The mountainous areas of the Valais canton in the middle west of Switzerland are home to commercial vineyards located at the highest altitude in Europe outside the village of Visperterminen. The mountains aren’t suitable for growing wheat, so rye is the grain of choice for bread baking in the Valais. This rye bread is protected by an AOC designation, which means that it may only be sold as such if it meets the identity standards set out by the Swiss Federal Office of Agriculture. Transplanted residents of the Valais long for their native rye bread so much that it even has its own Facebook page. The recipe isn’t a secret, but it’s only leavened with sourdough, so it’s not easy to prepare unless you have some starter. My recipe uses a little bit of bread flour in the sponge to help keep the gases formed during fermentation from leaking out. Aside from its chewy texture and strong rye flavor, the bread is unique in appearance—the lack of strong gluten in the dough makes the surface of the loaf crack attractively under its coating of rye flour while it’s proofing.
Makes one 6- to 7-inch round loaf
Scant 1/2 cup/100 grams room-temperature tap water, about 75°F
2 tablespoons/40 grams sourdough starter, fed twice during the previous 24 hours
1/3 cup/50 grams unbleached bread flour
1/3 cup/50 grams dark rye flour
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons/200 grams room-temperature tap water, about 75°F
All of the sponge, above
2 2/3 cups/350 grams dark rye flour, plus more for dusting
1 1/2 teaspoons/10 grams fine sea salt
One jellyroll pan or round pizza pan dusted with cornmeal
- For the sponge, whisk the water and sourdough starter together in a medium bowl. Stir in the bread and rye flours. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the sponge ferment for 6 to 8 hours. If it’s warm in the kitchen, it will be ready after only 6 hours.
- For the dough, stir the water and sponge together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Stir in the rye flour and salt.
- Place the bowl on the mixer and attach the dough hook. Mix on lowest speed until the dough is smooth, about 2 minutes—it will be heavy and quite sticky.
- Very lightly oil or spray a bowl and use a plastic scraper to transfer the dough to the bowl. Turn the dough over so that the top is oiled and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes—it will begin to puff slightly.
- Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 450˚F.
- Invert the dough to a floured work surface. Pull a section of dough around its perimeter into the center and press it in place. Continue all around the dough until it’s round and fairly even. Invert the loaf to the prepared pan and dust it with a heavy even coating of rye flour. Let the loaf proof just until the surface is covered with a series of small cracks, about 30 minutes.
- Place the pan in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 400˚F. Bake the loaf until it is firm and has an internal temperature of 200˚F, about 35 to 45 minutes.
- Cool the loaf on a rack. Use it on the day it’s baked, though it will stay fresh for several days loosely covered at room temperature. Wrap and freeze for longer storage.