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Naturally Leavened Rye and Oat Bread

For spectacular little open-faced sandwiches, called smørrebrød in Danish, I love using a simple rye-focused sourdough bread. The bread in this photo is topped with cream cheese, salmon roe, and tarragon. Of course, sometimes I crave a seedy Danish Rugbrød or a molasses-spice Swedish Artisan Rye Bread or this almost-dessert Rye Chocolate Cherry Sourdough, but for smørrebrød my favorite bread has a smooth mouth-feel and a narrower flavor profile.

Until developing this Rye and Oat Bread recipe, my go-to formula was a 75:25 whole grain rye flour and bread flour sourdough bread, at 82% hydration, with a smidge of honey. I’d bake this dough in a loaf pan or in the similarly supportive oblong clay baker. With this recipe, I’m leaving out the refined flour and finally exploring a curiosity I’ve had about how oat and rye flours play together in terms of texture and flavor.

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Combining rye and oat flours turned out to be quite delicious. The fresh-milled oat flour adds a creamy texture to the crumb and slightly softens the earthy flavor of the rye flour, while the fermentation flavors these grains produce give an almost fruity note to the bread.

I modeled this recipe after 100% rye pan loaves that use buttermilk as the hydration. The added acidity is supposed to reduce gumminess in the final bread texture. I mixed plain yogurt and water to get a similar acidity, but if you want to use buttermilk, that will work too, at the same 390g.

Rye on the left; oats on the right

I’m also excited about this bread because of how nutritious it is. Rye has been shown to improve blood sugar management and oats can lower LDL cholesterol. Add to that all the fiber, vitamins, and minerals of using unsifted flour, as well as the antioxidant compounds produced during fermentation and I believe you’ve got a wonderfully healthy bread.

You can absolutely make this recipe with only rye flour if you prefer. The gluten will be a little stronger, so you may notice a little more loft to the crumb. (I never thought I’d say that more rye flour will add gluten strength to dough, but compared with oat flour, it does.)

With this rye-and-oat blend, this dough is more accurately called a batter and has the consistency of buttercream frosting. “Shaping” the loaf consists of scraping the fermented batter into a loaf pan and smoothing it down with a wet spatula. Because the fermentation releases plenty of CO2, the crumb is still quite aerated, but as with an all-rye bread, after baking you’ll want to let the loaf set for 24 hours before cutting so it’s not gummy.

Aromatic grains in a sticky wet dough

I used both a straight-walled bucket and an aliquot jar to track fermentation, but one of these two would be more than sufficient to gauge the 75% increase in dough size that I recommend.  An aliquot jar is a small straight-walled jar in which you put a little bit of the fully-mixed dough. You mark the starting level and observe how the dough rises. This allows you to easily track the expansion of the dough, especially if the main dough is in a bowl or if you’re continuously de-gassing a dough with stretching and folding for gluten development. An old cleaned-out spice jar works great as an aliquot jar.

Refrigerating Rye Dough: Rye bread recipes often caution that the rye dough doesn’t hold up well to refrigeration or “retarding.” I haven’t found this to be true for this recipe or other rye recipes. Perhaps this is because I refrigerate the dough early on in the final proof, and not after the dough expansion has already occurred. Based on how the cold dough looks in the morning, I’ll bake straight from the refrigerator or I’ll let the dough continue to rise at room temperature.

During the final proof, this rye-and-oat dough spent 9 hours in the refrigerator (where it didn’t seem to expand at all) and another 4 hours in a warm lit oven to finish rising the next day. A similar dough expansion could have been achieved with about 3 hours at room temperature and no refrigeration.

Check out the Photo Gallery after the printable recipe for more photos.

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