Authentic Eastern European Rye Sourdough Bread

How To Make Authentic Eastern European Rye Sourdough Bread

Is your starter ready? Last week, I wrote about making your own sourdough starter from scratch using wild yeast. If you’ve missed it, you can read it here. If your starter has been growing for 7 days or if you already have a ready-made starter, it’s time to make some authentic Eastern European rye bread!

I literally grew up on this kind of bread, it’s a real diet staple in my contry, and I’d been missing it so much since moving to Spain.

Then, I got a brilliant idea to try and make my own bread. Big success!

I truly believe that Lithuanian dark rye bread is the best one in the world, and if you tasted it, I’m sure you would agree with me. Yes, there is the German one, the Russian one and the Scandinavian one, but none of them is as good as ours. Seriously! 🙂

So today I’d like to share with you a recipe of the traditional Eastern European rye sourdough bread with sunflower seeds (or any other seeds of your choice).

You can watch my video tutorial here:

What You’ll Need To Make the Eastern European Rye Bread

What'll you'll need to make rye sourdough bread

  • 2 cups of wholegrain rye flour
  • 3/4 cup of warm water
  • 1/2 cup of starter
  • 1 – 1.5 tsp. of sea salt
  • 1 tsp of brown sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds (or any other seeds of your choice – sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, etc.)
  • 2 tbsp. of caraway seeds (optional)

This recipe will produce one medium loaf. I usually double or triple it as this bread stays fresh for a very long time, and doing it this way saves me a lot of time. I make my bread around once a week.

For the tools, you’ll need a bowl for mixing ingredients, a kitchen towel, and a bread or cake tin. You’ll also need a bit of oil or butter to oil the tin, and a sprinkle of flour to dust the bottom and sides of the bread tin – it will prevent your bread from sticking.

Possible Variations For Your Eastern European Rye Bread

A sandwich made with 100% rye sourdough bread

100% rye bread with homemade chicken liver pate and luxuriously creamy egg

If you follow my recipe and make this bread from 100% rye, it’s going to be decadently dense and heavy. I love it! A totally authentic Lithuanian bread must be like that. But if you prefer something lighter, don’t hesitate to replace some of the rye flour with wholewheat, spelt or kamut flours. The less rye you use, the airier and lighter the bread is going to be. It will also rise more. So it’s totally up to you. I understand it can be an acquired taste, so you might want to start slow.

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with a 50/50 mixture of rye and wholewheat flour, and I love the way the bread turns out every time, but I love my 100% rye as well. I guess I simply like having variety in my food, so I alternate.

Another optional addition that would make your bread even more Eastern European is barley or rye malt. If you happen to have some in your pantry, add 1 tablespoon, and enjoy the wonderfully dark and fragrant bread (like in the picture above – notice how much darker it looks?). If your malt is in powder form, you’ll need to pour some boiling water on it and wait until it cools in order to use it, but the effect will be exactly the same as using the liquid version.

I guess it’s time to start making the bread. It will be a two-step process.

Step 1: The Initial Leavening

For the initial leavening, mix all your starter with 1/2 cup of warm water, stir it a bit until the starter dissolves completely. Next, add 1 cup of flour little by little. Stir until the mixture becomes smooth, cover it with a kitchen towel, and allow to stand at room temperature for 12-16 hours.

I usually start making my bread in the evening at around 6PM, so in the morning it’s ready for Step 2. By lunch time, I usually have my freshly baked bread ready to be eaten. If you do it this way, the wait won’t bother you too much because most of it will happen overnight.

Just a word on using the starter: I talked about it in detail in Part 1 of this mini series, but make sure that it’s been fed in the last 12-24 hours before using it to make bread.

Step 2: The Final Leavening and Baking


Now that your dough has been fermenting for 12-16 hours, it’s time to add the rest of the ingredients. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of warm water and then add 1 cup of flour little by little. The dough will be thick, but it should still be possible to stir it if you get someone to help hold the bowl in place. 🙂 Otherwise, you can also use your own hands to knead. Just drizzle some flour on a clean surface and on the bread, wet your hands a little to prevent the bread from sticking, and enjoy! I find kneading and shaping the bread such a cathartic experience. A wonderful thing to do after a stressful and tiring day. Try it, and let me know if I was right. 🙂

Making rye sourdough bread

Oh sourdough bread, why do you always make me forget everything else in this world?

Once your dough is nice and smooth, add the salt, sugar, and the seeds of your choice. Stir or knead a little more to make sure they get distributed evenly throughout the dough.

That’s it! Your first authentic Eastern European rye bread is ready to be baked.

You’ll need to shape the bread to make it resemble a bread loaf. You don’t need to be too precise as it will be going in a bread tin anyway, but it does make it look nicer if you give it a nice shape.

When I was learning how to shape my bread, i found this video extremely helpful:

Reading instructions is one thing, seeing someone else do it is a totally different thing, so I’d definitely recommend watching it before attempting it yourself.

Place your loaf in an oiled and floured bread or cake tin, cover it with a kitchen towel and let stand for 2-3 hours at room temperature until it rises nicely. Depending on how much rye flour there is, it might rise more or less. As a rule, the lower the ratio of rye flour, the more it will rise. I find that even with 100% rye my bread will still rise around 70%.

Soudough bread rising before baking

This is what mine looks at the beginning.

Sourdough bread doubled just before baking

This is what it looks like 3 hours later, just before baking.

If you want to make your bread extra beautiful, you can also sprinkle some seeds on the crust of the bread. I find that sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds look really attractive. However, make sure you press them in lightly or they will fall off once you start handling your bread.

Crust of rye sourdough bread with pumpkin and sunflower seeds

Bake your Eastern European rye bread at 200°C (400°F) for 45-55 minutes. Your bread will be ready when the crust turns nicely golden, slightly brown.

A Special Lithuanian Trick: How To Make The Crust Softer

I don’t know how about you, but I’m not a big fan of a very hard crust, so I like making it slightly softer. It will still remain crunchy, but in a much more enjoyable way. As soon as you take the bread out of the oven, wet a kitchen towel, wring it out, and wrap it around the bread. Leave it there until the bread cools down completely. The humidity created by the damp towel will make sure the crust stays lovely.

How To Make Rye Sourdough Bread Taste Oven-Fresh At Any Time

I find that my bread remains amazing for at least 3-4 days. But on the fifth day it starts getting a little drier, so I really like warming it up. I’m against toasters, so I prefer to use my hob. All I do is melt some butter in a frying pan, place slices of bread on it, and cook with the lid open for 4-5 mins, turning halfway. The bread will be soft and moist, as if you’ve just taken it out of the oven.

Homemade rye sourdough bread with butter

Did I say it’s divine with butter?

That’s the beauty of sourdough bread: it will never get mouldy, it will only get hard after a while. But warming it up will revive it perfectly. Up to a certain point of course. If it’s more than 1 week old, you might simply want to turn it into breadcrumbs or croutons.

Rye sourdough bread croutons in Caesar salad

By the way, croutons made with this kind of bread are amazing with homemade chicken Caesar salad. Just saying! A recipe might be coming in the future, we’ll see!

Rye sourdougb bread croutons in creamy vegetable soup

Or with a homemade creamy vegetable soup. Mmmmmmmmmm…

That’s all I had to say about sourdough bread making today. It’s such a fun and rewarding process. Your health will thank you, you’ll save money, you’ll feel proud of yourself, and you’ll fall in love with experimenting because there are so many variations for sourdough breads. You can pretty much make anything. Sourdough is so versatile that you can also use it for pancakes, focaccia, ciabatta, pizza, and anything else your heart desires.

If you do try this recipe, I’d be so happy to see your creations! Just send your picture to me on Facebook, tweet me or tag me @vitalivesfree on Instagram. You’ll totally make my day if you do.

Happy bread making!

Lots of love,

Vita xx


Read Part 1 here: How To Make Rye Sourdough Starter From Scratch Using Wild Yeast

Take a look at other traditional food staples:

How To Make Delicious Yogurt (And Greek Yogurt) At Home

How To Make Bone Broth Part 1

How To Make Bone Broth Part 2

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