Sourdough Rye

James Beard

Author and Educator

This sourdough rye has a nice crumb, slices well and keeps even better. It is delicious when sliced extremely thin, buttered and served with smoked fish, oysters, or other shellfish. This recipe makes two rather large breads, but it freezes extremely well.


  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 3 1/4 cups warm water, approximately 100ºF to 150ºF
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups rye flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • Cornmeal
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water


Four days ahead of baking, prepare the “starter.” Combine 1 package of the yeast, 2 cups warm water, and 2 cups all-purpose flour in a plastic bowl or container. Cover tightly and let stand at room temperature for 2 days. Then refrigerate for at least another day.

The day before preparing the dough, combine 1 cup of starter, the rye flour, and 1 cup warm water in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature overnight. The next day stir down the dough and add the second package of yeast, which has already been dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water, salt, caraway seeds, poppy seeds, butter, and sugar. Then add up to 4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup at a time, to make a stiff but workable dough. Knead for 10 to 12 minutes, and then shape into a ball. Place the ball in a buttered bowl, turning to coat the dough with the butter. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk for about 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Punch down and divide the dough in half. Shape into two round loaves and place on buttered baking sheets generously sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover and let rise again until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Brush with the egg wash, and bake for 30 minutes, or until lightly browned and the loaves sound hollow when rapped with your knuckles. Cool, covered with towels to prevent the crust from hardening.


Two free-form loaves