Sourdough Rye Bread

This recipe makes a loaf of just under 3 pounds and utilizes a three-stage leavening process with a traditional zavarka, (porridge) stage in the third leaven. You will need a 2-quart cast iron Dutch oven in which to bake the bread.

You will also need a strong, vigorous starter for this recipe, which does not need to be 100 percent rye. If you continue to make this bread, your chef (piece of dough taken to inoculate a new loaf) will soon be mostly rye and especially suited for all rye breads. The recipe can be made with 100 percent rye, but here we use 80 percent rye and 20 percent Kamut® to encourage you to try its very special flavor.

Weights are for grains before grinding into flour at home. Be sure to inspect your grains before grinding to remove foreign matter.

  • 120 grams sourdough starter
  • 180 grams Kamut® and 480 grams organic rye, mixed together and finely ground
  • 240 grams organic rye, coarsely ground for zavarka (porridge)
  • 700 grams of spring water
  • 3 grams coriander seed, ground
  • 10 grams Celtic sea salt

FIRST DAY, MORNING. Make the first leaven: Place your starter in a medium (10-inch diameter) ceramic bowl and add 200 grams of water. Dissolve starter in water and add 100 grams of the finely ground flour mix. Cover and let the mixture ferment until the evening, approximately 10-12 hours, at around 65o to 72oF.

SAME DAY, EVENING. Make the second leaven: Uncover the bowl and add 200 more grams of the finely ground flour mix. Incorporate well. Cover and let ferment for 20-24 hours at 65o to 72oF.

SECOND DAY, MORNING. Make the zavarka: Place the 240 grams of coarsely ground rye in a large (12-inch diameter) ceramic bowl, add salt and ground coriander seed and stir well. Boil 500 grams of spring water. Pour the water over the mixture in the bowl and stir to incorporate all water. Cover the bowl with a couple of kitchen towels and let sit until the evening.

SAME DAY, EVENING. Make the third leaven or opara (zavarka plus second leaven): Take the mixture from the medium ceramic bowl and add it to the zavarka in the larger bowl. Mix all together vigorously and very thoroughly. Dust lightly with finely ground flour, cover and let ferment until the next morning–about 12 hours.

THIRD DAY, MORNING. You should have a wonderful-smelling, bubbly mass waiting for you. Add the remaining 360 grams of finely ground flour. If the temperature is on the cooler side, expect the dough to be quite stiff. Use a sturdy implement (spoon, spatula, what-have-you) to push and turn the dough to incorporate all the flour. Take several breaks during this process–the dough will incorporate moisture while you and it rest. If the temperature is warmer, the dough will be much softer and it will be easier to incorporate the flour. Depending on temperature, then, this process will take approximately an hour for the dough to become a homogenous mass. The dough is so sticky that using your bare hands is really not profitable, and kneading is not really necessary, merely thorough mixing. I use a wooden pounder, for example, at this juncture.

Once the dough is mixed, remove about 200 grams to store until your next baking (mix in some flour, wrap in parchment and place in a container in the refrigerator); this is the chef. Next lightly oil the inside of the Dutch oven and load with the dough, pressing it carefully into place without disturbing its integrity too much. Cover the Dutch oven with parchment paper and place in your baking oven which has been warmed to about 82oF. (You can warm the oven with an electric light bulb attached to an extension cord or use the bottom heating element from a slow-cooker, for example.) This is your proofing chamber and the dough will need about one and one-half hours (or less) to proof. Keep an eye on the dough, however, and only allow it to rise just over one inch in the Dutch oven.

After the proofing period, take everything out of your baking oven, uncover the dough and prick the surface with a toothpick in about 20 spots, poking down about half an inch. This prevents the crust from separating during baking, called “losing the roof” in Russian, which, by the way, is also a metaphor with the same meaning as the English “losing your marbles.”

Place the Dutch oven, uncovered, back into the cold oven and turn the heat on to 500o F. Now follow this schedule: Once 500o is reached, hold there for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 450o and hold for 28 minutes. Next lower the heat to 420o and hold for another 28 minutes. (This schedule imitates the slowly cooling temperature of a wood-fired oven.) Turn off the oven and remove your beautiful, chocolate brown, heavenly smelling loaf. Turn bread out of Dutch oven and place on rack. Cover with parchment paper and a couple of kitchen towels. When cool (about 6 hours later) repack in parchment paper and a tea towel and store in a bread box. Wait until the next day to have your first taste. If beer is liquid bread, then this bread is solid Porter. It has a marvelously complex, rich flavor and is delicious with cultured butter and also goes perfectly with smoked fish, salami and good cheese.


This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2006.

Garrick Ginzburg-Voskov has a hereditary knack for foment and ferment, following in the colorful tradition of fellow St. Petersburgers. Having earned a master's in military mechanical engineering in Leningrad in 1957, but with an unpopular interest in eastern philosophies, Garrick found himself ejected from one empire to another in the late 1970s. Garrick is now retired from a series of brief careers in the US, and is a full-time home baker with an abiding fascination in the alchemy of the ancient sourdough techniques of village bakers and wood-fired ovens of France, Russia, and Germany. To learn more about his authentic sourdough bread recipes and to obtain a live culture starter, visit

2 Responses to Sourdough Rye Bread

  1. bb says:

    Hello, I am looking forward to making this! Do you know how many cups of flour each of the grams measurments equal? I was also wondering if there is a simpler way to make this though, I’d love for this to be our main bread that I bake weekly, however it is quite a long process. How might I simplify the recipe for the times I dont have as much time? Would it work to add a few tbsp of molasses to this recipe, and at which point might I add it?
    Would you also explain more about how to use the “chef” for the next loaf that we are to take from this one?
    Thank you.

  2. Savannah says:

    Can the zavarka be made with coarsely ground kamut if rye berries aren’t available? Also, if using 100% rye flour, how should the recipe be adjusted?

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