Let’s talk about sourdough rye bread. First of all Polish bread isn’t any particular sort of bread, but rather alludes to the quality, taste and techniques used for bread making in Poland. The more modern, obviously, bakeries have been utilizing machines for quite a while, yet it’s each one of those chemical rising agents that make “western bread” so awful, but it just looks pleasant.
Polish Sourdough Rye Bread
(Chleb Zwykly na Zakwasie)
Here’s what a Polish wiki site mentions about for zakwas (sourdough):
Sourdough (leaven) – a small amount of rye dough, left from the previous baking or prepared sourdough from rye flour and containing propagated lactic acid bacteria and wild yeast used to make the dough.
Bacterial fermentation (lactic fermentation), which by, that it takes a sufficiently long time (several hours), causes the decomposition of phytic acid, which allows the formation of absorbable forms of micro-nutrients which are among others in cereal grains and legumes.
Sourdough is essential in the making of rye bread. The use of sourdough fermentation is a tradition and part of the heritage of the rye growing areas in almost all Eastern European countries such as Poland, the former Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia), Russia, Hungary, Germany, the Swiss, and Baltic states. Of course there are others.
Bread made from a mixture of wheat and rye flour is very common in the Slavic regions and the use of sourdough is used to enhance the sensory properties of the bread if just using about 20% rye flour.
Writing in the Encyclopedia of Food Microbiology (1 April 2014) Michael G. Gaenzle writes:
“The origins of bread-making are so ancient that everything said about them must be pure speculation. One of the oldest sourdough breads dates from 3700 BC and was excavated in Switzerland, but the origin of sourdough fermentation likely relates to the origin of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent several thousand years earlier… Bread production relied on the use of sourdough as a leavening agent for most of human history; the use of baker’s yeast as a leavening agent dates back less than 150 years.”
Bread made from 100 percent rye flour, which is very popular in the northern half of Europe, is usually leavened with sourdough. Baker’s yeast is not useful as a leavening agent for rye bread, as rye does not contain enough gluten. The structure of rye bread is based primarily on the starch in the flour, as well as other carbohydrates, however, rye amylase is active at substantially higher temperatures than wheat amylase, causing the structure of the bread to disintegrate as the starches are broken down during cooking. The lowered pH of a sourdough starter, therefore, inactivates the amylase when heat cannot, allowing the carbohydrates in the bread to gel and set properly. In the southern part of Europe, where baguette and even carbohydrates were originally made with wheat flour and rye flour, sourdough has become less common in recent times; it has been replaced by the faster-growing baker’s yeast, sometimes supplemented with longer fermentation rests to allow for some bacterial activity to build flavor.
History of bread in Polish history…
Polish bread has been a part of Polish cuisine and tradition for centuries. Being the important source of living for the Poles since ancient times, this food has been considered the most respected food of the cuisine. However, the increasing variety of breads easily available in the local bakeries and groceries has largely affected the worth of bread in Polish cuisine.
Since past ages, the rye and wheat are the two commonly used grains for bread-making in Poland. The intense aroma, crunchy crust with not-too soft interior is the highlighted feature of the traditional polish breads. Some other traditional as well as modern bread ingredients in Poland are buttermilk, egg, nuts, raisins, fruits and potato.
Although its very tricky to tell the exact origin of the bread in Poland, it is believed that this humble food has been the vital part of Polish cuisine since the Slavic tribes had inhibited Poland around the area between the Bug and Oder Rivers. People from these tribes used to eat a pulp made by boiling the dried and ground grass seeds and eventually that meal had evolved into the most prominent meal of the tribes and later developed into bread.
Bread making in Poland is a very traditional task that involves home-made breads as well as breads made in bakeries. Homemade breads are generally prepared with a sourdough starter that requires two-day fermentation.
Whereas most of the modern day bakery breads are fermented with yeast and baking powder, as these products produce quick rise of dough. If part of the recipe uses lard or butter it is generally combined with the dough after the fermentation process is finished. Other ingredients would also be mixed in the dough with butter or lard. Usually, dough is brushed with egg yolk in order to provide a shine to the baked bread or left alone for an artisan look and retaining a crispy texture. Caraway seeds, sunflower seeds or chopped nuts can be sprinkled over the dough to give nice touch to the recipe.
For this recipe…
I used a sourdough starter that I purchased online and have been keeping alive by routine weekly feeding. When I received it I needed to begin the ‘feeding’ process and properly make this starter happy and active. This takes about 3-5 days at room temperature to get the starter bubbly and rich with growth. The starter I bought is said to be from a batched of naturally occurring yeast and beneficial bacteria that was started over 275 years ago in New England. Sound crazy? Not at all. In many European countries, starter dough is handed down from generation to generation. And remember, commercialized baker’s yeast has only been around in recent history.
Maintaining a new starter…
You need to feed it and make it happy…
The Conversion into rye…
If your starter has been in the fridge being idle, remove it and allow to come to room temperature for at least 4 hours. Because the original starter is a white flour starter I needed to remove about half and transform that into a rye sourdough starter. I use an organic white unbleached all purpose flour to get the starter growing real well. But I needed to increase the volume.
So when feeding the saved white flour sourdough starter, instead of disposing half and feeding the remaining, I removed half and used it in the next step. Then fed the remaining with equal 8 oz amounts (by weight) of organic white unbleached all purpose flour with 8oz of water (water equals the same weight as to volume so 1 cup of water equals 8 oz by weight, per instructions – not the same with solids such as flour). It is best to use a kitchen scales. I placed that back into the fridge. This is how to begin the conversion:
Put the new non-metallic container with the removed sourdough starter on a scale and tare it out to zero. Now add 8oz by weight of each white unbleached all purpose flour and water. Mix well, loosely cover and set aside for 8-12 hrs in a warm area in your kitchen. This will double the bulk needed. After time has passed and a vital culture is observed you can proceed to the next step.
Now, with the approximate 16oz of active starter in a non-metallic jar or bowl, add 8oz of water and mix well to make it soupy. Then add 8oz of dark (or whole) rye flour and again mix well. Set this aside at room temperature (over 72°F) for 8 to 12 hrs. After and the new rye starter is showing a good amount of growth and activity, remove and discard about 8 oz of starter. While on a scale add an additional 8 oz each of rye flour and water. Allow to stand for 24hrs at room temperature.
Repeat this for 2 more days or longer until you have a very active and happy looking rye starter with a distinct odor of sourness or even alcohol aroma which may resemble that of a strong beer. The starter dough will also show the broken-down rye flour when using a spoon to stretch it out of the container. With the combination of the gluten from the white flour and now the rye, the starter takes on a property of its own.
Now use what you need for the recipe, save about 4 oz of the remaining, feed that with 4 oz water, 2oz white, 2 oz of rye flour and place in the fridge to be used for another time you will need a rye sourdough starter. Just like the other, this rye starter will also need to be feed weekly. Discard anything left over which isn’t used in the following recipe.
Before you begin the recipe you will need to purchase additional items ahead of time which will increase the taste and texture of your bread. Unless you do a lot of various bread type recipes baking you might not have these items in your pantry. If you don’t know where you can purchase the items click on each below and you will be directed to a site which I used to buy them.
The Rye Bread improver and Vital Wheat Gluten are not required but if you want that distinct flavor and a well risen bread you would be amiss if you omitted them. Rye flour is very low in gluten so adding the wheat gluten would increase your success.
Here is the recipe for my version of Polish Sourdough Rye Bread. But keep in mind, kneading, whether by machine, by hand or how I do it, by using both machine and manual kneading, it is important not to under knead. Because this contains whole grain four, gluten must be built into the dough. Good luck, but you will not really need it.
I try and give as much detailed information with making this (or other) recipe. Do NOT look at this recipe as something difficult and don’t get discouraged if the first try isn’t what you expected. It took me several tries to get this right and duplicate my results. This is the reason I include such detailed instructions.
Chleb Zwykly na Zakwasie
- 20 oz. Rye sourdough starter - 100% starter
- 14 oz. Unbleached bread flour
- 2.5 oz Rye Bread Improver
- 0.5 oz Vital Wheat Gluten
- 8 oz. (1 cup) Warm milk
- 4 oz (1/2 cup) Warm water
- Sponge from above
- 8 oz. Unbleached bread flour
- 8 oz Dark (whole) Rye flour
- 0.25 oz Instant Yeast
- 1 Tbsp Salt
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- 2 Tbsp Molasses
- 1 Tbsp Caraway Seeds (optional)
- 1 cup +/- White unbleached flour reserved if needed while kneading.
- a pastry brush
- 1 large egg beaten well with 1 tsp of water for topping
- 1 quart or more of hot water used for oven humidity
- a very sharp knife or single-edged razor blade
- a clean spray bottle with room temperature water
- In advance, you need to convert a white flour sourdough starter and build it into a rye starter.
- Depending how sour you want your starter, this may take from 3 to 5 days.
- Follow the instructions found on the Polish Sourdough Rye Bread post to complete this process.
- Using 20 oz of the rye starter in a large non-metallic mixing bowl, weigh out and add 14 oz unbleached bread flour, 2.5 oz Rye Bread Improver, 0.5 oz Vital Wheat Gluten, and by volume measure and add 8 oz. (1 cup) Warm milk, 4 oz (1/2 cup) Warm water, .
- Mix well using a strong spatula or wooden spoon into a loose, waffle-batter-like consistency.
- Allow to stand for 1 to 2 hrs - at the end of the time you will see a lot activity from the starter and the additional ingredients.
- Stir down the sponge
- Add the remaining ingredients; by weight 8 oz. Unbleached bread flour, 8 oz Dark (whole) Rye flour, 0.25 oz Instant Yeast, then by volume, 1 Tbsp Salt, 2 Tbsp Molasses, and then add 2 large eggs (lightly beaten).
- Add 1 Tbsp Caraway Seeds (optional)
- Set mixer on low setting and mix all the ingredients.
- When dough has become thick begin to turn up the speed of the mixer a step at a time to the medium to medium-high kneading setting.
- Knead for about 6-7 mins or until the dough begins to pull away from the sides.
- Check the consistency of the dough and if needed add 1 Tbsp at a time more of unbleached flour from the reserve to make an un-sticky dough which should be a little tacky.
- The dough must be firm. For each addition of flour, knead for about a min longer. Total kneading by machine will be about 10 to 12 mins.The gluten must be properly created.
- When dough remains pulling away from the sides, turn off mixer and turn the dough ball onto a very lightly floured surface.
- By hand, flatten the dough into a square. From the front fold the dough in 1/3 to center of the square and again the remaining 3rd from the back to center - like you are folding a 3-fold letter.
- Make a 1 quarter turn, fold in half and using the palm of your hand knead the dough by pushing forward from front to back once.
- Stretch the dough, make another quarter turn, fold in half from front to back, and again, using the palm of your hand knead the dough by pushing forward from front to back once more.
- Repeat this process a few more times until the dough slightly springs back when you poke it with a finger and when you can stretch a piece of the dough so thin that you can see light through the dough with it not tearing.
- When dough is properly kneaded, flatten the dough into a square again, fold over opposite corners until you make it into a ball.
- Make the ball tight and place into a large pre-oiled bowl turning and coating the ball on all sides with oil.
- Place the seam on the bottom of the bowl.
- Cover with plastic wrap and top with a towel
- Set aside to rise at room temperature
- Allow to rise about 60 to 90 minutes or until doubled
- Remove risen dough by 'pouring' it on a lightly floured work surface. DO NOT PUNCH DOWN
- Divide dough in fourths if using bread pans (half for free form) and stretch and fold the dough again like before.
- Using your fingertips, flattened dough and shape into a square about 6" wide, then tightly roll the dough into the shape of a log.
- Pinch closed the seam also and pinch & tuck the ends under as well.
- Place in lightly oiled 9" bread pans, loosely cover with plastic wrap and a towel over each.
- You can also make into two free form loaves and place on a cornmeal dusted baking sheet lined with parchment paper. [If choosing to use the free form method, divide dough into half, stretch, fold and knead a couple of times and then shape into a about a 8" to 10" rectangle. Starting on the wider end of the rectangle, tightly roll into a log. Pinch the seam, position as the bottom. Also pinch the ends of the loaf and tuck under.]
- Cover and allow to rise again as above.
- Allow to rise about to 1 1/2 to almost doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
- About 30 minutes before the last rising is complete, preheat the oven to 450°F. If you have a pizza stone or a large upside-down heavy flat cookie sheet put that on a rack during the preheating time on a center position. ALSO on the lowest rack in the oven place a deep empty iron pan or a metal baking tray which will be used during baking for adding high humidity to the oven.
- Have about a quart of hot tap water ready.
- When the dough has risen to the desired level carefully brush the tops (and sides on a free form loaf) with the egg/water.
- Using a very sharp knife or single edged blade, make 3 to 4 DIAGONAL 1/4" to 1/2" cuts along the tops of the loaves.
- Just before opening the oven, lower the temperature of the oven to 375°F
- Spray well the tops and sides of the loaves with room temperature water
- Place the loaves in the loaf pans or the baking sheet with the free form loaves onto the hot surface of the pizza stone or over-turned baking tray. This will allow the bottoms to bake fully.
- BEING VERY CAREFUL and standing back, pour the hot water into the tray(s) at the bottom of the oven. AGAIN, BE CAREFUL AS THE STEAM CREATED WILL BE VERY HOT!!!!! Protect your face and hands.
- Bake for 30 to 45 mins at 375°F or until the centers of the bread reach 195°-210°F
- For a more crispy, chewy crust, at about 10 mins into the baking, carefully open the oven remembering to back away from the steam already produced. Spray each loaf with another coating of water.
- After about 20 mins, carefully open the oven and working quickly, do a 1/2 turn of the the loaves for a balanced baking while you spray once more all the sides of the loaves with water. If you have an oven safe digital temperature probe this would be a good time to insert the probe in the side of one loaf into its center. Quickly close the door and continue baking until the bread if fully baked.
- Immediately remove the baked bread from the pans or baking trays and place on a cooling rack.
- Allow to cool a minimum of 30 mins before slicing and 3 to 4 hrs before bagging or preparing to freeze. Bread will be good 30 days frozen, and about a week in a sealed bag or plastic wrapped at room temperature.
- Makes two 2 lb free form loaves or four 1lb loaves when using bread pans.
- When possible, use non-metallic bowls or containers when working with wild yeast and propagated lactic acid bacteria (sourdough starter) since the metal might interfere with chemical balance.
- Instead of "punching down" the dough after each rising, pour the risen dough from its container onto a lightly floured surface and by simply pressing down and stretching the dough you basically will expel the (CO2) gas produced by the yeast.
- Stretching also helps build the gluten needed during the final rising and the making of the loaves.
- If the dough was kneaded properly and gluten formed, making the slices across the tops of each will not deflate the loaves.
- NEVER refrigerate bread of any kind. Leave at room temperature or freeze when completely cooled. Placing bread in a refrigerator causes the starches in the bread to crystallize giving the bread a stale texture.
- This sourdough rye bread toasts nicely with a delightful aroma and flavor.