Breads and Crackers · Sourdough

Making a Rye Sour


I made corned beef for St. Patrick’s Day dinner last week.  Actually, I’d started making the corned beef the week before, making a brine and soaking the brisket in the fridge for a week before finally boiling (simmering, really) it and the requisite potatoes and cabbage and carrots.  (Turnips and other root vegetables would also be traditional, but I didn’t want a TON of leftovers. 

What I did want was the left over corned beef.  I used some of it make corned beef hash over the weekend, and used some more of it last night when I made a Reuben for my husband for dinner. 

He loves a good Reuben.

For those of you who don’t know, a Reuben is a sandwich made of rye bread, corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Thousand Island dressing. 

Now, sure, I could have used store-bought rye bread for this sandwich, but where’s the fun in that?  I’d corned my own beef, I might as well bake my own rye bread, too.  Not enough time to make our own sauerkraut, but it’s certainly something we’re capable of.  And one day maybe I’ll make Swiss cheese.  And a Thousand Island dressing is easy enough to make.

What I’m getting at here is that if I’d planned better (like, starting last year, maybe, to give the cheese time to age), I could have made a Reuben out of entirely home-made (okay, I don’t raise beef cattle, but brining my own brisket is pretty good) components.

I need to see how long Swiss needs to age, I think…

Anyway, I knew I could make bread quickly enough, so I flipped through Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads and decided to use his recipe for New York, or Jewish, Rye Bread.

And the first thing I’d need to do was make a Rye Sour, or Starter. 

So here’s what I did. 

First of all, I decided I only needed to make half of the recipe, because the full recipe would give me more sour than I needed for the bread.  I would NOT recommend doing this because I was actually a cup of sour short.  I don’t think it affected the bread all that much, but I don’t know, do I?

So this is just what I did.  If you’re going to do it, I’d recommend doubling the ingredient quantities.

Here we go:

You need an onion, yeast, caraway seeds, rye flour, and water.  You’ll also need a bowl and some cheesecloth.


It’s always nice when I already have everything on hand.

Next, I peeled and chopped up the onion.


Put the onion in the cheesecloth and tie it into a little bundle. 


Put the onion skins and trimmings in your compost bin, if you have one.  Or put it in the freezer and save for the next time you’re making stock.

Now, put the flour in a bowl and add very hot water. 




Stir to combine. 


Mix the yeast in, and then the caraway seeds. 




Then put the bundle of onion in the bowl and press it down into the rye mixture.


Cover the bowl with plastic and set aside somewhere overnight.


That’s it.  Pretty simple, right?

You can leave the sour out for up to 24 hours.  After that, remove the onion, scrape the sour off the cheesecloth, cover the sour bowl again and refrigerate until you’re ready to use.

I didn’t need to refrigerate mine – I made the bread the following day.

If you’d like to make this Rye Sour, here’s what you need.  I’m giving you the quantities from the original recipe.  As I mentioned earlier, I only used half and didn’t have enough for the bread.

From Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads:

Rye Sour

(eight cups)


2 medium onions, coarsely chopped

4 cups rye flour, stone-ground preferred

3 1/2 cups hot water (120-130 F)

2 pkgs dry yeast (5 teaspoons or a scant 2 tablespoons)

1 tablespoon caraway seeds


Tie the onion pieces into a bag made with cheesecloth.  Put aside for the moment.

In a large bowl measure the rye flour and water.  Stir to mix.  Sprinkle on the yeast and work it inot the rye mixture.  Add the caraway seeds.

When the mixture is thoroughly blended, push the onions down into the center of the sour.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and put aside overnight but no more than 24 hours.

Lift out the onions, scrape the sour off the cloth, and discard the onions.

The sour can now be used as part of the sponge in all sour rye breads.  It can be refrigerated for later use.


I’ll be back tomorrow with the making of the rye bread.  Woo hoo!

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