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Finnish Rye Sourdough | Recipe

by Saara

This specific 100% rye sourdough originates to a 1940s Finnish cookbook Maija keittää which would simply translate “Mary cooks”. The book is a relic & the recipes whisper stories from an era when butter was washed. Baking rye sourdough is a much older tradition, though. I think the oldest rye starters in Finland date back to the 1800s.

Disclaimer: the post includes affiliate links, meaning that I get a commission if you choose to make a purchase through the given links. Read full disclosure here.

Back in the day baking rye bread was family or group affair. The wood-fired oven was hot all day & kitchen full of loaves. I’ve scaled down the recipe from 3,5 kg flour to 700g flour. Now you can either make one huge rye loaf or 2 smaller ones instead of overcrowding all your kitchen table tops with bread. 

The rye sourdough recipe is easy but I must give a fair warning that shaping the bread is a skill you learn over time. On the other hand, you can shape the dough in whatever way you fancy or bake in a tin. And as always with sourdough, patience is the key. Here’s a FAQ post about baking 100% wholegrain rye sourdough, it’s worth checking if rye is a new grain in your kitchen.

Ingredients and tools to bake 100% rye sourdough

For baking rye sourdough you will need few simple things:

  • coarse wholegrain rye flour, water, salt
  • a medium bowl and a whisk to make the starter + sponge
  • a bigger bowl and wooden spoon to mix the dough
  • kitchen towels, fork or a grilling stick
  • baking stone (preferred) and a bread peel

When choosing the rye flour, go for dark rye flour. It’s sandy and rather coarse, preferably stoneground. I usually use three types of rye flour to build flavors but you can start with the coarse type of flour. If you have any hesitations about the rye flour, DM me on Instagram or leave a comment below, I’m happy to help.

Many who have baked this bread in the US have used Bob’s Red Mill Organic Rye* as a combination with another type of rye flour from some other brand. Also, Great River Organic Milling has organic stone ground medium-dark rye Flour* and it’s available in 25-Pounds sack. Do share in the comments if you have a good rye brand you would like to recommend to others.

100 percent real rye sourdough

Taikinatiinu – what is that?

Before the recipe, I must first tell you a bit about that wooden item right up there. Have you seen one before? As a cultural history-driven person I’m always curious to study and experience techniques how things were used to be baked and cooked. Since rye sourdough is such a cornerstone of my everyday life, I decided that there has to be extra space in our kitchen for an old taikinatiinu ie. a traditional wooden bucket or pail designed for rye sourdough baking alone.

Sadly the old pails are a) very hard to find b) too expensive and c) often in too damaged condition or re-used improperly so that they’re not fit for baking anymore. So last I gave up the dream of having an old usable taikinatiinu and bought myself a new model. It’s 9 liters in size and made of pinewood like in the old days. It maintains my dry starter now and this pail has so many great qualities that I’m gonna give it a post of its own someday. But now the recipe!

Rye Sourdough Recipe | Hapanleipä

  • 700 g rye flour (+extra for dusting & shaping)
  • 0,6 liters water (lukewarm up to 28C)
  • 10-12 g sea salt

Making the rye starter / raski

You prepare your very own rye starter (included in the total weight of the ingredients) so give your normal wheat-based sourdough a free day off. All of the rye starter is used in baking.

I have a step by a step blog post about making the rye starter, click here. I use 3x60g to build the rye starter. So in total, I reduce 180g flour out of the given total of 700g in the recipe. All of the new rye starter is used in baking. The starter makes approximately 26% of the final dough and the rest of the flour (700-180 = 520g) and water (3dl) are added on the day of baking.

Basically, you use a portion of the flour and water to build a runny starter porridge. In a bowl, add (luke)warm water into 60 grams of flour and whisk vigorously. Cover the starter with a kitchen towel and let it rest in a warm spot. Repeat this couple of times adding 60 grams more flour and 1dl of water each time, this is enough so that the consistency reminds you of runny porridge. Remember to whisk air into the rye starter multiple times. The photos and steps given in this post give you a good reference for this easy process.

Keeping an eye on the temperature is useful especially during winter – warmer and runnier starter results in rounder sourdough taste thanks to lactic acid bacteria whereas colder starter will have more vinegary notes. If you like the latter profile more, it’s okay to let the starter bubble another day with longer waiting times in between the feeding.

Working the rye dough

When the starter/raski is ready, measure the rest of the ingredients and build the dough. Whisk water into the starter porridge and little by little add more rye flour. When the dough is too heavy to be mixed with a whisk, let the dough rest for a while so that the flour will set. Add more flour and continue mixing with a wooden spoon. Give it another pause.

Finally, add the rest of the flour with salt but don’t forget to take a piece of unsalted dough. Instructions and purpose of this small dough piece is explained in below caption.

Take two small spoonfuls of dough aside before adding salt. You can use this piece of dough as a starter if you make rye sourdough again within a week or two. Keep the starter piece in an airtight container in the fridge, stays fresh up to 2 weeks.

Knead the wet dough carefully and patiently by hand (5-8 minutes will do).  Give the dough 2-4 hours at room temperature to build volume. The dough should double its size before shaping & baking.

The old fashioned way is to press a cross over the dough to bless the bread. This sign also communicates when the dough has risen enough.

Shaping 100% rye sourdough

Dust your working surface properly with rye flour & start thinking about shapes: a rectangle, a ball, and a pyramid. Shaping the wet dough is a challenge and you should be quick.

Decide whether you bake 1 or 2 loaves and dust one or two more spots on the working surface where you place the shaped bread to rise (dusted parchment paper as a good assistant to load a loaf into the oven).

Now to the shaping!

Firstly, try to build a rectangle by rolling the dough against the surface. The dough becomes denser but the purpose is not to use too much flour when working on the dough. You do not want any floury surprises inside your loaf so keep your dough moving. Add little flour and tap your hands in flour often.

In the second stage, build the ball shape. With your dominant hand fold the dough from the side into the middle whilst moving the ball clock-wise. The bread top (against the surface) should become smooth without any wrinkles so keep folding a couple of more rounds.

Finally, the pyramid. When folding is done, press the dough ball against the table surface with your both hands while making a fast-paced counterclockwise motion. Make a wide circular motion.

You will notice that the ball becomes a reverse pyramid when the table facing top becomes sharper in shape whereas the dough leaning against your palms stays flat.

You will also see that this pyramid process fails if you keep doing it too slow or too long. But that’s okay, you have time to repeat this. Try to find the right timing to flip the pyramid 180 degrees.

Place the bread onto the floured spot or parchment paper. Dust the bread surface lightly with rye flour, cover with a kitchen towel and let it/them rise for an hour. Preheat the oven to 225°C with a baking stone at least 45min in advance.

Into the oven

The surface of the bread now shows crackling and the shape has flattened from the pyramid. Now we want to emphasize the crackling a bit more: press the top dome down and flatten the loaf more while supporting the bread from the sides.

No scoring! The aesthetics of the Finnish rye sourdough is flattened but it’s not dense. The bread itself has a lightly open crumb with lots of tiny air bubbles.

Important! Before loading the bread into the oven,  prick the surface all over with a fork.

Bake on a stone for 40-60 minutes (lower rack). After the first 10 minutes, adjust the temperature from 225°C to 200°C.  Smaller loaves bake in 40 minutes whereas a bigger loaf can take over an hour.

You know the bread is done when the knock sounds hollow. Let the loaf rest on a cooling rack for a while (10-15 minutes) before tucking it in a kitchen towel. Let the rye sourdough rest covered and tucked in the tea towel overnight before cutting slices or freezing the loaf. The rye sourdough gets better and better when you wait.

The aesthetics of Finnish 100& rye sourdough

The aesthetics of the Finnish rye sourdough which we have baked here is a dome with a detailed crackling. The bread itself has an open crumb consisting of tiny bubbles. The taste is sour, it depends on the baker & the starter how sour it’s done. The crust is smoky and strong, something to bite into whereas the middle is soft and open.

Once baked, the baker must wait until the next day before the first bite. I know, too hard! Check the rye sourdough FAQ post to see how thin I slice my rye sourdough. I like my rye sourdough best the second and third days after the baking. We keep the loaf wrapped in a kitchen towel and it’s good for a week. I usually bake two small loaves and freeze the other one to keep it fresh.

Extra notes

If you haven’t used rye flour before in bread baking, the Fresh Loaf has good info on different types of flour available. If you use finely milled rye flour to substitute some of the flour in the recipe, add more water. 

Many who have baked this bread in the US have used Bob’s Red Mill Organic Rye* as a combination with another type of rye flour from some other brand. Also, Great River Organic Milling has organic stone ground medium-dark rye Flour* and it’s available in 25-Pounds sack. Do share in the comments if you have a good rye brand you would like to recommend to others.

I’ve been baking rye sourdough with this specific recipe for over two years mostly on a weekly basis. The best feedback I got already with my first loaf when our neighbor, well into his 70s, told me that the bread tastes like his childhood. So grateful for those words!

Sometimes it’s a fun game to find the perfect flour match. I’ve been testing coarse rye flours from different organic farmers & millers here in Finland. One of my favorite flour combos is to have wholegrain rye with smoked wholegrain rye flour with a 2:1 ratio.

The more one bakes with the same starter, the more complex the loaves build up taste-wise. The wooden pail I told you about is kept in our countryhome. It’s never washed with soap or too hot water & use it only for rye sourdough making. I’m really happy that I can keep the rye starter dry this way in the countryside whereas in the city I keep a rye dough copy in the fridge.

Have you had any experience baking 100 percent rye sourdoughs? I’m curious to know how it was different from this Finnish version and if you will try this one too 🙂

Love, Saara

The traditional rye sourdough recipe adopted from the book: Oksanen Aili, Harmio Liisi (2004) Maija keittää. Jyväskylä: Gummerus Kirjapaino Oy. 18. Edition.

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26 comments

PJW Holland 2020-10-25 - 5:10 PM

I can make neither head nor tail of the pyramid bit. Perhaps some illustrations would help!

Reply
Saara 2020-10-25 - 10:16 PM

It’s the old, traditional way of shaping the rye loaf. Here’s one example, pyramid starts 6:45
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bb_EcXWVN0&t=3s

You can also use your own method, here’s one example. Shaping starts at 2:55
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVdhx1EBl7M

The most important thing aesthetics-wise is to get the top surface smooth. Hope these links help 🙂

Reply
Jean Gong 2020-07-10 - 7:23 PM

I love your blog in generally the pictures you use. I especially am interested in trying out the Finnish Rye Sourdough recipe. Having read through your instructions, I would like to to make it in a loaf pan versus the authentic free-form shape. Would you have any guidance on bake time? Thanks!

Reply
Saara 2020-07-13 - 11:19 AM

Hi Jean! Thank you for your kindness. The Finnish 100% rye makes a great pan loaf. Line the bread pan with parchment paper. After the dough has risen, add more flour to shape it into a uniform piece (not too much flour). Place that piece into the bread pan and dust some rye flour on top. The dough is now left to rest before the bake. The bread is ready for the oven when the surface shows crackling. Pre-heat the oven slightly hotter but adjust it back to the recipe after 10 minutes. Depending on the pan size and your oven, the oven time is around 50 min.

Have fun!

Saara

Reply
Spending Time at Home – Baking Finnish Sourdough Rye Bread! – Compass heading 180° 2020-05-23 - 11:39 PM

[…] you’re interested in making your own authentic Finnish rye bread, here’s an excellent recipe in English – the link will take you to a blog called My Vintage […]

Reply
Dakota 2020-05-20 - 4:20 PM

I tried to make this bread, but the crumb is very moist and sticky after 28+ hours of letting the final bread loaves rest. My wife says the taste is right, but she won’t eat it because the inside is kind of sticky. I fed the rye sour once a day for three days and on the third night put the starter in the fridge and baked on the fourth night after leaving the sour on the counter all day. Was this a mistake? The crumb appearance, smell, and taste are all correct but it sticks to the knife and is very ‘wet’ for lack of a better word. Any advice? I’ll try this again next week as well.

Reply
Saara 2020-10-25 - 10:38 PM

Hello and sorry for the delay in my response! Yeah, the fridge part probably messed things up a bit. How did the second time go?

When schedules change, what you can do next time is that you keep feeding the raski starter in room temperature so that it doesn’t get too hungry and vinegary. You can then amp up the size of the dough in same manner, keeping the amount of starter at 26% of the final dough. Or you can use the extra amount of starter to bake another kind of sourdough bread.

Kudos to you for waiting 28+ hours before the first slice!

Reply
Norman Pieniazek 2020-05-14 - 5:37 PM

Hi Sara – what is your source of the smoked rye flour?

Reply
Saara 2020-05-28 - 2:02 PM

Hi Norman! I will link it here when I find some available online. It’s called “riihiruis” in Finnish & many producers/millers have it in their selection in Finland.

Saara

Reply
Rob 2020-05-06 - 8:22 PM

Hi Saara —

I loved the simplicity of this recipe and impulsively decided to go for it.

The finished loaves look great and the top crust and the flavor are amazing. But the interior of my loaves is like a brick. In fact, the crust puffed up perhaps 3 cm above the overly dense interior.

So I’d like some advice as to where my attempt went wrong?

I used finely ground dark rye flour — and found I had to add perhaps 30% more water than you call for to get the starter close to a porridge-like consistency. Even so, my starter was denser than yours and didn’t bubble as much. But it was active: it grew about 4 cm in the bowl the night before I baked. I also added about 30% more water when I was making the dough. Even so, manipulating it was extremely difficult because of how sticky it was. I allowed it to rise for 4 hours. It never quite doubled in size, but perhaps grew 66%. I baked the small loaves until they thumped nicely, about 60 minutes. Also, I don’t have a scale, so I converted your gram measurements to American volume measures, which I know is highly imprecise.

So: I’m asking for your thoughts. Was the problem my starter, which perhaps needed more time to develop? Was it the flour — which was perhaps too processed to work well in this recipe? Did I need to do more shaping and molding to give the starch in the dough a chance to develop? Any thoughts? I’d like to try again.

Thx!

Rob

Reply
Jyri 2020-04-30 - 3:22 AM

Kiitos Saara! A big thank you for the recipe. I’ve been meaning to bake rye bread here in Australia for a long time and your blog post gave me the confidence to give it a try. Admittedly my attempt to follow your recipe didn’t quite work as expected. My starter or leivän juuri didn’t rise my dough after 3 hours so got disheartened and impatient so I added yeast. Kneading the dough was a sticky mess but after adding some yeast it rose and was much easier to handle. I’ve never made bread before so a few hiccups was to be expected. Very happy with the result in the end. So thanks again. A couple pics of the bread I made if links are allowed https://imgur.com/l6SuoOY https://imgur.com/6WB3u7Y

Reply
Saara 2020-05-01 - 8:53 PM

Hello! Well done & thanks for sharing the photos! The crumb looks really nice and fresh. 🙂 Adding yeast is absolutely okay, traditionally it’s not added but of course one needs to save the bread. Getting the raski/juuri bubbly active requires extra patience sometimes, that’s the sourdough life. But when the starter is fed and baked with, it will get stronger & faster 🙂

Reply
Don F Savolainen 2020-04-27 - 3:03 PM

Hello. I ate sour dark rye bread in Eastern Finland at my relatives. Loved it. This recipe has no yeast and the sour is made through a natural fermentation. Your instructions are a bit vague, but I assume that making the sour is a three day process?

Reply
Saara 2020-04-27 - 3:28 PM

Hi Don! Happy to hear you love rye bread! This is a traditional method using only natural fermentation. You can check the step by step instructions for the starter part on this post.

Making a new dark rye starter is a 2-4 day process depending on your flour and temperatures. Whisking helps a lot with the activity. It’s important to bake the 100% rye with coarse wholemeal rye, I recommend blending two rye flour brands/types because the grinding varies so much globally. Making rye bread is a slow process but it makes it super healthy and tasty. 🙂

Don’t hesitate to ask if more questions arise.

Saara

Reply
100% Rye Sourdough | FAQ 2020-03-01 - 11:41 AM

[…] There are hundreds of ways to bake rye sourdough. This post deals with baking 100% rye sourdough called HAPANLEIPÄ. This is a traditional whole grain rye loaf originating from Eastern Finland. Find the recipe for Finnish Rye Sourdough here. […]

Reply
Pat Yonemura 2020-02-10 - 6:47 PM

My 100% rye sourdough bread is in the oven and I am blown away by how wonderful it smells! I’m just sitting here and breathing it in, and hoping it will taste as good as it smells in the oven. Thank you!!!

Reply
Saara 2020-02-10 - 8:18 PM

How wonderful to hear this! Remember to cover the loaf in a kitchen towel after bake & please be patient until the next day before slicing. Hope you enjoy it!

Love,
Saara

Reply
Delia Siivola 2019-12-26 - 6:57 PM

Hello Saara, and Merry Christmas! I found your recipe following a search in October and have now made it half a dozen times. My husband loves having the flavors of his motherland in our home. Thank-you for making the process so easy to follow. I especially appreciate how simple and traditional the ingredient list is. This is now a family recipe. 🙂

Reply
Saara 2019-12-30 - 10:20 PM

Thank you Delia for sharing, this warms my heart! I’m so happy you all are enjoying rye bread now 🙂

Reply
Mathew Szymczyk 2019-12-16 - 2:32 PM

Hi,
I’m looking for some advice on rye flour.
I’m trying to make Ruisleipä for my Aiti at Christmas, proper rye flour is apparently hard to come by in Perth Western Australia. Just wondering if you think the rye flour from Eden Valley will do the trick and be similar to what she remembers from Finland?
Thanks a lot

Reply
Saara 2019-12-16 - 3:12 PM

What a wonderful surprise to bake ruisleipä for your mother! Typically I combine 2-3 different kinds of rye flour in the bread-making (grind type and producer) when making 100% rye loaf. I suggest you buy at least 2 different bags of rye flour, too.

The Eden Valley rye flour seems to be stone ground which is good, it means it should be at least close to coarse. Try to get that one. I would also check organic shops & health food stores for the other one. From Finnish friends I have heard it’s quite a challenge to find rye flour in Australia, but not impossible.

In this step by step starter post, I’m using coarse rye flour. Also, here’s a detail pic form a UK producer which looks very good. I hope these help you navigate the rye flour selection in Perth. 🙂

Saara

Reply
Rye Sourdough Starter Step by Step | My Vintage Cooking 2019-09-29 - 1:41 PM

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Kathleen Rodegeb 2019-09-10 - 5:53 AM

I made this bread after first making a 100% rye starter, which took about 3 weeks to become mature. I’ll say, this was quite and experience in bread baking, nothing like any other loaves I’ve made. I wish I could post photos here to get some feedback, but my loaves (2) look pretty much like the finished loaf in your photo. But I have to admit the recipe was difficult to follow; I did my best. I really could not tell how much starter to use as it’s not in the recipe, and in building the starter, I did not see any discard when adding more flour and water … so I played it by ear. And after my dough had rested/bulk fermented until double, it was beautiful and airy but when I tried to shape it, it just became a mushy blob again, there was no kind of shaping happening no matter what. So, I basically just pushed it all together into a more or less round shape, let it proof for the final hour, and then baked. The final loaves have crispy crusts and soft crumb, but not as airy and open as in your photos. Still, while the bread was baking the house was filled with its wonderful aroma and, the very bottom line, the bread itself is delicious. I’ll try this again, but I’ll play around with the final proofing somewhat.

Reply
Saara 2019-09-29 - 2:33 PM

Thank you so much Kathleen! It warms my heart that you baked with this vintage recipe, I would love to see bread photos of yours 🙂 I’m so happy that you enjoyed the bread taste but sorry to hear that you had challenges with the recipe. But I guess it’s always a test when trying something new for the first time. Your feedback was so helpful – I’ve now added calculations to the starter section in this post and I also posted a step by step blog post with photos about making the starter, please find it here: https://myvintagecooking.com/rye-sourdough-starter-step-by-step/ I hope this encourages and supports in the baking process, let me know what you think.

Making rye sourdough the old fashioned way is really a different concept from what we now understand as general sourdough making. The starter is a runny bubbly porridge and commonly kept as a dry copy in comparison to having a pet in the fridge. Bannetons are not used, in stead this dough can be shaped in so many ways.

I will post a shaping video next year before spring but in the meanwhile I can direct you and fellow rye lovers to check these sources. Here we can see the variety of different shapes played with rye bread: https://finland.fi/life-society/the-root-of-finnish-rye-bread/ and here is a very informative video clip in Youtube about the shaping the dough to dome like in this recipe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfCLvsnKXTA. Start the video at 14.45 to check an ideal consistency when shaping and at 18.00-18.29 to see the final shaping to build the dome before proofing.

Full rye loaves are more dense due to less gluten. For this reason, rye holds less gas and the crumb has smaller bubbles. If the loaf comes up too dense, try using less flour especially in the shaping stage.

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