Rye and sunflower sourdough bread recipe – Vollkornbrot

Carl Legge
Wednesday, 17th August 2011

Rye bread has an earthy flavour which is as happy with cheese and savory dishes as it is with fruits and sweet things. This bread has chopped rye berries in it and sunflower seeds, which adds that extra element to the texture. It is relatively dense compared to wheat breads.

This is my adaptation of the traditional German Vollkornbrot. These are normally cooked in large rectangular pans with the loaves weighing 2 kilos or 4.5 lbs. I think this is likely to be too much for the average family set up, so I've amended the recipe to produce a 900g loaf that can be cooked in a standard 1kg (2lb) bread tin. It also uses some of the sourdough starter that I showed you in the last blog post, without needing to bulk the starter up.

Rye flour doesn't have the gluten content of wheat flour, which means that is ideal for people with a wheat allergy or intolerance. It also has the benefit that the dough does not require kneading which helps to develop the glutens in wheat flours.

The dough feels much wetter & stickier than the dough most people will be used to handling. That's deliberate, so please don't increase the quantity of flour or you will end up with a house brick!

You'll find that the bread keeps extremely well. In fact, its taste develops once it has been baked, so it's best to eat it the day after you bake it. 

This bread has 3 main steps:

  1. Converting your existing starter into a rye starter
  2. Making sure the chopped rye is softened
  3. Mixing, fermenting & baking the bread.

If you want to keep your existing starter going with strong white flour, you'll need another container for your new, rye starter.

You will need a 1kg bread tin or baking tin with a similar volume. For the loaf you see in the picture, I used a springform baking tin.

Starter conversion

Take your existing 'mother' starter and tip half of it (240g) into your new container. Add 120g of rye flour and 120g of water. This is your rye 'daughter' starter. Allow this to ferment until it's active.

Refresh 1:

Compost half and refresh with another 120g of rye flour and 120g of water. Allow this to ferment until it's active.

Refresh 2:

Compost half and refresh with another 120g of rye flour and 120g of water. Allow this to ferment until it's active. You are now ready to bake.

Continue to refresh your 'mother' starter in the normal way.

Schedule example

Just to give you an example of how to schedule this if you wanted to eat the Vollkornbrot on Saturday afternoon.

  1. Thursday morning – Produce daughter rye starter.
  2. Thursday evening before bed – Refresh 1
  3. Friday morning – Refresh 2
  4. Friday afternoon – Mix, ferment, prove, bake
  5. Saturday afternoon – Tuck in

Softening the chopped rye


  • 140g rye chops
  • 140g water, just off boiling

Rye chops are chopped rye berries. You should be able to get them from your health food shop. Online they are available from millers Shipton Mill and Wessex Mill (as 'Kibbled Rye') and other suppliers.

Covering the chops in hot water softens and gelatinises them so that the loaf not only tastes great but is incredibly moist.

The night before you bake (Thursday in my example above) pour the water over the chops and mix together with a fork. Cover and leave at room temperature.

Mixing, fermenting and baking the bread


  • 380g of your rye daughter starter
  • 80g warm water
  • 280g soaked rye chops
  • 120g organic wholemeal rye flour
  • 15 g salt
  • 25g sunflower seeds
  • A little extra rye flour for dusting your loaf tin

There's not any kneading with this recipe. It can be mixed using a mixer with dough hook or by hand.

  1. Put the starter and water in a bowl and mix together.
  2. If using a mixer and dough hook, add the remaining ingredients and mix at slow speed until all the ingredients are combined and coated in starter and water for about 3 minutes. Then mix for 2 minutes more. If mixing by hand, make sure you have a bowl of water by you for your hands, because the dough is really quite sticky. I also use a plastic dough scraper to help me mix. Work the dough through your fingers to ensure there are no lumps or unevenness.
  3. Leave the dough in the bowl and cover with an oiled piece of plastic (I use a plastic bag or piece of clingfilm) so that the dough does not form a crust. Leave in a warm place to ferment for 30 minutes.
  4. Oil or grease your bread tin or the other container you are using for baking. Dust the inside of the tin with some rye flour. This will help ensure the dough does not stick. You will need to take the bread out of the tin and pop it back in the oven to finish baking.
  5. Wet your hands and your work surface. Take the dough from the bowl and shape it into a log that will fit inside your tin. Place the dough inside the tin, smooth it down and sprinkle with some of your rye flour. Cover with oiled plastic and leave to rise (prove) in a warm place for about an hour. You won't get the doubling in size that you do with yeasted wheat bread. About a third increase is just fine.
  6. Heat your oven to 230°C.
  7. Ideally, it would be good to get some steam into the oven. This helps the bread to rise in the oven and produce a nice crust. 10-15 minutes before the bread is due to go in, fill a shallow baking tin with 250ml of boiling water. Put this on the shelf immediately below the shelf on which you bake the loaf. Do be very careful when lifting the tray.
  8. When your dough has proved, put the loaf tin on a baking sheet and pop it in the oven for 15 minutes. Then carefully take the steam tray out of the oven and turn the heat down to 200°C. Bake for another 45 minutes, then take the loaf out of the tin and pop it back in the oven on the baking sheet. This ensures that the sides and bottom are properly cooked. Allow to bake for another 10 minutes or so until the loaf sounds hollow when you tap its bottom.
  9. When you take the bread out of the oven, wrap it in a clean tea towel and leave for 24 hours before tucking in. This allows the loaf to finish cooking and develop a good crumb. If you cut into it too early the inside will still be so moist so it will 'drag' as you cut. The wait is definitely worth it.

There you have a version of a traditional German rye Vollkornbrot.

On Friday, Hayley Harland will be sharing a delicious recipe you can make with your rye bread (that is, if there's any left after all that cheese and chutney!)

Carl Legge lives on the Llyn Peninsula in Wales on a permaculture smallholding and writes a regular blog full of delicious recipes and more. He is currently writing The Permaculture Kitchen, a book of seasonal, local, home-grown delicious recipes for Permanent Publications, the book publishing arm of Permaculture magazine. 


River1 |
Mon, 01/07/2013 - 14:43

Rye is one of my favorite grains, I don't get the weight gain I do from wheat.

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