July 10, 2011

Finnish Sour Rye Bread

As with the Finnish apple tart I posted recently, I have no excuse for not posting a recipe for the classic Finnish sour rye bread prior to this. I always thought it was too difficult to make sour rye bread here in Australia, I wouldn't have the right type of rye flour to work with, the temperature wouldn't be right for the starter... wait, those are the excuses for not posting this recipe earlier.

When my partner and I visited Finland in December last year, my mum, granny and I baked two types of Finnish bread at granny's house. She is a 95 year old lady who is still so strong and independent, such an inspiration! During the bread baking day she was in charge of heating up her giant brick oven and baking the loaves. In the photos below you can see her cleaning the ashes with a traditional 'uuniluuta' (oven brush), and you can also see her giant timber dough bowl which is a good 100 years old, and has been used countless times.

Granny's bread has always been the most delicious bread I know and she has kept the whole family in supply of her bread for as long as I can remember. Bread baking is a family tradition, and I will definitely do my best to keep it alive.

There really is something immensely satisfying about baking bread with yeast and even more so when you make the bread with a starter. It's a long process, but there is just so much satisfaction when you finally get to take those loaves out of the oven and bite into a warm bread.  And although this recipe is not granny's, I think she'd be pretty happy with the outcome. It's a gorgeously dense bread, a real rye bread and I couldn't be happier to have a taste of Finland in my own kitchen!

Sour Rye Bread*
(makes 2-3 loaves)
(Recipe from 'Kotiruoka' book)


3-4 slices of wholegrain rye bread or 6-7 slices of Finn crisps**
1 litre warm (25C) water
1 litre (about 400g) wholegrain (dark) rye flour

* you need to start this recipe 2 days before baking. 

** 'hapankorppu' (sour rye crisp bread) is available all across Sydney (and my guess is, in Australia and worldwide) and is sold as "Finn Crisp". Look for bread that contains over 90% wholegrain rye.


25 g fresh yeast***
100ml warm water
2 teaspoons salt
approximately 1 1/2 litres (about 600g) wholegrain (dark) rye flour + extra for kneading

*** in Sydney, I buy fresh yeast from the Fourth Village providore in Mosman

1. To make the starter, pour the warm water in a large mixing bowl. Break in the Finn crisps (or bread slices) and mix in the rye flour. Stir well to combine. Cover the bowl and leave for 2 days or until the starter is clearly bubbling and smells fresh but 'sour'. For this to happen, stir the starter every now and then (a couple of times each day), and keep the bowl covered with tea towels in steady room temperature.

2. After two days, 'revitalise' the starter by adding a cupful of flour (from the whole amount of flour needed for the dough) and stirring it through. After that, leave the starter, covered, for a couple of more hours.

3. Dissolve the fresh yeast in 100 ml of warm water and add the mixture into the starter. Add in the salt, then knead the flour into the dough bit by bit until the dough starts to unstick your hand. 

4. At this point, take a piece of the dough to use as a starter for next time. Wrap the piece in plastic wrap and freeze it or store it in the fridge if you are using it again in the near future. Leave the rest of the dough to rise, covered, until doubled in size. This can take a good couple of hours or more, depending on the conditions.

5. Once the dough has risen, divide the dough into 2-3 portions and knead into loaves. You can use loaf tins or make free-form loaves, both will work just as fine. Try not to use too much rye flour, however, as this can toughen the bread. Place the loaves on a baking tray lined with baking paper, rub a bit of rye flour on each loaf, and cover the tray with a tea towel. Leave the loaves to rise for a further 30-40 minutes.

6. Preheat the oven to 200C. 

7. Prick the loaves before baking. Bake the bread in preheated oven for 45-60 minutes or until the base of the bread sound 'hollow' when tapped with fingers. Leave the loaves to cool (covered with a tea towel) on a wire rack. This bread keeps well in room temperature, but if you want to freeze it, you should only do so the following day. Serve with good butter and enjoy!