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Why Try Rye Flour? For Chocolate Rye Cake!

Hey Casey, what’s up with all the rye flour being used in baked goods these days?

OK, no one has actually asked me this question. It’s something I’ve asked myself recently, as it’s a trend I’ve seen with increasing frequency while sifting through scads and scads of food writing online.

(Yeah, I probably read a lot more food-related content than the average bear. But it’s all so I can pass the knowledge on to you, dear readers.)

malted chocolate rye cake
Photo: Casey Barber

Baking with whole grains is nothing new, of course: flours made from barley, oats, spelt, kamut, and more have been finding their way into baked goods more regularly over the past decade.

Rye flour in particular has been used in traditional Scandinavian desserts like 101 Cookbooks’ version of Swedish rye cookies.

Rye bread itself is used in rupjmaizes kārtojums, a Latvian trifle-style dessert that layers pumpernickel crumbs with fruit and whipped cream.

But lately, it feels like rye flour is stepping out in a new way, with a flurry of rye-infused goodies making the rounds in cookbooks and on the internet.

malted chocolate rye cake
Photo: Casey Barber

Irvin Lin at Eat the Love did a double-take on Tartine Bakery’s salted chocolate-rye cookies (his cookies feature rye whiskey in the dough, naughty guy).

Whole-Grain Mornings author Megan Gordon has been going to town with rye flour as well, baking up rye hazelnut brownies and chocolate-rye muffins.

I know what you’re asking: what is rye flour anyway?

The plant itself, like barley and wheat, is part of the grass family, but it’s the grain portion of all these grasses that we humans use for milling, baking, and—yep!—making rye whiskey.

rye flour
Photo: Casey Barber

Depending on how much of the whole grain is removed during the milling process, you’ll end up with a different variety of rye flour.

Rye Flour Varieties

  • Dark rye, or pumpernickel, retains all the bran and the germ, giving it the darkest color and strongest flavor when baked.
  • Medium rye doesn’t have the germ but keeps some of the bran; this is the stuff that makes the classic rye bread you’ll find holding Reuben sandwiches together.
  • Light or white rye has been stripped of both the bran and germ; it’s the rye equivalent of white whole wheat flour, giving you the taste without the deep color and dense texture.

Note that rye flour is not gluten-free, and its protein structure makes it trickier to bake bread with than regular wheat flour.

According to PJ Hamel of King Arthur Flour, “rye is higher in protein than wheat, but its protein isn’t the gluten-forming kind.”

This means that rye flour doesn’t create the crucial elastic strands that help yeast breads and baked goods rise and keep their shape.

malted chocolate rye cake
Photo: Casey Barber

And this is why you’ll always see a wheat flour included as an ingredient for rye breads; it’s there, literally, for support!

For cookies and cakes, which don’t rely on yeast or kneading to bring out the gluten in flour, this isn’t so much of a problem.

In fact, it’s kind of nice, because rye flour’s unique protein-and-starch combination imparts a moist and almost fudgey crumb to baked goods.

And because it’s got a higher percentage of natural sugars than whole wheat flour, the bittersweet taste of rye pairs really well with comparable flavors like semisweet chocolate, candied citrus, and molasses-sweetened desserts.

In the recipe that follows, I’ve tested the waters by pairing rye flour with another funky baked good favorite: malted milk powder.

The two team up to make a curiously tasty cake; it’s got hints of bitterness, a slight tang, and a delicate but dense brownie-ish texture.

malted chocolate rye cake

Paired with over-the-top frosting—Baked‘s famous whipped caramel chocolate ganache—the savory undertones of the cake meet their match.

Rye flour isn’t a flavor for everyone’s palate, but it’s a fun (and healthful!) ingredient to experiment with.

Try substituting it for half the regular all-purpose flour in your favorite baked good recipes and see what you think of this new take on a classic whole grain.

malted chocolate rye cake

Malted Chocolate Rye Cake

Yield: 12 servings
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 15 minutes

Malted chocolate rye cake uses rye flour and malted milk powder for a grown-up dessert: slightly bitter but curiously tasty.

Ingredients

Cake

  • baking spray
  • 1 1/2 cups (180 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (90 grams) medium rye flour
  • 1/2 cup (70 grams) malted milk powder
  • 1/2 cup (42 grams) cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup organic canola oil
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick; 113 grams) room-temperature unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs

Malted Chocolate Crunchies

  • 1/4 cup (30 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (21 grams) dry milk powder
  • 2 tablespoons (11 grams) cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon malted milk powder
  • 1 tablespoon confectioner's sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Frosting

  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1/2 cup room-temperature heavy cream
  • 8 ounces (227 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks; 227 grams) room-temperature unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes

Instructions

Make the cake:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spritz 2 9-inch round cake pans with baking spray and line with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk the all-purpose and rye flours, malted milk powder, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  3. Whisk the milk and canola oil together in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup and set aside.
  4. With an electric hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed for 3-4 minutes.
  5. Reduce the speed to low and add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is fully incorporated before adding the next.
  6. Add a third of the reserved flour mixture, stirring just until incorporated, then add half the milk-and-oil mixture. Repeat with another third of the flour, the remaining liquid, and finally the remaining flour.
  7. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and bake for 40-45 minutes, until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean.
  8. Let the cakes cool in their pans on two wire racks for 15 minutes.
  9. Slide a knife or spatula around the perimeter of each cake and carefully invert the pans to remove the cakes.
  10. Allow the cakes to cool completely before frosting.

Make the crunchies:

  1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F and line a small baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Whisk the flour, dry milk powder, cocoa powder, malted milk powder, confectioner's sugar, and cornstarch together in a small bowl.
  3. Stir in the melted butter until small, sandy, clumpy crumbs form.
  4. Spread the crumbs onto the parchment paper. Bake for 15 minutes until toasty.
  5. Cool completely.

Make the frosting:

  1. Add the sugar, corn syrup, and 2 tablespoons water to a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the liquid comes to a boil.
  3. Continue to cook without stirring until the sugar syrup darkens from clear to deep amber. Timing will vary based on your pan, but can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat. Carefully whisk in the cream—the caramel will steam and spatter as the two liquids combine.
  5. Return the pan to very low heat if the cream has caused the caramel to seize, and stir until smooth.
  6. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate until melted.
  7. Transfer the caramel to the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
  8. Beat on low speed for 6-7 minutes until the caramel has cooled to lukewarm.
  9. Increase the speed to medium and add the butter 1 cube at a time, beating until the butter is fully incorporated and the frosting is thick and fluffy. It will change from a loose ganache-style texture to a light and fluffy frosting by the time you're halfway through adding the butter, so go slow and be patient!

Assemble the cake:

  1. Place 1 layer of cake on a serving platter or cake stand.
  2. Top with a healthy scoop of frosting and spread to the edges with an offset spatula.
  3. Sprinkle the crunchies over the frosting, spreading evenly to the edges.
  4. On one side of the second cake layer, spread a very thin layer of frosting. Imagine you're adding a thin layer of peanut butter to toast—this is just to adhere the crunchies to the cake.
  5. Place the second cake layer on the crunchies, frosted side down.
  6. Frost the top and sides of the cake.
  7. Refrigerate for 2 hours, if desired, before slicing and serving.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 481Total Fat: 37gSaturated Fat: 20gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 15gCholesterol: 144mgSodium: 396mgCarbohydrates: 30gFiber: 2gSugar: 7gProtein: 7g

The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.

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6 Comments

  1. Loved learning more about rye flour and this cakes sounds amazing! I’ve never really thought to use rye outside the traditional bread application. This decadent cake seems like something I MUST try. Ya know, for science.

    1. Joan, there’s still half a batch of frosting left in our fridge if you’re feeling bake-y next week…

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