Walnut & Rye Sourdough Bread

Here is an idea. If you haven’t got any kids yet and you aren’t sure if you are ready to take care of a pet, maybe a sourdough starter is a good thing to start out with? If you nurture it right it can help you create infinite amount of breads, it can live forever (we’ve heard rumors of living sourdoughs that date back to early 1800’s), and you only need to feed it once a week. Doesn’t it sound like the perfect companion?

If you don’t know what a sourdough starter (also known as Levain) is you can read all about it here. But shortly explained it is a mixture that contains a living Lactobacillus culture, which you use instead of yeast in baking. It is especially effective when you bake with rye. You can grow it yourself or get a small part of someone else’s.

The sourdough gives the bread a special tangy taste that we really love in our family, but depending on what ingredients and flours you mix it with you can achieve all kind of different flavors. In this recipe we have added some dried figs to give a sweet balance to the tanginess.

Sourdough is in almost every aspect healthier than cultural yeast, but it is not merely as used since it is a lot more time consuming to bake with. We urge you however give it a try, you won’t regret it. And once you have your sourdough started, what’s the point of going back to yeast? Also, the starter makes a great going away gift.

We would love to tell you the story about how we grew our sourdough starter ourselves several years ago. And how we have been feeding it regularly and singing songs for it ever since. But that would be a Big Fat Lie. We have tried growing sourdough starters many times, but we have managed to kill every one of them somewhere in the middle of the process. Starting a sourdough apparently isn’t one of our greater talents. So instead we actually bought a starter (we know, it’s cheating) that we now have been feeding for a few weeks. And we can finally  report that it is thriving in our company. Just see (above) how happy and bubbly it looks.

We won’t tell you how to grow your own starter since we are such losers on the subject. Instead we will just give you some links to some different starter recipes, try this, this or this. Or you can ask your friends, relatives or colleagues if anyone has a sourdough starter tucked away somewhere that they are willing to share. You can also buy a starter online here or here or in certain bakeries.

Walnut & Rye Sourdough Bread (adapted from the book Surdegsbröd by Martin Johansson)
2 breads

This bread has go a thick crust and a great taste, with lots of walnuts inside. We added figs to the original recipe to give a sweet hint to the tanginess from the sourdough.

Day 1, evening
80 g (1/3 cup) rye sourdough starter (read above how to get/make/buy one)
240 g (1 cup) lukewarm water
150 g (1 cup) rye flour

Mix sourdough starter, water and flour in a large bowl. Cover it with plastic and set aside on a warm place over night, around 73F – 75F (22°C – 24°C) degrees.

Day 2, morning
Sourdough from yesterday
480 g (2 cups) cold water
340 g (2 1/2 cups) fine rye flour
500 g (4 cups) wholegrain wheat flour
20 g (1 tbsp) sea salt
250 g (2 cups) whole unshelled walnuts
150 g dried figs, roughly chopped 

Add all ingredients, except salt, walnuts and figs in a large bowl or a stand mixer. Stir with a wooden spoon for about 10 minutes or use the stand mixer (with dough hook) on lowest speed. Add salt, walnuts and figs and knead it for about 5 minutes. Place it in the bowl, cover and let rise/proof for about an hour.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and divide it into two pieces. Kneed them into two round doughs that you leave to rise for about 3 hours. Use round rising baskets/bannetons if you have. Dust the baskets generously with flour before placing the dough inside them. If you don’t have a rising basket, place the breads on parchment paper and cover with a clean towel. Preheat the oven to 525F (275°C), place a baking sheet or a baking stone in the middle and a baking sheet on the lowest possible.

Slash the top of the bread a few times with a sharp knife. Take the hot baking sheet from the oven, dust it with flour, and carefully transfer the risen dough to it by tipping it out of the rising basket, upside down, on to the sheet (or place the parchment paper on it). Place it in the oven and put a few ice cubes on the lower sheet, close the oven and lower immediately the temperature to 490F (250°C). After 15 minutes lower the heat to 400F (200°C), open and close every 5 minutes to get the steam out. Bake for 20 minutes more, or until golden and sounds hollow when you tap its base. Leave to cool on a rack.


  • instructions on Day 1, evening…does it have to be left over night? I need to make it as soon as possible, how long does it need for phase one before i can start Day 2? Thanks!!
  • Jessie
    I have just followed the recipe, is the dough rather heavy and sticky after 1 hour proofing? I've kneaded into two loafs but they are still quite sticky ( not the usual smooth elastic bread dough) Do I need to knead it for long before letting rise for another 3 hours? Thanks!
  • Does the sourdough flavour in this bread become more sourdoughy? Thanks!
  • Haha! Im sorry, I can't believe i have already forgotten I had asked you that same question!
  • Hello! I'm happy to say that I made this bread starting from MONDAY! I cultured my own rye sourdough starter which I was certain i wasn't going to achieve..i haven't have much luck with mother yeast staters either… So I did it, and it tasted LOVELY! that hint of sour taste is incredible and nice and chewy…! Thankyou! How best to store this bread and for how long can it stay at room temperature? Daniella, Fan from Spain!
  • Can i substitue wholegrain wheat for spelt flour? How long does it stay fresh?
    • Yes you can. It stays fresh for 3-4 days in room temperature. And you can keep it for months in the fridge. /David
  • Hello! when you state 250 g of walnuts is that WITH the shells on? So the actual weight for the nuts would be less, correct? Is there a difference between buying walnuts in a bag and walnuts in their shells? Thanks! X
  • Rachael
    Have you ever used any starters from a company called Sourdough's International? I keep hearing about them but I want some reviews from some fellow bakers.. If anyone knows, let me know! Thanks : )
  • Sue E
    Your photos look wonderful, but I noticed that none of the people leaving comments had actually made the bread! I made some yesterday. Quite pleased with the results, a good taste and crumb, but I do have some comments. I followed the metric measures. What sort of cups do you use? I am in The UK and we normally use weight for measuring. I have my own starter, which I got when I attended a bread baking course 3 months ago (I have not bought a loaf since then). Starter still doing well. The overnight sponge came up really well, but there was very little gluten development after kneading (is this usual with a high percentage of rye flour?). Also almost no rise after the one hour proving you suggest before shaping the dough, and not enough after the 3 hours proof in the basket. When I have done sourdough before I have proved for much longer, usually all day or overnight. If I do this recipe again I will leave it longer as my loaf was a little too dense and I could see not fully proved. But thanks for the recipe!
  • Hi I know this is an old post, but I have a doubt. When you say that you "Slash the top of the bread a few times with a sharp knife...and carefully transfer the risen dough to it by tipping it out of the rising basket, upside down..." what do you mean exactly? Why would you bake it up side down but slash the top, that would be at the bottom? Pls help me out here, Im in the middle of the process now! Thanks and lovely blog!!! Warm regards from Andalucia!!!
    • Hi Clara, you are of course right. The top should be slashed, not the bottom. Easiest way to do that is to slash it after you have flipped it into the pot. Hope the bread turns out well for you! /David
  • You've re-inspired me to start up my starter again and get baking! Beautiful.
  • I just LOVE your blog...the food and the photos are just beautiful and so inspirational. I have 3 children but I'm wondering if there is still room in the bed for a sour dough starter like yours....would love to give it a go. Kristin from mamacino x
  • dalina
    You are so inspiring! I am on day 3 with my very selfmade sourdough starter and it works, it bubbles!!! Greetings from Switzerland
  • You have reminded me that I should start baking more bread this year! Love it although, like you, I don't know if I could manage making my own starter. This looks delicious...I love walnuts :) Happy New Year to you! (btw, can't wait for the iphone app!)
  • Lil Rinaldi
    Wow, this is right up my alley! Came across this blog by way of a post I saw on FB from Food in Jars. I happen to be working on a rye sourdough starter that has a few more days to ferment. I used pineapple juice as the liquid to start it off. Got that idea from this website:http://www.northwestsourdough.com/. So far it has been working but must wait a few more days before I actually bake with it. Thanks for the post!
  • I have the exact opposite problem as you: My sourdough starter is always rockin' but I can't make good bread out of it for anything! This morning, I started this recipe and I'll finish it tonight. I'm hoping you've given me the key! Thanks for the ever-gorgeous site, recipes, and inspiration!
  • That is just beautiful!! I have been wanting to try my hand at rye bread for a long time...looks like it might just be time :)
  • p.s. The photos are lovely, oh that crackly nubby edged crust!
  • I've been on a sourdough spelt kick for some time and have been thinking about making a rye bread. This recipe is the one. Rye plus walnuts! I know what you mean about killing your fair share of starters, been there myself, and have had my current starter going for a good many months even with a child and a pet, which is to say, it can be done.

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