The bread series continues with a 100 percent real rye sourdough. This specific recipe originates from a 1940s Finnish cookbook Maija keittää* which would simply translate “Mary cooks”. This book is a relic whispering stories from an era when the instructions tell you to wash the butter. Baking rye sourdough is a much older tradition, though. I think the oldest rye starters in Finland date back to the 1800s.
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.
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. And as always with sourdough, patience is the key.
Ingredients and tools
For baking rye sourdough you will need few things: a big bowl, a whisk, a wooden spoon, baking stone, and a bread peel. When choosing the rye flour, go for dark rye flour. It’s sandy and rather coarse. I 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.
Taikinatiinu – what is that?
Before the recipe, I must first tell you a bit about that wooden thing 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, cooked or done. 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 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 summer I gave up 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
- 0,6 litres water (lukewarm)
- 10-12 g sea salt
Making the RYE STARTER
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 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. 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 mix to build a runny starter. In a bowl, add lukewarm 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 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 vinegar. If you like the latter profile more, it’s okay to let the starter bubble another day with longer feeding times.
Working the dough
On the baking day, measure rest of the ingredients and build the dough. Whisk water into the starter 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 with water. Add more flour and continue mixing with a wooden spoon. Give it another pause and finally add rest of the flour with salt.
TIP! Take two 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.
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 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 for a second time (dusted parchment paper as a good assistant to load a loaf into the oven).
Firstly, 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.
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 all the time 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. 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 is 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 spots 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 takes 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 sourdough gets better and better when you wait.
The aesthetics of Finnish rye sourdough
The aesthetics of the Finnish rye sourdough is flat but the bread itself has an open crumb consisting of tiny bubbles as seen one of the photos above. Once baked, the baker must wait until the next day before the first bite. I know, too hard!
The crust is smoky and strong, something to bite into whereas the middle is soft and open. It’s important keep the dough wet so that the bread will not become too dense. I like my rye sourdough best the second and third day after the baking. We keep the loaf wrapped in a kitchen towel and it’s good for a week.
If you haven’t used rye flour before in bread baking, the Fresh Loaf has a 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.
I’ve been baking rye sourdough with this specific recipe for a half a year now almost on 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!
Lately I’ve been trying to find a new perfect flour match again since a major brand discontinued their dark rye flour. I’ve been testing coarse rye flours from different organic farmers and I’m quite happy with the one I found last week. I combine it with smoked rye flour with 2:1 ratio and I think I’m gonna stick with this combo for a while. The more one bakes with the same starter, the more complex it builds taste-wise. The wooden pail is never washed and it is used only for rye sourdough making. I’m really happy that I can keep the rye starter dry this way.
Have you had any experiences with 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! 🙂
*Oksanen Aili, Harmio Liisi (2004) Maija keittää. Jyväskylä: Gummerus Kirjapaino Oy. 18. Edition.