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The Culinary Challenge of Marbled Rye


First cultivated as a food crop in the poor soil and harsh climate of northern and eastern  Europe and Russia during the 4th century BCE, rye remains popular in these regions and across the globe. The original loaves of northern and eastern Europe and Russia were made with 100-percent rye flour — dark, dense, strong, sustaining. As these traditions came to America, the loaves lightened in both color and heft as portions of the rye flour were replaced with softer, cheaper wheat-based flours. For better or worse, the blend stuck. 

My recipe is made from one part light rye flour to two parts bread flour, and incorporates olive oil and molasses, which all contribute to a  hearty-yet-fluffy bread. Sweet licorice-like caraway seeds add a gentle crunch and drive home the classic flavor. 

Marbled rye is not the easiest to put together, but with a little hands-on effort, this beautifully decorative bread is definitely worth it. My marbling is created by layering and rolling portions of plain rye dough with portions of the same dough darkened with cocoa powder. The end result was faint — next time I might increase the amount of cocoa or try a cocoa-espresso powder combo to give it a boost.  

In order to have your two doughs ready to marble at the same time, measure out all your ingredients — and combine dry ingredients, for both the light and dark doughs — in advance. This significantly streamlines the process, ensuring that both dough portions are done rising and ready to work with within minutes of each other.  

Devote a cool morning to baking, turn up the oven fires, and turn out warmth, yeasty aromas, and a fancy yet homey bread. I do hope you try for yourself! 

Marbled Rye Bread 

Makes: 1 very large loaf (about 28 thin slices) 


For the light rye dough  

  • 3 ounces, or roughly ¾ cups, light rye flour 
  • 6¾ ounces, or roughly 1½  cups, unbleached bread flour 
  • ¾ teaspoon salt 
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast 
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional) 
  • ¾ cup + 1 tablespoon lukewarm water, between 110° and 115° F, divided 
  • 1 teaspoon molasses 
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 

For the dark rye dough 

  • ¾ cup light rye flour 
  • 6¾ ounces, or roughly 1½ cups, unbleached bread flour 
  • ¾ teaspoon salt 
  • 1 teaspoon  instant yeast 
  • 1 teaspoon  caraway seeds (optional) 
  • ¾ cup + 1 tablespoon lukewarm water, between 110° and 115° F, divided 
  • 1 teaspoon molasses 
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil 
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, whisked into 1 tablespoon water to form a paste 



  1. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, briefly stir together the flours, salt, yeast and caraway seeds, if using. Add ¾ cup warm water, molasses and olive oil to a large liquid measuring cup or small bowl and stir to combine. 
  2. Pour liquid ingredients into the dry, and mix with your hands, a wooden spoon or a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, on low, until a rough dough is formed. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula or dough scraper to help incorporate any of the remaining dry bits. Continue to knead with your hands or stand mixer, with speed increased to medium-low, until dough comes together in a cohesive ball, adding 1 tablespoon water only if needed. The dough is ready when it is smooth, springs back when gently pressed, and is tacky but not sticky to the touch or sticking to the sides of the bowl. 
  3. Knead the dough a few times on a lightly floured surface to help form it into a ball. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, and roll it around to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature or inside a turned-off oven until doubled in volume, about 90 minutes. 


  1. Immediately after completing the light rye portion, repeat the same process as above for the dark rye portion, adding the cocoa-water paste to the liquid mixture before adding it to the dry ingredients. Following the same process for kneading, transferring to oiled bowl and covering lightly with plastic wrap for 90 minutes or until doubled in volume. This portion should be done proofing only a few minutes after the light rye. 


  1. When both doughs are risen, line a large baking tray with parchment paper or a baking mat. Place the dough balls onto a lightly floured surface, and divide and shape each ball into 2 evenly sized oblong circles, roughly 8 inches long and 5 inches wide. Stack the dough portions on top of one another (see photo at right), alternating light and dark, to total 4 layers.  
  2. Starting from the long side, roll the four layers tightly to form a log, pressing the dough together with your fingers as you go and pinching the final seam as best you can. Very briefly — otherwise your marbling won't be as prominent — use the palms of your hands to gently roll the loaf back and forth, working from the center out toward the ends, to help stretch and seal the dough.  
  3. Transfer the dough, seam-side down, to a baking tray and drape a piece of oiled plastic wrap loosely over the top. Rest again, at room temperature, until almost doubled in volume, between 60 to 90 minutes. 
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle position. Remove plastic from the dough. If you wish, cut a few ¼-inch-deep slits on a diagonal across the top of the loaf. Bake, rotating the tray once at halfway point, until the bread is golden brown and cooked through, about 40 to 45 minutes. When done, the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, and an instant-read thermometer should register 190°F. 
  5. Remove the bread from the oven and transfer to a wire rack. Cover with a light kitchen towel for a more tender crust and soft interior. Cool completely, at least 1 hour, before slicing or storing. 
  6. Bread will keep 3 to 5 days in a sealed plastic bag or container on the counter. For longer storage, slice the bread in half and wrap first with plastic, then foil. Freeze the wrapped loaf in a tightly-sealed freezer bag or container up to 1 month. To enjoy from the freezer: Remove the bread from its container and thaw in wrapping for 30 to 60 minutes at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 425ºF, and bake 3 to 5 minutes. Alternatively, thaw the bread overnight in its container and wrapping on the counter. Slice and eat as desired! 

Heather Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist in southeastern North Carolina. She specializes in maternal and general women's nutrition and wellness. Read her blog, and follow her on FacebookTwitterInstagram and Pinterest.

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