North Italian Rye Bread

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes


    large loaf

Appears in

In the mountains of the north of Italy, wheat is as difficult to grow as it is in other European highlands, and breads of other grains have been a staple for centuries past. Rye is the most important, and in those districts that have belonged to the Austrian and German sphere of influence, for instance the Tirol, their baking forms part of the larger Central European tradition.

I first heard about this rye and wheaten bread from Carol Field’s intelligent book about Italian baking, The Italian Baker. It is yeast-based, rather than a sourdough, and uses the gluten of wheat flour to make a lighter loaf. It is made with the Italian yeast starter, biga, which has a particularly good flavour due to its long fermentation time.


  • 175 g/6 oz biga
  • 15 g/½ oz fresh yeast
  • 350 ml/12 fl oz warm water
  • 450 g/1 lb wholemeal rye flour
  • 225 g/8 oz unbleached white plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons crushed caraway seeds


  1. Put the biga in a bowl and crumble in the yeast. Add the water and mix to a soup by squeezing the biga through your fingers.
  2. Mix the flours, salt and caraway seeds and add them to the liquid gradually, mixing all the while. Mix to a dough, then turn out on to a floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes. Add more water if it seems too stiff, or knead it with your hands repeatedly wetted in a bowl of warm water. The rye will make the dough sticky, so keep your hands and work surface clean.
  3. Leave the dough to rise in a bowl covered with oiled clingfilm in a warm place (29°C/85°F) for about 2 hours, until doubled in size.
  4. Turn out on to the lightly floured work surface. Knock back and mould into a ball. Flatten this to a disc under the weight of your hand, then fold the right and left sides in to meet at the centre. Roll this cushion shape into a long roll, pinching the join between finger and thumb.
  5. Either put this roll into a floured proving basket, seam uppermost, for the final proof, or place it seam downwards on a greased and warmed baking sheet. Cover with oiled clingfilm and leave to prove in a 29°C/85°F) for about 1-1½ hours. Meanwhile, heat the warm place (oven to 230°C/450°F/gas 8.)
  6. Make four or five holes down the centre line with a skewer to enable the loaf to expand. If you have proved in a basket, you will need to have a preheated baking sheet in the oven. Turn your loaf on to a baker’s peel, then slide it on to the baking sheet and make the holes.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes, spraying water on to the loaf three times in the first 5 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 200°C/400°F/gas 6 and bake for another 20-30 minutes, until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Cool on a wire rack.