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. This is a typical north German rye bread, dark and slightly sour.
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.
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.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
- Whole grain spelt flour: 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.
- Rye flour: sometimes called dark rye flour, this should be whole grain rye, though light (sifted) rye flour can also be used.
- Rolled oats: 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.
- Cocoa powder: 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.
- Yeast (dry or fresh) or active sourdough starter: traditional yeast (not quick rise) is ideal, but it doesn’t make that much of a difference. Active starter can be any starter made with a gluten-containing flour – rye, plain flour, spelt, and so on. There’s a recipe in my cookbook for rye sourdough starter.
- Add-ins: 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. You can also top the loaf with seeds, which makes for a very pretty gift.
Step by Step
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.
1. Add wet ingredients: add the water, maple syrup, and active starter to a large bowl. The starter should float. If using fresh yeast, add it now.
2. Mix: whisk to combine well.
3. Add dry ingredients: stir in the flours, oats, cocoa, and salt. Add the dry yeast now if using that method and stir into a shaggy dough.
4. Rise: cover with a plate, board, or tea towel, and set it into a room temperature, draft free place for about 12 hours.
5. Transfer: once the dough as risen, place it into a well greased or parchment lined bread tin. It will lose volume here.
6. Rise: 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.
7. Bake: bake the loaf for about 45 minutes, or until the bread sounds hollow when it’s tapped.
8. Cool and serve: cool the bread completely – at least six hours, preferably overnight – before slicing and serving.
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 well floured banneton. Bake in a dutch oven 30 minutes covered and another 15-20 minutes uncovered, at 230°C (450°F).
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 (though it is hard to find in Gothenburg). 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.
How to Store
Storage: the bread keeps well, wrapped in a tea towel, for about a week. The crust will harden slightly but the middle will still be fresh. You can also use a bread bin or sealed container, but I don’t recommend storing this in a plastic bag.
Freezing: this loaf freezes spectacularly, and I highly recommend having some in the freezer at all times. Freeze the whole loaf or pre-slice and take out individual pieces to toast, but either way it’s well worth freezing some in an airtight container.
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- Choose a good draft-free spot: I usually keep my dough in the oven with the door closed, no light needed, for the initial prove.
- Keep an eye on the dough the first time: 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.
- Don’t worry about overdoing it: the colour is harder to gauge because the loaf is so dark, but the outer crust should be quite hard and crisp when finished (it’s difficult to over-bake this bread).
- Serve with strong toppings: this is excellent with mirabelle jam, for example, something quite tart. We often have it with peanut butter but a sharp cheese is certainly more traditional.
- Refrigerate after shaping: if doing the sourdough method, it’s no problem to refrigerate the loaf for a few hours before baking. I recommend letting it rise at room temperature for an hour or so before refrigerating for the best results.
More Wholesome Bread Recipes
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Easy Overnight Dark Rye Bread
- 500 ml room temperature water
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup or honey
- 450 grams whole spelt flour
- 150 grams rye flour
- 60 grams rolled oats
- 25 grams cocoa powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
- ¼ 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 200°C (400°F). 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.
* For American cup measurements, please click the pink link text above the ingredient list that says ‘American’.
Nutrition is provided as a courtesy and is an estimate. If this information is important to you, please have it verified independently.
This post was originally shared in October 2016. It has been updated most recently as of January 2023 with no changes to the recipe.