Marbled Rye Bread

We relished our long-awaited first taste of cool, dry weather last week. A glorious shock to the system. In spite of a predictably hasty return to the summer status quo, it gave me hope. Sooner or later the time will come when I can crank up the oven without harsh looks, trading hands routinely caked in soil for flour in my hair and dough under my nails. Looking ahead today with a tribute to rye.

The original loaves of northern and eastern Europe and Russia were 100% rye flour. Dark, dense, strong, filling, sustaining. As the bakers and their traditions came to America, the loaves lightened in both color and heft as portions of the rye flour were replaced with softer, cheaper wheat-based flours. For better or for worse, the blend stuck.

There are many, many different recipes. This example is made from one part light rye flour to two parts bread flour, and incorporates olive oil and molasses, all of which contribute to a rich, hearty yet fluffy bread. Sweet licorice-y caraway seeds add a gentle crunch and drive home the classic flavor.

On the inside, the tell-tale spiral of dark and light. This “marbling” is created by layering and rolling together portions of plain rye dough + the same with cocoa powder worked in for color (some recipes call for coffee or a flavorless caramel coloring). My marbling was faint, and next time I might increase the amount of cocoa or try a cocoa powder-espresso powder combo to give it a boost. (The lack of intensity could also be the result of overworking the stacked and rolled dough; see recipe for more notes.)

Marble rye dough stack

First cultivated as a food crop in the poor soil and harsh climate of northern and eastern Europe and Russia during the 4th century BCE, rye remains popular in these regions and across the globe for a variety of applications in its whole and milled states. Whole rye, ranging from rye berries to cracked or flaked rye, is commonly used for porridge, grain salads, as a topping or ingredient in breads or crisps, or even in place of rolled oats in granola.

When milled, rye flour is excellent for baking, and is available in several types: powdery light rye (often called “white rye“), slightly less milled medium rye, coarsely milled dark rye, and finally the most coarse pumpernickel rye or simply pumpernickel flour. Being the least milled and processed, the latter two are darkest in color, strongest flavored, and retain the highest amounts of nutrients. Rye flour can be used to substitute white or whole wheat flours in small amounts in recipes for bread or rolls, pancakes or waffles or crepes, even buttery shortbread cookies.

What’s in it for me?

Per 1/4 cup (roughly 25 g) light rye flour offers roughly 94 calories, 20 g carbohydrate (CHO), 4 g fiber, and nearly 3 g proteinRye flours offer a small amount of healthy oils (more so in the darker varieties), are virtually free of cholesterol and sodium, and the quarter-cup serving provides more than 10% of your daily selenium plus 1/4 of your manganese, both with antioxidant properties and roles in fertility and bone health. Rye flour is also a small source of vitamins B1 (thiamin) and B6phosphorousmagnesium, and iron. In general, diets rich in whole grains + whole grain flours as opposed to refined grains + flours may reduce risk of diabetes, and can improve cholesterol levels to help prevent heart disease.

Two types of soluble fiber found in rye are linked to immune system improvements due to their actions as a prebiotic (food source for gut-friendly bacteria, probiotics). One in particular, beta-glucan, is being researched for its potential to regulate blood glucose levels, decrease cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and minimize risk of of developing some cancers. Rye is also a source of insoluble fiber, which is known for its role in stool bulking and improved transit time through the gut (i.e., healthier digestion).

Research also suggests that rye flour’s higher ratio of more slowly digested CHO, including the fibers plus a bit of protein equates to a lower glycemic load than white or wheat flours. This means a slower increase in blood glucose levels and a moderated effect on insulin response after eating.

Rye berries are a relative of wheat, and therefore contain gluten. However, the gluten content of rye is on the lower end of the spectrum, which translates to moist and dense baked goods. For this reason, rye flour is typically mixed with wheat-based flours to improve texture and rise. While more important for bread recipes with a larger proportion of rye flour than is used here, it’s important to note that any rye-containing dough should be kneaded for a slightly shorter amount of time to promote proper structural development while baking.

(Learn about the nutritional benefits of caraway seeds, unsweetened cocoa powdermolasses, and olive oil.)

Marble rye sliced

Marbled rye is not the easiest to put together, in all honesty. But in the course of a morning or afternoon with a few instances of hands-on time, this beautifully decorative bread is definitely worth the effort.

To make things easier and quicker, the key [other than (always) read the recipe through first] is mise en place — the French mantra about efficiency in the kitchen. Essentially, when you gather all of the ingredients and tools before beginning, you’re less likely to make errors and will save time in the long run. Here, in addition to the initial assembling of necessary items, you can go a step further to measure out and combine all of the dry ingredients for both the light and dark doughs into separate bowls, as the two are almost identical. This will significantly streamline the process, and help ensure the individual dough portions are done rising and ready to work with shortly after one another.

This marbled rye hits a balance of hearty and light with a pleasant rye flavor. It slices very well, and is as delicious untoasted as it is toasted (French or otherwise), sandwiched, open-faced, or warmed and torn in hunks passed around the table. Smoked fish, aged or fresh cheeses, braised greens, peppered tomato slices and herbs, soft-scrambled eggs and arugula, ricotta or Greek yogurt and honey, citrus marmalade or fresh fruit, nut butter or simply a swipe of good old regular butter — marbled rye won’t let you down. And if there’s a personal emergency precluding you from finishing the loaf by week’s end, it revives nicely after a lovingly-wrapped stay in the freezer.

Devote a cool morning to baking, turn up the oven fires, and turn out warmth, yeasty aromas, and a fancy yet homey bread. I do hope you try for yourself!

Cheers, Heather

Tell me… How do you rye? Do you have a favorite kind? I won’t discriminate, but pumpernickel is tops for me, and on my to-do list!

Marbled Rye Bread
Prep Time
Cook Time
Total Time
The recipe doubles easily to make 2 very large loaves. You can also feel free to bake in an oiled 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf tin (or 2 if you've doubled recipe).
Recipe Type: bread, baking, rye
Makes: 1 very large loaf (about 28 thin slices)
  • 3 oz (roughly 3/4 cups) light rye flour
  • 6 3/4 oz (roughly 1 1/2 cups) unbleached bread flour
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds (optional)
  • 6 1/2 fl oz (3/4 cup + 1 Tbsp) lukewarm water, between 110º and 115º F, divided
  • 1 tsp molasses
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 oz (3/4 cup) light rye flour
  • 6 3/4 oz (roughly 1 1/2 cups) unbleached bread flour
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds (optional)
  • 6 1/2 fl oz (3/4 cup + 1 Tbsp) lukewarm water, between 110º and 115º F, divided
  • 1 tsp molasses
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, whisked into 1 Tbsp water to form a paste (see HGN Notes)
  1. FOR THE LIGHT RYE PORTION: In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, briefly stir together the flours, salt, yeast, and caraway seeds, if using. Add 3/4 cup of the warm water (reserving 1 Tbsp), molasses, and olive oil to a large liquid measuring cup or small bowl, and stir to combine.
  2. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry, and mix with your hands, a wooden spoon, or a stand mixer fitted with the bread/dough hook attachment on low until a rough dough is formed. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula or dough scraper to help incorporate any of the remaining dry bits. Continue to knead with your hands or with the stand mixer (speed increased to medium-low) until the dough comes together in a cohesive ball, adding the additional 1 Tbsp water only if needed. The dough is ready when it is smooth, springs back when gently pressed, tacky but not sticky to the touch or sticking to the sides of the bowl.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times by hand just to help form it into a ball (see link to video in HGN Notes). Transfer the dough ball to a lightly oiled bowl, and turn it all around to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature or inside a turned-off oven until doubled in volume, about 90 minutes.
  4. FOR THE DARK RYE PORTION: Immediately after completing the light rye portion, repeat THE SAME process for the dark rye portion. The only difference is to add the cocoa-water paste to the liquid mixture before adding it to the dry ingredients. Knead exactly as written above, transferring the dark rye dough to a second lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat, and covering lightly with plastic wrap to proof 90 minutes, or doubled in volume. This portion should be done proofing only a few minutes after the light rye.
  5. When risen, line a large baking tray with parchment paper or a Silpat baking mat. Turn the dough balls out onto a lightly floured surface, and use a sharp knife or dough scraper to divide and shape each into 2 evenly-sized oblong circles, roughly 8 inches long and 5 inches wide. Stack the dough portions on top of one another, alternating light and dark, to total 4 layers. (For a dark crust, place a light rye piece on top of a dark rye. For a light crust, place a dark rye piece on top of a light rye.)
  6. Starting from the long side, roll the stacked dough tightly to form a log, pressing the dough together with your fingers as you go, and pinching together the final seam as best you can. Very briefly use the palms of your hands to gently roll the loaf back and forth, working from the center out toward the ends, to help stretch and seal the dough. Don't work it too much, otherwise your inside coil won't be as prominent (which is what happened to mine).
  7. Transfer the dough, seam-side down, to the prepared baking tray, and drape a piece of oiled plastic wrap over top loosely. Set aside to rest again at room temperature until almost doubled in volume, between 60 to 90 minutes.
  8. Preheat the oven to 350º F with a rack in the middle position. Remove plastic from the dough. If you wish, cut a few 1/4-inch-deep slits on a diagonal across the top of the loaf using a very sharp paring knife (a small serrated tomato/bread knife also works well). Bake, rotating the tray once at about the halfway point, until the bread is golden brown and cooked through, about 40 to 45 minutes. When done, the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, and an instant-read thermometer should register 190º F.
  9. Remove the tray from the oven, and transfer the bread onto a wire rack. If you like, cover with a light kitchen towel or clean piece of linen, gauze or other cloth -- this promotes a more tender crust and helps keep the interior soft. Cool completely, at least 1 hour, before slicing or storing.
  10. Bread will keep 3 to 5 days in a zip-top plastic bag or container on the counter. For longer storage, slice the bread in half and wrap first with plastic then foil. Freeze the wrapped loaf in a tightly-sealing freezer bag or container up to 1 month. (See HGN Notes for how to use from frozen.)
HGN Notes
Rye flour can be sourced from most large supermarkets these days, but if you have trouble finding it, look to health food or specialty markets and baking ingredients shops. If you're fortunate to have a European or Jewish food market, try there! And remember, light rye is often referred to as "white rye."

Because all rye flours contain at least some small amount of the nutritious oily bran and germ (more so in the darker types), spoilage can occur quickly -- always buy as fresh as possible, and store extra in the refrigerator or, preferably, the freezer. Allow chilled flours to warm to room temperature for at least 30 minutes before using.

Not sure how to roll your bread dough into the perfect tight ball? Watch this video how-to from The Kitchn:

To enjoy from the freezer: Remove the bread from its bag/container and thaw still in its plastic and foil wrapping for 30 to 60 minutes at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 425º F, and bake 3 to 5 minutes. (Alternatively, thaw the bread completely overnight in its bag/container and wrapping on the counter. This eliminates the need to crank the oven for such a short amount of time.) Slice, and eat as desired!

+ In lieu of mixed unsweetened cocoa powder with water for the "coloring," you can use equal amounts of coffee/espresso powder or carob powder, or flavorless caramel coloring (powdered caramelized corn syrup).
+ Swap molasses for honey, maple syrup, sorghum syrup. You can omit it entirely, but it does help the yeast rise and therefore lends a bit to the fluffy texture.
+ Omit the caraway entirely, or replace in equal amounts with whole or ground fennel seed, coriander seed or aniseed, the seeds removed from cardamom pods, or even fresh or dried citrus peel.
+ Though Peter Reinhart's original recipe calls for light rye flour, by all means feel free to experiment with medium rye or dark rye flours. Pumpernickel flour might be too dense and coarse, but that may be what you're after. I can't speak to the success of anything other than the light rye; however, and imagine any substitutions will also require tweaks in amount of liquid and baking time. One thing I did come across in research is that breads made with darker rye flours and/or higher proportions of rye flour need longer rising. Some pumpernickel breads rise upwards of 24 hours!
Nutrition Info
Serving Size: 1 slice Calories: 79 Fat: 1 Saturated fat: 0 Unsaturated fat: 1 Trans fat: 0 Carbohydrates: 15 Sugar: 0 Sodium: 125 Fiber: 1 Protein: 2 Cholesterol: 0

Recipe adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, by Peter Reinhart.

Marble rye baked

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p.s. I love hearing from you! Check back if you ask a question, because I’ll answer it here.

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