How To Make Rye Sour Starter (for Jewish Rye Bread)

Rye Sour Starter

As they say, the third time’s the charm. Or, is it the fourth? Fifth?

I have been at odds with rye bread for years now. Years. After enjoying a fresh loaf of rye bread from a Jewish deli in Florida more than three years ago, I got the itch to make my own. Having made tons of yeast bread in the past, I thought there would be nothing to it. I was in for a rude awakening… an awakening that took the form of multiple failed attempts at a rye starter. Frustration mounted, and I put the project on the back burner for quite some time. A few months ago, I decided to try again. This time, I did what I should have done in the first place – I went straight to the source. Since I wanted to make Jewish rye bread, I figured the place to find the best recipe would be in a Jewish cookbook. Since I happened to have one that had been sitting on my shelf for quite some time unused, I busted it open. Sure enough, there was a recipe for Jewish rye bread. I followed the instructions to a “T” and didn’t run into any problems. I feel like the rye bread fairy godmother waved a magic wand. Finally, success!

Since the process to mix together the starter for this rye bread is somewhat involved and takes multiple days, I thought it would be easier to break the recipe down into the starter process, and then the actual mixing of the dough and baking the bread. Below you will find step-by-step instructions (with photos) on how to create a rye sour starter, which provides the bread with its soft texture and immense flavor.

Tomorrow I will share the bread recipe with you, so stay tuned!


[Update: Recipe for Jewish Rye Bread using this starter.]

Rye Sour Starter

One year ago: Bourbon Bread Pudding
Two years ago: Peanut Butter Cup Crunch Brownie Bars and Chocolate Malted Whopper Cookies
Three years ago: Pumpkin Scones with Spiced Glaze
Four years ago: Ham and Split Pea Soup
Five years ago: Almost Fudge Gateau

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Rye Sour Starter

This sour starter is used for making Jewish rye bread.


Rye Sour Starter:

  • ½ cup rye flour
  • ⅛ teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
  • 1 tablespoon crushed caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon minced onion

Stage One:

  • ½ cup water
  • 1½ cups rye flour
  • 1 recipe Sour Starter

Stage Two:

  • ½ cup warm water (110 degrees F)
  • 1 cup rye flour

Stage Three:

  • ½ cup water (use warm water if sour has been refrigerated)
  • 1 cup rye flour, or more


1. Begin the Rye Sour Starter: Combine the rye flour, yeast, warm water, crushed caraway seeds and minced onion in a large bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. The mixture should have a thin, soupy consistency. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to stand in a warm spot until bubbly and fermented. It can be left for up to 24 hours.

Rye Sour Starter

2. Prepare Stage One: In a large bowl, combine the water, 1¼ cups of the flour, and the starter; stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. The dough should pull slightly and may start to come away from the sides of the bowl. Wipe down the sides of the bowl and sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup flour over the entire surface of the sour. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand until doubled in size and the floured top appears cracked with openings spread widely apart. This could take 4 to 8 hours (avoid letting the mixture collapse).

Rye Sour Starter: Stage One

3. Prepare Stage Two: To the Stage One sour, add the water and ¾ cup of the flour; mix until smooth. Wipe down the sides of the bowl and sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup flour over the entire surface of the sour. Allow to rise in a warm area for 4 to 8 hours, or until doubled in size.

Rye Sour Starter: Stage Two

4. Prepare Stage Three: To the Stage Two sour, add the water and the 1 cup flour. Mix until smooth. Add more flour, ¼ cup at at time, until a dough-like consistency is reached. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm spot until doubled in size, 4 to 8 hours. At this point, the starter is ready to be used in the bread.

Rye Sour Starter: Stage Three


  • The caraway seeds can be ground in a coffee or spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.
  • The book recommends using white rye flour, which I purchased from King Arthur Flour.
  • When preparing Stages One and Two, the object is to make a thick consistency as close as possible to that of a soft dough. If the mixture is too soupy, add more flour ¼ cup at a time and mix until smooth.
  • It is recommended that Stage One and Two be made on the same day, the second stage refrigerated overnight, and the third stage prepared the morning of baking. If you intend on baking the bread first thing in the morning, then prepare the third stage the evening before, so it can rise slowly all night and be ready in the morning.
  • The sour starter can be refrigerated; it is recommended that it be stirred down every 3 to 4 days if it hasn’t been used. Every 10 to 12 days, dispose of half of the starter and refresh it by mixing in equal amounts of rye flour and water. If there is some discoloration on top, it can be skimmed off.

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(Recipe from Arthur Schwartz’s Jewish Home Cooking)

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