Danish Rye Bread

Danish rye bread (rugbrød)

  • Servings: 1 large loaf
  • Difficulty: Challenging
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It’s filling, beautifully moist and full of healthy grains and this Scandinavian recipe is perfect for Denmark’s famous open-faced sandwiches (smørrebrød). Then again, Danish rye bread is a basic staple that can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch or as a snack.


For the starter in phase 1:

  • 250ml (1 cup) of buttermilk (alternatively, some people use plain yoghurt with water)
  • 65g (1/2 cup) of organic rye flour
  • ½ tsp of salt

For the sponge in phase 2:

  • 100-200g of sourdough starter
  • 750ml (3 cups) of cold water
  • 100g (⅔ cup) of wholemeal wheat flour
  • 50g of organic rye flour
  • 100g (⅔ cup) of organic plain flour
  • 75g (½ cup) of linseeds
  • 75g (½ cup) of raw sunflower seeds
  • 175g (1 cup) of cracked rye grains
  • 200g (1¼ cups) of cracked wheat grains
  • 2 tsp of sea salt

For the final dough in phase 3:

  • 1 tbsp of malt powder
  • 1 tbsp of molasses
  • 150g of cooked barley grains
  • 500g (3 cups) of cracked rye grains, soaked overnight
  • Olive oil or butter, for greasing


Phase 1 — This will take place over roughly 5 days:

  1. Mix the buttermilk, flour and salt in a bowl, then leave it uncovered at room temperature.

    Get creative with the ingredient amounts, as sometimes it will need a tad more or less. For example, you might need to add more buttermilk or water if the starter thickens too much.

  2. On the second day, cover it loosely with foil or some paper, but don’t refrigerate it.
  3. Stir with a spoon every day (you will need to do this a minimum of once per day). You might start to notice little bubbles forming and it may look a little grey. It might even smell a bit sour, but this should go away when you stir it.
  4. Continue the daily stirring and monitoring for about 5 days or until it looks like it’s risen a bit and there are lots of air bubbles.

Phase 2 — This will take place over roughly 12 to 36 hours:

  1. Mix 100 – 200 g of the sourdough starter (that you made above) and the remaining ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Cover with a wet towel and stand in a warm place for at least 12 hours (or up to 36 hours is fine). If the towel starts to dry out, dampen it so you don’t lose moisture from the sponge.

Phase 3 — This could take between 3 and 12 hours:

  1. When the sponge from above is ready, add the malt powder, cooked barley, molasses and soaked rye.
  2. Lightly grease a loaf tin and pour in the dough.
  3. Cover it with a damp towel and then leave it to rise (at room temperature or warmer) — you should let it sit for at least 3 hours, or a full day if you have time.
  4. When it looks ready, brush the top of the bread with cold water, then bake it in the oven at 190°C (put the bread inside the oven before you turn it on). If the bread starts to look burnt on top, cover it with foil. Total baking time is roughly 90 minutes from when the oven is warm, but you might need to leave it in for longer depending on the dough and the size of the tin.
  5. Let it stand overnight on a rack, covered with a towel.
  6. Serve it up!

Background: Danish rye bread

The rye grain has been a staple of the Danish cuisine for over 1000 years, with recipes for rye-based bread passing from generation to generation, never going out of style.

The popularity of rye bread in Denmark likely started with the weather. While wheat does not easily grow in the cold, rye is extremely hardy and can grow even through the lowest of temperatures. As a result, rye bread became the norm for many countries in Northern Europe. 

As a bread, it’s actually a very nutritious option. It’s packed full of good stuff — vitamins, fibres and minerals that are great for your overall health and leave you feeling fuller for longer.

Danish rye bread goes great with all sorts of toppings. Cold meats, pickles, salad, fish, sauce, herbs. You can try all sorts of combinations. If you’re feeling cheeky, you can even eat it like some Danish children do — slathered with butter and topped off with slices of chocolate.

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