This hearty German rye bread (called Roggenbrot) has a soft texture since the rye flour is set aside to soak up moisture before adding the rest of the ingredients. And whole spices are kneaded into the dough and release their aromatic flavors as the bread is baked.
Growing up in Germany, I fell in love hearty breads. Pumpernickel was common, and this Roggenbrot made with dark or medium rye flour is like the slightly lighter, milder version.
Rye flour gives it an earthy, nutty flavor and dark brown color. Plus rye flour is a good source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals!
German rye bread often contains a blend of spices called Brotgewürz made from whole caraway seeds, coriander seeds, and fennel seeds. Since the seeds are so small, it doesn't really affect the texture of the bread. But it adds a really unique punch of flavor!
Traditional Roggenbrot is made with only rye flour. However, the addition of all purpose flour makes it much easier to knead the dough, since dough made just with rye flour can be extremely sticky. I also add a little whole wheat flour. Since rye flour contains a relatively low amount of gluten, whole wheat flour helps strengthen the structure of the bread.
Types of Rye Flour
There are four types of rye flour: white rye, medium rye, dark rye, and pumpernickel.
White rye flour (also called "light rye flour") has had the bran and germ of the grain completely removed. It has a subtle flavor, light color, and creates light and airy baked goods.
Medium rye flour contains some (but not all) of the bran from the rye kernel, and it usually has the germ and endosperm removed. It has a darker color and more pronounced flavor compared to white rye flour, but it's lighter and milder than dark rye flour. It's sort of the best of both worlds - it can create light-textured baked goods while adding its unique rye flavor.
Dark rye flour usually contains all of the rye kernel's bran and germ, but sometimes the endosperm of the grain is removed. It has a dark color, and a robust rye flavor. It creates hearty baked goods.
Pumpernickel flour contains all of the rye kernel's bran, germ, and endosperm, so it's also called "whole rye flour". It makes really heavy, dark, flavorful baked goods.
My recommendation: I recommend using medium or dark rye flour for Roggenbrot. It'll add a wonderful flavor and color, but it won't be too heavy.
- Rye flour - Rye flour is essential in German rye bread! It gives the bread its characteristic tangy, earthy flavor and dark color. It also makes the bread chewy and hearty.
- Instant yeast - Instant yeast (unlike active dry yeast) does not need to be activated before you can use it. Instant yeast also requires less time to proof, which means you can enjoy your bread sooner!
- Molasses - Adds moisture, a rich caramel-like flavor, and deepens the color of the bread. You could substitute honey, and the bread color will be lighter in color and a little sweeter.
- Lukewarm water - Try to use water between 95°F to 105°F. The warm water will enhance the activity of the yeast. Water that's cold will slow down the yeast, and water that's too hot could kill the yeast.
- All purpose flour - All purpose flour helps create a lighter, airy bread. If only rye flour was used, the dough could end up dense and tough.
- Whole wheat flour - Since rye flour contains a relatively small amount of gluten, a little wheat flour (which contains a high amount of gluten) helps the bread rise.
- Salt - I recommend using non-iodized table salt or fine sea salt for the best distribution within the dough. Salt not only adds flavor, but it also strengthens the structure of the dough, which is important in rye bread.
- Seeds - the optional addition of caraway, coriander, and fennel seeds adds a unique flavor to this traditional German rye bread. I recommend using whole seeds instead of ground seeds, which release their flavor into the bread as its baked.
How to Make Rye Bread
Below are the general steps to make this delicious Roggenbrot. For the full step-by-step directions and ingredient measurements, scroll down to the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
1. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the rye flour, yeast, molasses, and water until it forms a really wet, loose mixture, and there are no visible pockets of dry flour. Set aside for 20 minutes.
3. Knead the dough for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the dough is a smooth ball.
5. Cover it with a clean kitchen towel and let rise until it about doubles in size, after about 1 hour.
7. Cover the dough again with a towel and allow to proof for another 1 hour in a warm draft-free spot, until it puffs up. It may or may not fully double in size.
2. Add the all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, salt, and optional seeds to the rye flour mixture and mix the dough in the mixing bowl for a few minutes, until it forms a wet dough.
4. Place the kneaded dough ball into the oiled mixing bowl.
6. On a lightly floured work surface, tip out the dough and shape it into a round or oval shape. Gently spread the top edges of the dough down the sides and underneath, to create tension on the top.
8. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the loaf has a crispy crust and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
- When rising dough, I usually place it in the oven (turned off) with the oven light on. This creates a draft-free environment. And the small amount of heat from the oven light will help encourage the yeast's activity.
- When you're kneading the dough, pour about ½ cup of all purpose flour in a small bowl to keep beside you as you knead the dough. This will allow you to keep adding sprinkles of the flour without putting your hand in the whole flour bag.
- There's no need to cut slashes into the top of the loaf, like you would do with Brötchen.
- To check if your dough is done proofing the second time (after shaping it) you can press your finger into the top of the dough about ½ inch deep. If the indent from your finger slowly springs back to its original shape, it’s done proofing. If the indent springs back right away, proof it for another 10 minutes and check it again.
- Rye bread (called Roggenbrot) and rye rolls (called Roggenbrotchen) are very popular around Germany. To make rye bread rolls, after the first rise, shape them into small even rounds. Allow them to rise the second time on the baking sheet, then bake them for about 18 to 22 minutes.
- Many rye bread recipes include spices like caraway, coriander, and fennel seed. There’s even a blend of these spices called Brotgewurtz sold in German stores. Other rye bread variations may be topped with pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds for an added crunchy texture.
- Sourdough is a common ingredient sometimes added to German breads. Sourdough helps bread rise and develop a rich, slightly tangy flavor.
- Instead of molasses, you can add honey. The bread will be slightly more sweet and it will have a little bit of a lighter color.
Store your German rye bread in a paper bag or clean kitchen towel at room temperature for up to 4 days. By storing your bread this way, air can circulate and moisture around the bread is regulated, so your bread will maintain a crisper crust.
Airtight containers tend to trap moisture, which could soften the crust, making your bread soggy or even moldy.
Frequently Asked Questions
I recommend using whole spices, which will heat up in the oven and release their aromatic flavors and oils into the bread as it's baked.
When I was first testing this recipe, my dough didn't rise because the dough was too dry, so I tweaked the recipe. Dough that's too dry won't expand well, and dough that's too wet won't be able to hold its shape as it rises.
Other reasons your dough may not rise could be due to over-kneading or under-kneading your dough, with affect the dough's ability to trap gas and rise.
Finally, using cold or boiling water can affect the yeast's activity.
If your dough only contains rye flour, you probably need a proofing basket to help the bread dough hold it's shape as it proofs.
However, the all purpose flour and wheat flour in this recipe help the dough's structure, so you don't need a proofing basket. Just proof the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
More German Baking Recipes
- German Onion Tart (Zwiebelkuchen mit Äpfeln)
- German Spiced Cookies (Pfeffernüsse)
- German Gingerbread Cookies (Lebkuchen)
- Lebkuchen Herzen (Gingerbread Hearts)
- German Marble Cake (Marmorkuchen)
- Almond Horn Cookies (Mandelhörnchen)
- German Applesauce Cake (Apfelmuskuchen)
- German Hazelnut Cake (Nusskuchen)
- German Bread Rolls (Brötchen)
German Rye Bread (Roggenbrot)
- 1¾ cups rye flour
- 2¼ teaspoon instant yeast (one packet)
- 2 tablespoon molasses
- 1¾ cups lukewarm water
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- ⅓ cup whole wheat flour
- ½ teaspoon table salt or fine sea salt
- 1½ teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)
- ½ teaspoon coriander seeds (optional)
- ½ teaspoon fennel seeds (optional)
- In a large mixing bowl, mix together the rye flour, yeast, molasses, and water until it forms a really wet, loose mixture, and there are no visible pockets of dry flour. Set aside for 20 minutes, to allow the rye flour to absorb some of the liquid.
- Add the all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, salt, and optional seeds to the rye flour mixture and mix the dough in the mixing bowl for a few minutes, until it forms a wet dough, and there are no visible pockets of dry flour.
- On a generously floured work surface, knead the dough for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the dough is a smooth ball. Add a sprinkle of about a teaspoon of all purpose flour or rye flour periodically as you knead the dough, if it is still really sticky.
- Lightly oil a clean mixing bowl with olive oil. Place the kneaded dough ball into the oiled mixing bowl. Cover it with a clean kitchen towel and let rise until it about doubles in size, after about 1 hour.
- On a lightly floured work surface, tip out the dough and shape it into a round or oval shape. Gently spread the top edges of the dough down the sides and underneath, to create tension on the top. All the seams or edges of the dough should be tucked underneath.
- Place the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Very lightly dust the top with a little flour, just so the towel doesn’t stick to it. Cover the dough again with a towel and allow to proof for another 1 hour in a warm draft-free spot. The dough is done proofing once it’s puffed up in size (it likely won’t double in size, but it’ll be a little larger).
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the loaf has a crispy crust and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.Allow the loaf to cool on a cooling rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Enjoy!!