This overnight rye bread is an easier version of a northern European classic, made with whole grain spelt and rye flour, cocoa, and oats. This dense bread is not at all dry and makes a nice alternative to light loaves, with a stronger flavour and slightly chewy texture. With both sourdough and yeast options.
I love overnight bread. It’s much easier to make than normal homemade bread, without any kneading necessary – you just mix everything together in a bowl, let it sit overnight, and then bake it in the morning.
The usual problem is that it’s usually baked in a dutch oven or lidded ceramic dish and involves some dough folding and sitting in a tea towel in the morning after it’s risen overnight, which I find detracts a bit from the simplicity of the method.
The dough rises a second time in the pan you bake it in, so you don’t need to worry about proper folding technique or anything like that. All you have to do is mix it the night before, dump it in a loaf pan, and bake it. No kneading, no folding, no special equipment.
Despite the lack of work that goes into this bread, the crust is surprisingly crispy, and the inside of the loaf is soft and tender. It also lasts longer than other homemade breads, and it keeps for at least a week sitting on the counter, wrapped well.
If you like the idea of rye bread but don’t want to go all the way to a dark rye, try this overnight spelt rye bread instead.
Please note that the darker photos are made with regular cocoa powder and yeast, and the lighter bread is made with sourdough starter and natural cacao. The step-by-step photos are sourdough, so if you want to see the steps for the yeast method, please watch the recipe video.
Scroll to the bottom of the post or click “skip to recipe” above to see the recipe card with full ingredient measurements and instructions.
- Whole grain spelt flour
- Rye flour (sometimes called dark rye flour)
- Rolled oats
- Cocoa powder (not drink powder)
- Sea salt
- Yeast (dry or fresh) or active sourdough starter
- Maple syrup or honey
Add the water, maple syrup, and active starter to a large bowl. Whisk to combine. This goes for fresh yeast as well – if you’re using dry yeast, that’s mixed in with the dry ingredients instead (so this step should just be water and maple syrup in that case).
Add the spelt and rye flour, oats, cocoa powder, salt, (and dry yeast if not making sourdough) to the bowl and use a wooden spoon to mix until a shaggy dough forms. There shouldn’t be any visible streaks of flour and the dough will be sticky.
Cover the bowl with a plate, board, or tea towel, and set it into a room temperature, draft free place for 12-15 hours. I usually keep my dough in the oven with the door closed. You may need slightly less time if your starter is very active. The dough is finished the bulk proof when it’s approximately doubled in size.
Once the dough as risen, place it into a well greased or parchment lined bread tin. It will lose volume here, that’s perfectly normal. Cover the loaf with a tea towel and set it into a draft-free place to rise again for a couple of hours. The dough should be expanded but not quite doubled after this time.
Preheat the oven, then bake the loaf for about 45 minutes, or until the bread sounds hollow when it’s tapped. The colour is harder to gauge because the loaf is so dark, but the outer crust should be quite hard and crisp (it’s difficult to over-bake this bread).
Cool the bread completely – at least six hours, preferably overnight – before slicing and serving. It keeps well, wrapped in a tea towel, for about a week.
Tips and Notes
Like most darker whole grain breads and sourdough loaves, this one needs to rest for a significant amount of time before slicing. The recipe states to let it cool completely – that may mean several hours or even overnight. If you want really nice clean slices I recommend letting the baked loaf sit overnight in a tea towel before slicing the following day.
If you want to make this into a boule, you’ll have to introduce some stretches and folds. I recommend 4 rounds, starting directly after mixing. After the dough has risen overnight, shape it as you usually would and place it into a banneton. Bake in a dutch oven 30 minutes covered and 15-20 uncovered, at 230C (450F).
The dark colour and traditional dark rye flavour here come from the whole grain flours and cocoa powder. It’s not quite a German black bread, which I grew up with, but this style of rye bread is also very common in northern Germany (where I lived) and Scandinavia. If you feel that the cocoa will make it too bitter – though that is kind of the point – you can leave it out, no problem.
And as usual, make sure you’re using 100% cocoa powder, not hot cocoa drink powder. There shouldn’t be anything like sugar or milk powder in it, that’d make for a very strange tasting bread.
See the recipe card notes for instructions on how to make this into a sourdough loaf. The step-by-step photos show the sourdough method because the video shows it made with yeast, so in the interest of maximum information, I wanted to include both.
If you don’t have spelt flour, all-purpose makes an excellent substitution. Whole wheat flour can be used as well, but you’ll have to reduce the flour slightly or increase the water a bit to make up for the greater absorption.
Dried fruit, seeds, and nuts can be added to the dough as well. I recommend mixing it in after the bulk rise (overnight) before placing the dough into the tin to rise a second time. Raisins, dried cranberries, and sunflower seeds are my favourite additions.
The oats can be left out if you prefer – I often omit them – though it is better to increase the amount of flour used by a couple spoonfuls in this case as the oats do absorb a fair amount of water. You can also top the loaf with seeds, which makes for a very pretty gift.
More Wholesome Bread Recipes
- 500ml (2 cups) room temperature water
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup or honey
- 450 grams (3 cups) whole spelt flour
- 150 grams (1 cup) rye flour
- 60 grams (1/2 cup) rolled oats
- 25 grams (1/4 cup) cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon dry yeast** or 100g active starter, see notes
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the water, maple syrup, and active starter or fresh yeast if using that option.
- Add the spelt, rye, oats, cocoa, and salt to the bowl. Add the dry yeast to the dry ingredients as well if that's what you're using. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine, mixing until no visible streaks remain.
- Cover the bowl with a lid, cutting board, or tea towel and let it sit for 12-15 hours at room temperature. It will at least double in size during this time.
- In the morning, grease* a 30 cm / 12 inch bread pan or line it with paper. Scrape the dough into the pan, and then press it down evenly (wet hands work well).
- Cover the dough with a clean dish towel. Let it rest again for 1-2 hours at room temperature.
- Heat the oven to 200C (400F). Once the oven is hot, place the bread on a middle rack and bake for 40-45 minutes. The crust will be hard and sound hollow when tapped once the bread is done baking.
- Remove it from the oven and place the pan on a metal rack to cool for 20-30 minutes before removing it from the pan to cool completely. The loaf will keep well for a week at room temperature, best stored in a cloth bag.
• To make this bread with a sourdough starter, simply stir in 100 grams (1/2 cup) of your active starter into the water to replace the commercial yeast. Follow the other directions as written. This is my standard now when making this bread and the results are virtually identical. You will get a more sour flavour and a more noticeable oven spring using a starter. Do not use both yeast and starter, it's one or the other.
* If you grease the pan, it might seem like your bread is stuck to it. Don't worry, it's likely that just the very top of the loaf is sticking slightly to the very top of the pan (where it might not have been greased) and all you have to do is gently lift with your fingers or a butterknife. The bread should pop out of the pan easily if you pull the sides slightly and tap on the bottom.
** If you'd like to use fresh yeast, you'll need a piece about the size of a pea.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 195Total Fat: 2gUnsaturated Fat: 1gSodium: 270mgCarbohydrates: 40gFiber: 7gSugar: 5gProtein: 8g
This data is provided by a calculator and is a rough estimation of the nutritional information in this recipe.
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This post was originally shared in October 2016. It has been updated with additional step by step photos and improvements to the text as of August 2020.