• Stephen Kramer


Updated: Jul 5, 2021

The breads of the Baltic States and Russia are known for their evocative nature. Dark, dense, rich, nurturing. These are breads with a soul. One can easily imagine Dostoyevsky taking a break from composing Brothers Karamazov to spread a generous layer of butter on a thin slice of dark rye. These are not breads for the faint of heart. So how do these breads achieve their strength of character? The common thread across these breads is the scald-sour process.


A portion of the flour is cooked with scalding (just below the boil point of 100C/212F) water. The water is hot enough to kill the yeast in the flour, yet is not hot enough to kill the amylase enzyme. The amylase enzyme can then go about its job of converting starches to sugars without the yeast subsequently destroying its work by converting the sugars to carbon dioxide. The end result is a portion of flour that is naturally sweetened.


A sourdough culture is fed with water and flour. The three main influencers of a sourdough culture are: time, temperature, and hydration. Short, warm, and liquid environments favor yeast fermentation and lactic acid development. These sourdough cultures are characterized by higher yeast activity and milder flavor. Long, cool, and stiff environments favor bacterial fermentation and acetic acid development. These sourdough cultures are characterized by lower yeast activity and a stronger sour flavor. In the case of the Baltic and Russian ryes, sourdough cultures tend to be the latter.


After each ripens separately, the scald and the sour are mixed together. This is the key to the sweet-sour flavor profiles typical of Baltic and Russian ryes. In this step we’re also achieving the proper level of acidification of the rye flour. For those of you familiar with the Detmolder 2-Stage Feeding Method (Detmolder Zweistufenfuehrung), the sour described in the paragraph above resembles the stiff Base Sour (Grundsauer), and the scald-sour resembles the liquid Full Sour (Vollsauer) with the primary difference being the second stage feeding is composed of flour naturally rich in sugars. What a feast this must be for the sour!



21g rye sourdough starter

105g medium rye flour

73g water

Mix ingredients together. Cover air-tight. Let ripen for 10-12 hours.


490g medium rye flour

13g caraway seeds

980g scalding water

31g malted rye powder

Combine rye flour and caraway seeds in a bowl and set to the side. Heat water in a large pot. Once the water comes to a boil, remove pot from heat. As soon as there is no more bubbling, dump the flour-caraway mixture into the water and stir rigorously until the mixture gelatinizes into a smooth, viscous paste. Sit in the malted rye powder. Cover the surface directly with plastic wrap to retain heat. Let ripen 10-12 hours

Malted rye grains can be purchased online or at a local beer brewing store. The malted grains can be ground into a powder either with a mill or coffee grinder.


Combine the scald and sour into a mixing bowl. Mix with the whisk attachment on medium speed for 3-5 minutes until smooth. Cover loosely so that the mixture has some expose to air. Let ripen overnight for 12-16 hours.

In the scald-sour stage, we are balancing the sweet and sour flavor components. We are also supporting yeast, which tends to multiply in the presence of oxygen. The whisk, the loose covering, and the liquid nature of the scald-sour mixture all assist toward this aim.

Final Dough

All of the scald-sour

805g medium rye flour

350g high gluten wheat flour

171g water (very hot)

35g molasses

35g salt

1g instant yeast

Mix. Slow speed for 7 minutes, then fast speed for 1 minute. Add water as necessary.

Bulk. 20 minutes

Shape. Scale dough into 1500g pieces. Shape round, then long. Place seam side up in large oval proofing baskets or on linen couches.

Proof. 2-3 hours

Bake. Place loaves seam side down on a wooden peel coated with bran. Brush surface of each loaf smooth with water. Bake on stone surface for 10 minutes at 250C/500F (only first 2 minutes with steam), then decrease temperature to 200C/390F. Total bake time 75-90 minutes. Immediately after bake, brush again with water. Let cool at least 12 hours before slicing.

The loaf should have a dark purple-black crust. This should not be interpreted as “burnt”, but rather a very dark caramelization of the natural sugars developed during the initial scald stage.

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