Wholegrain Cocktail Rye Bread

Here's a recipe for a wholegrain cocktail rye bread that is as versatile as it is delicious. | mjbakesalot.com

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I love menu planning as much as I love baking and when I start thinking about what we should have for a particular meal, whether it’s a weeknight dinner for the two of us or a special party for twelve, early in the process I take inventory of ingredients I already have on hand and develop the menu using those ingredients to their best advantage. For instance, a few weeks ago we invited some friends over for dinner and as I began to consider various menu options, I immediately decided to use the smoked salmon that we purchased a couple of days earlier.  A smoked salmon entree sounded too heavy, but since I had rye meal and rye flour on hand, I could make wholegrain cocktail rye bread to use as a base for the classic combination of smoked salmon and rye bread.

Although I love all breads, I think rye breads may be at the top of my list.  One of my favorite blogs is Stanley Ginsberg’s blog The Rye Baker and if you scroll through to explore his posts, you’ll find an amazing variety of recipes that use different kinds of rye flour.  I love rye bread so much that my very first food post for this blog was my recipe for easy rye quick bread that I make when I only have an hour or two to bake something, like the day I wanted some kind of rye bread to accompany the soup Joe announced at 3 pm that he was making for our dinner that night.  But in this most recent case, I was planning our dinner a few days in advance so adding to the menu a yeast bread that would take well under 4 hours from start to finish wasn’t a problem.  And because many rye breads like this one benefit from being tightly wrapped and stored for 24 hours before serving, wholegrain cocktail rye bread is a great recipe for entertaining.

This is a straight forward dough to mix.  Just start with the water and yeast in the bowl, then add the rest of the ingredients and mix it until all the flour is incorporated. Knead it for 5 minutes or so, until it’s smooth; it’ll be sticky and stiff and feel more like Play-Doh instead of the smooth and velvety doughs you’ve made with wheat flours, but that’s the nature of rye doughs.

If you don’t have vital wheat gluten and/or King Arthur Flour deli rye flavor (I do a lot of baking so I always have both in my freezer), I strongly recommend that you use a mix of 1/2 cup of pickle juice from a jar of your favorite kosher pickles and combine it with 1 cup of water to make this recipe.  The bread will have the great flavor of the pickles, and the vinegar in the pickle juice will give the yeast and gluten an extra boost so the bread dough rises higher and faster than it otherwise would.  The vinegar also acts as a preservative so your bread will last longer at room temperature without getting moldy.

In order to get that attractive deep color that we associate with pumpernickel bread, many pumpernickel bread recipes call for unsweetened cocoa powder (meh), or coffee granules (also meh), or brown food coloring (turned my bread a distinctly unappetizing pinkish brown).  A few recipes specify caramel color which is powdered caramelized corn syrup and incredibly expensive, if you can find it at all.  From a suggestion I found in another of my favorite blogs, The Fresh Loaf, I now use Kitchen Bouquet, something that your great-grandparents, grandparents, and maybe even your parents, probably had in their cabinet by the stove for adding color to gravy.  It’s inexpensive, made from a vegetable base of water, carrots, onions, celery, parsnips, and turnips, and doesn’t affect the flavor of the bread.  It provides the rich deep color that you expect in a pumpernickel bread, and is still available at grocery stores everywhere, usually near the Worcestershire sauce.

Once the dough is kneaded, put it into a lightly oiled container and let it rise until it’s doubled.

Wholegrain cocktail rye bread rising in my favorite proofing bucket. | mjbakesalot.com
The dough is proofing in my favorite proofing bucket.

My dough doubled in less than 45 minutes.

Wholegrain cocktail rye bread was fully proofed in less than 45 minutes. | mjbakesalot.com
The dough is fully proofed and ready for final shaping.

The dough weighed 39 ounces (1092 grams); I used my Wilton mini loaf pan and put 8 ounces (225 grams) of dough into each cavity, and the remaining 7 ounces (196 grams) I formed into a boule and placed in a small oven-proof bowl.

Wholegrain cocktail rye bread dough is shaped and in its final proof. | mjbakesalot.com
Eight ounces is the perfect amount of yeast dough for each of the cavities in this mini loaf pan.

Lightly cover the loaves with waxed paper that is sprayed with non-stick cooking spray, and let them proof for about 45 minutes, until they double and the indentation fills in slowly when you poke them.

Loaves of wholegrain cocktail rye bread are fully proofed and ready to be baked. | mjbakesalot.com
In just under 60 minutes the proofing loaves crested the top of the pan and passed the poke test.

Carefully remove the waxed paper and slide them into the oven that you’ve preheated for 20 minutes.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until they are browned and the internal temperature at the center of a loaf is 195°F to 200°F.  Let the baked loaves cool in the pan on top of a cooling rack for about 10 minutes so they firm up a bit, then turn them out and right-side-up on the rack to cool completely.

Once the loaves are completely cooled, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap, then put them in plastic zip-top bags.  Freeze any that you won’t use within 4 or 5 days.  Having any kind of homemade bread in the freezer is like money in the bank, if you ask me.

Five loaves of wholegrain cocktail rye bread are baked and cooling on a rack. | mjbakesalot.com
After the loaves are baked, they should spend a few minutes in the pan on a cooling rack to firm up, then can be turned out onto the rack to cool completely.

These easy to make little loaves keep well, slice beautifully, and taste a hundred times better than the dry cocktail loaves that are sold in grocery stores for obscene amounts of money.

Slices of cooled wholegrain cocktail rye bread ready to be made into appetizers or just enjoyed with butter. | mjbakesalot.com
If you like rye bread with some texture, you’re going to love this versatile recipe.

For this dinner, we spread the slices with plain cream cheese, then added minced fresh red onion, piled on pieces of the smoked salmon, tucked in sprigs of fresh dill, and sprinkled nonpareil capers on top of it all.  With chilled white wine, these make a splended appetizer.  Without the wine, they make an awesome breakfast!

In the past, I’ve spread slices with thousand island dressing, added a little sauerkraut that was thoroughly drained and patted dry, topped that with thin slices of corned beef and Swiss cheese, and broiled them just long enough to melt the cheese.

You can make excellent open-face melted cheese sandwiches by spreading slices with a mixture of your favorite fruit jam and a little Dijon mustard, topping that with a couple of thin slices of good melting cheese (Muenster, cheddar, Swiss), then broiling them briefly.  Or make some regular closed (but miniature) grilled cheese sandwiches that look charming lined up next to a bowl of soup.

Appetizers made from wholegrain cocktail rye bread, cream cheese, minced red onion, smoked salmon, fresh dill, and capers. | mjbakesalot.com
These two-bite canapes are as delightful to eat as they are to look at.

Try my recipe for delicious wholegrain cocktail rye bread and let me know how it turned outfor you.

Please leave a question or a comment and rate this recipe with the stars below, then Pin, Tweet and/or share on Facebook and Instagram.  If you make the wholegrain cocktail rye bread recipe, it would be wonderful if you’d post a photo on Instagram with #mjbakesalot and I’d love it if you would also come back here and make a comment.

Thanks, and bon appetit!

5.0 from 3 reviews
Wholegrain Cocktail Rye Bread
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Perfect for appetizers, this bread is delicious with virtually any combination of smoked meat, any kind of cheese, pickled vegetables that are patted dry, good mustard, and fruit jam. Make it the day before you plan to serve it, if possible, for the best texture and easiest slicing. Total time does not include proofing time.
Recipe type: Yeast Breads
Cuisine: German
Yield: 5 mini loaves
  • 2-1/4 teaspoons (1 pkg) active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 fluid oz, 356 ml) filtered or spring water, 100°F to 110°F
  • 1 1/2 cups (6-1/2 oz,180 grams)Bob’s Red Mill organic pumpernickel meal
  • 1 1/2 cups (6-1/2 oz, 180 grams) unbleached bread Flour
  • 1 cup (4 oz, 113 grams)100% white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup (2 oz, 60 grams) Arrowhead Mills organic rye flour
  • 2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten, optional, see NOTES
  • 1 teaspoon King Arthur Deli Rye Flavor, optional, see NOTES
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons (1 oz, 30 ml) Kitchen Bouquet, for color
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  1. Add the yeast to the water in the mixing bowl, then add the remaining ingredients and mix until combined.
  2. Knead for 5 to 7 minutes until smooth, but sticky and stiff.
  3. Place the dough in a lightly oiled container and let it rise until it's doubled in bulk, 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  4. Divide and shape the dough into 5 loaves using mini pans.
  5. Place in greased pans and lightly cover with waxed paper or plastic film; let rise until doubled and loaves pass the poke test.
  6. About 20 minutes before the loaves are done rising, preheat the oven to 375°F.
  7. Bake the bread for 35 to 40 minutes, until the crust is brown and the internal temperature registers at least 190°F.
  8. Remove the bread from the oven, and cool for 10 minutes in the pans on a rack.
  9. Remove the loaves from the pans and cool completely on a rack.
  10. Store in a plastic zip type bag for up to 5 days at room temperature, or double wrap and freeze.
The deli rye flavor powder from King Arthur Flour really tastes wonderful in nearly all rye breads, but if you don’t have it you can use 1/2 cup of pickle juice from a jar of good kosher pickles substituted for the same amount of water. Pickle juice has vinegar, of course, and a little vinegar makes yeast very happy, so you can reduce or eliminate the vital wheat gluten if you use the pickle juice. If you use both pickle juice and vital wheat gluten, expect the bread to rise really fast.


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5 thoughts on “Wholegrain Cocktail Rye Bread”

  1. I learn so much from your blog about baking!! You need to create a baking cookbook!! So much great info in each recipe.

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