, roll the dough away from you onto itself, tucking in some tension as you go. End with the dough seam-side down. Flour the top of the loaf well.
  4. Use your bench knife to help seal the seam a bit by sliding it under the loaf in a swift motion, parallel to the direction of the seam. Then pick up the loaf and carefully flip it over, placing it seam-side up into the basket. Cover the top of the loaf with cloth to absorb any condensation, and then place the whole thing in a plastic bag to prevent it from losing moisture. Place the loaf into the fridge to rest overnight (anywhere from 8 to about 24 hours is fine).

Final proof & scoring

About an hour before you’re ready to bake, remove your sourdough rye bread from the fridge and the bag, leaving it wrapped in cloth in the basket. Place in a warmish spot on the counter to complete its final proofing.

You’ll know the loaf is ready to turn out of the basket when it feels a little bit buoyant. (People often describe it as feeling like an inflated water balloon, though I’ve never quite connected with this cue.) When you gently press it with your finger, the indentation should remain visible for a bit before springing back.

During this time, preheat your oven to 480°F with a rack in the center (or the lower third if necessary to accommodate the height of your enameled cast iron Dutch oven). When the oven reaches temperature, preheat your Dutch oven for 20 minutes.

  1. When the dough is ready, carefully turn it out onto a piece of parchment. The parchment will serve as a set of handles to help you lift the dough into the hot Dutch oven in a minute, and it also creates a barrier between the Dutch oven and the bottom of the loaf to help prevent the bottom crust from getting too dark.
  2. If you like, gently rub some flour into the top of of the loaf and brush off any excess. This isn’t necessary at all, but it will help to create visual contrast to emphasize any decorative scoring you decide to do.
  3. Now it’s time to score the bread. Scoring helps the loaf expand in a controlled way when it rises in the oven, rather than bursting open wherever it feels like. Ideally you’ll use a thin razor blade (I use this tool to make it easy), but if you’re just starting out and don’t have one, use a very sharp, thin knife. There are many ways to score a loaf, and over time it’s fun to experiment. For simplicity, you can start by making a single 1/4-inch-deep cut about 3/4 of the way across the loaf, mimicking the curvature of the loaf itself.
  4. If you like, you can now add shallower decorative scoring to add visual interest without affecting the shape of the loaf very much. A simple wheat stalk pattern is classic, but you can do whatever you like. Try to work quickly, since the loaf will spread a bit as it sits on the parchment.

Baking and cooling your sourdough rye bread

It’s baking time! Here’s what to do.

  1. Very carefully remove the preheated Dutch oven from the oven and lift the lid.
  2. Working quickly to prevent too much heat from dissipating, lift the loaf by the parchment handles and transfer it into the Dutch oven.
  3. Replace the lid. Slide the Dutch oven onto your oven rack and bake with the lid on for 20 minutes. Baking in a covered pot traps the moisture in the baking environment. This allows the loaf to rise fully before the crust sets, which is important for both the shape of the loaf and the openness and texture of the crumb.
  4. After 20 minutes, remove the lid. Reduce the oven temperature to 465° and continue baking for 15 to 20 minutes, until the crust is as dark as you like. The next step is the hardest, but very important. Let the loaf cool completely — or as much as you can stand — before cutting into it. Allowing the steam to escape from the crumb is an important part of creating the right texture.

Expert tips and FAQs

What if I don’t have a Dutch oven?

In order for the bread to rise properly, you’ll need to add some steam to the baking environment. A lidded Dutch oven is a simple way to accomplish this, but it’s not the only way.

Place a heavy metal baking pan (such as a 9x13x2-inch pan) on a rack below the one you intend to bake on. Preheat this pan with your oven.

If you have a pizza stone, place it on a rack above the one with the metal pan, ideally in the center of the oven. Preheat that as well. If you don’t have a pizza stone, preheat a baking sheet instead.

When the dough is scored and ready to bake, transfer it, using the parchment handles, onto the pizza stone or baking sheet. Then carefully pour hot water into the pan and close the oven. Bake in the steamy environment for 20 minutes. Then remove the pan and continue baking for 15 to 20 minutes, until the crust is as dark as you’d like.

How long does sourdough rye bread keep, and how should I store it?

Due to its slightly tacky, moist interior, sourdough keeps well at room temperature for several days. We usually end up leaving it out on a cutting board overnight without even wrapping it, and it’s always gone by halfway through the next day.

If your brood doesn’t devour bread as quickly, you can wrap it in foil or keep it in a bread box once it’s completely cool. For longer-term storage, slice, freeze, and toast straight from the freezer.

More sourdough resources

sourdough rye bread on a cutting board
A finished loaf of sourdough rye bread

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sourdough rye bread on a cutting board
4.84 from 24 votes

Sourdough Rye Bread

By Carolyn Gratzer Cope
Here's how to make a wonderful loaf of sourdough rye bread. This loaf is reliable and extremely versatile. It makes a great snack eaten out of hand, toast, sandwiches, croutons, hearty French toast, and so much more.
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 40 minutes
Additional Time: 1 day 12 hours
Total: 1 day 13 hours 10 minutes
Servings: 1 loaf
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Ingredients 

For the leaven

  • 10 grams ripe sourdough starter
  • 25 grams room-temperature water, about 75°F
  • 25 grams whole-grain rye flour

For the loaf

  • 60 grams leaven
  • 300 grams room-temperature water
  • 310 grams bread flour
  • 80 grams rye flour
  • 8 grams fine sea salt

Instructions 

  • Make the leaven
  • Place (10 grams) of ripe sourdough starter into a glass or ceramic container.
  • Pour in (25 grams) of room-temperature water (about 75°F).
  • Spoon in (25 grams) of whole-grain rye flour.
  • Mix well, until there’s no dry flour. Cover loosely and let it ferment at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours.
  • Prepare the dough
  • Place the ripe leaven into a large mixing bowl.
  • Pour in the water and use your hand to break up the leaven a bit, distributing it throughout the water.
  • Add the bread flour and the rye flour.
  • Use your hand to mix very well for a few minutes, until you can’t see or feel any dry pockets of flour. Squeeze the dough in your fist, turn your elbow and wrist, release the dough, and repeat. (See note 2.)
  • Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let it sit for 20 minutes.
  • Sprinkle the salt over the surface of the dough. Then sprinkle a little bit of water over the salt with your fingers to help the salt dissolve.
  • Just like in the previous step, use your hand to work the dough, squeezing it in your palm, turning your wrist and elbow, and repeating until you can’t feel any undissolved salt granules. (See notes 3 and 4.)
  • After mixing, cover the dough again and let rest for 30 minutes. This is the beginning of your 3-4 hour bulk fermentation timeline.
  • Every 30-45 minutes during bulk fermentation, perform a stretch and fold. Wet your hand so it won’t stick to the dough. Slide your hand under a section of the dough, releasing it from the bowl. Gently stretch this section up and out a bit. Aim to stretch the dough without tearing it at all. Fold this section of the dough into the center. Repeat this process three or four times, turning the bowl 90-ish degrees each time, until you’ve worked your way around the entire dough mass and folded each section to the center. Cover the dough. (See notes 5 and 6 for cues about when bulk fermentation is complete.)
  • Shape the dough
  • Dough is ready to shape when it has grown in volume by at least 1/3 and you see fermentation bubbles breaking the surface.
  • Turn the dough out of the bowl and onto a floured work surface, doing your best not to tear or deflate the dough. Tip the bowl little by little, and use a bowl scraper (or a silicone spatula if that’s what you’ve got) to encourage the dough to release from the bowl as you go.
  • Using your hands or a bench knife, turn the top, bottom, left side, and right side of the dough in toward the center. Then tuck each of the four corners into the center, creating a rough round shape.
  • Use your bench knife to carefully flip the dough over, so that the seam side is down. You can use floured hands to gently encourage the dough into a round shape, but we’re mostly leaving it alone at this point to prevent deflation. Cover with your damp towel and let rest for about 20 minutes, until the shape of the dough has relaxed.
  • Use your bench knife to flip the dough back over so it’s seam-side up. If there’s any excess flour on the top of the dough, brush it off with your hand so it doesn’t prevent the dough from sticking to itself.
  • Tuck the top of the dough toward you a bit. Stitch in the sides to the center, section by section, alternating sections from the left and right down the length of the dough until you reach the bottom. (Refer to the video for visual cues.)
  • Starting from the bottom, roll the dough away from you onto itself, tucking in some tension as you go. End with the dough seam-side down. Flour the top of the loaf well.
  • Use your bench knife to help seal the seam a bit by sliding it under the loaf in a swift motion, parallel to the direction of the seam. Then pick up the loaf and carefully flip it over, placing it seam-side up into the basket.
  • Cover the top of the loaf with cloth to absorb any condensation, and then place the whole thing in a plastic bag to prevent it from losing moisture.
  • Place the loaf into the fridge to rest overnight (anywhere from 8 to about 24 hours is fine).
  • Final proof and bake
  • About an hour before you’d like to bake the bread, remove it from the fridge. Remove from bag but keep wrapped in cloth in proofing basket. You’ll know the dough is ready to bake when it has swollen up a bit and stays indented for a moment when you gently poke it with your finger.
  • While the dough proofs, preheat oven to 480°F. When the oven comes up to temperature, place your Dutch oven on the middle rack to preheat for 20 minutes.
  • When the dough is ready, carefully turn it out onto a piece of parchment.
  • If you like, gently rub some flour into the top of of the loaf and brush off any excess.
  • Next, score the loaf. There are many beautiful ways to do this, and over time it’s fun to experiment. For simplicity, you can start by making a single ¼-inch-deep cut about ¾ of the way across the loaf, mimicking the curvature of the loaf itself.
  • If you like, add decorative scoring. Try to work quickly, since the loaf will spread a bit as it sits on the parchment.
  • Very carefully remove the preheated Dutch oven from the oven and lift the lid. Working quickly to prevent too much heat from dissipating, lift the loaf by the parchment handles and transfer it into the Dutch oven.
  • Replace the lid. Slide the Dutch oven onto your oven rack and bake with the lid on for 20 minutes.
  • After 20 minutes, remove the lid. Reduce the oven temperature to 465° and continue baking for 15 to 20 minutes, until the crust is as dark as you like.
  • Remove loaf from Dutch oven and cool completely — or as much as you can stand — on a rack before slicing.

Notes

  1. I typically use Wrens Abruzzi rye flour from Barton Springs Mill for both my starter and this bread, along with King Arthur bread flour.
  2. You can see the motion in action in the video. The dough at this stage will be extremely sticky. If you’re used to working with commercial yeast, you’ll quickly see and feel that the sourdough process is quite different. Don’t worry — sticky is what we’re looking for. A bowl scraper will help remove dough from your hand.
  3. The dough will still be fairly sticky, but much less so than before the autolyse. It should be easier to work with, easier to pull away from the bowl, and easier to scrape off your hand afterward.
  4. This is a good time to assess your dough for moisture. (At first you’ll have to guess a bit, but over time you’ll grow to understand what the dough should feel like.) If the dough feels very stiff and hard to work with at this stage, you can add more water in 20-gram increments. I don’t usually find this necessary with the combination of flours that I use and my New Jersey baking environment, but it’s possible that you will.
  5. Bulk fermentation is likely to take 3 to 3 ½ hours in warmer conditions, and 3 ½ to 4 (or occasionally 4 ½) hours in colder conditions. Especially toward the end of bulk fermentation, take care to handle the dough gently so you don’t tear or deflate it.
  6. You’ll know that it’s time to move from bulk fermentation to shaping the dough when you see the following cues. Recognizing them will get much easier over time. (1) The dough has increased in volume by at least 1/3. (2) You see fermentation bubbles breaking the top surface of the dough and appearing around the sides. (3) If you use a wet finger to gently poke the dough, you can see bubbles trapped inside the dough.
  7. In order for the bread to rise properly, you’ll need to add some steam to the baking environment. A lidded Dutch oven is a simple way to accomplish this, but it’s not the only way. If you don’t have a Dutch oven, do this instead: Place a heavy metal baking pan (such as a 9x13x2-inch pan) on a rack below the one you intend to bake on. Preheat this pan with your oven. If you have a pizza stone, place it on a rack above the one with the metal pan, ideally in the center of the oven. Preheat that as well. If you don’t have a pizza stone, preheat a baking sheet instead. When the dough is scored and ready to bake, transfer it, using the parchment handles, onto the pizza stone or baking sheet. Then carefully pour hot water into the pan and close the oven. Bake in the steamy environment for 20 minutes. Then remove the pan and continue baking for 15 to 20 minutes, until the crust is as dark as you’d like.
  8. Due to its slightly tacky, moist interior, sourdough keeps well at room temperature for several days. We usually end up leaving it out on a cutting board overnight without even wrapping it, and it’s always gone by halfway through the next day.If your brood doesn’t devour bread as quickly, you can wrap it in foil or keep it in a bread box once it’s completely cool. For longer-term storage, slice, freeze, and toast straight from the freezer.
This recipe is adapted from Sarah Owens.

Nutrition

Serving: 1, Calories: 124kcal, Carbohydrates: 25g, Protein: 4g, Fat: 1g, Sodium: 260mg, Fiber: 2g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Sourdough
Cuisine: American
Tried this recipe?Mention @umamigirl or tag #umamigirl!

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About Carolyn Gratzer Cope

Hi there, I'm Carolyn Gratzer Cope, founder and publisher of Umami Girl. Join me in savoring life, one recipe at a time. I'm a professional recipe developer with training from the French Culinary Institute (now ICE) and a lifetime of studying, appreciating, and sharing food.

4.84 from 24 votes (24 ratings without comment)

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14 Comments

  1. Can Caraway seed be added to this recipe? If so, how is the best way to mix it in? During folding?

    1. Hi Shawny, yes, you can definitely add caraway seeds. I recommend toasting them lightly in a dry pan and letting them cool completely, then sprinkling them over the top of the dough before your first set of stretch and folds.

  2. I just made this as my first sourdough bread ever. I also used your starter recipe! It came out amazing! Thanks much!

    1. Hi Prudence, you can, but you’ll need to increase the hydration by quite a bit — possibly up to about 350g water. It really depends on the flour. Proving time may be longer, too, and the result will be somewhat denser regardless of any other changes you make. I’d recommend starting with no more than 50% whole wheat bread flour and increasing in subsequent bakes if you’re happy with the result.

  3. This recipe is PERFECT! I have tried so many sourdough recipes since my neighbor kindly shared his starter with me in May 2020 — and never have I had the success that I have had with this one. I have even doubled the recipe a few times and the loaves came out beautifully. I can’t thank you enough!!

    One little request: do you have any advice on how to make a loaf that has a higher percentage of rye flour? I love dark flavors, but I worry that just altering the ratio of rye to bread flour might not be feasible. Again, my sincere thanks.

    1. Hi, Emma! That’s great — thank you so much.

      It’s a tricky question because rye flour behaves so differently from wheat. The easiest place to start might be to experiment with different rye flours at the same percentage, since some have a much darker flavor than others.

      Beyond that, it’s a matter of experimenting to suit your own tastes, or making a different style of bread entirely. Rye has way less gluten, so the more you use, the less the bread will rise (and the longer the rise will take). My personal preference is to lean into a much denser loaf, like a Danish-style rye, every once in a while.

      Keep me posted on your experiments!

    1. Hi, Judy-Lee! I’m a little embarrassed to say I’ve never weighed the final loaf, but I think it’s likely about 650 grams (23 ounces). Will weigh next time I make it and report back.

  4. Hi, I want to try this recipe but I don’t have a rye starter. Will it be ok if I feed my regular starter of half and half all purpose and wheat with rye flour according to your recipe.

    1. Hi, Lilly! You can use any starter for this recipe. Feed yours as you usually do, and then you can use your active starter to make the leaven with rye flour as directed in the recipe. Hope you love the bread!