In this post, I’ll teach you how to make the rye sponge, work the 100% rye dough, shape the rye boule and how to bake the bread. Baking Finnish rye sourdough is worth your while. And I don’t mean only because it’s absolutely delicious, but also because you learn how to take care of your rye starter in the simplest way. I have 3 starters in my kitchen these days, and maintaining the rye starter is the easiest from the all.
This specific 100% rye sourdough recipe 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 current rye starters in Finland date back to the 1800s. Making the “hapanleipä” has not changed much over the years and this bread is a true classic to know.
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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 it in a tin. And as always with sourdough, patience is the key.
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 flavours 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.
Choosing rye flour in the US
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.
Choosing rye flour in the UK
Look for wholegrain rye from millers. I’ve noticed that Shipton Mill is a trusted flour source among bakers. To point out another organic option, Doves Farm sells 2 X 1Kg bag of wholegrain organic rye flour*, which is just the perfect amount to start your rye baking adventure.
In addition to the dark rye, you can substitute some of the flour with medium rye (for example *Organic medium rye flour 1kg from Naked tree). Finely milled light rye can be used in moderation in 100% rye loaf but it’s a better addition to gluten-based sourdough loaves (and making Karelian pies here in Finland :)).
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.
My wooden baking bucket is 9 liters in size. It’s made of pinewood like in the old days. Conveniently, it maintains my updated dry starter now and I soak it every time I start to bake rye bread. This pail has so many great qualities in rye baking 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 28-30C / 86F during winter)
- 10-12 g sea salt
Making the rye starter / raski / sponge / leaven
You prepare your very own rye starter so give your normal wheat-based sourdough starter a free day off. All of the rye starter is used in baking and it’s part of the recipe, no discard. I guess you could refer to this starter porridge (raski in Finnish) as sponge or leaven.
I have a step by a step blog post about making the rye starter, click here. I’ve also linked this link at the end of the post so you can visit it after reading this recipe first.
The rye starter ingredients are included in the recipe total
Okay, the simple calculations to understand how the 700g flour and 0,6litre water is divided between the starter porridge/sponge/leaven and the actual final dough.
I use 3 x 60g dark rye flour and 3 x 100ml warm water to build the rye starter. So in total, I reduce 180g flour out of the given total of 700g in the recipe. This leaves me the rest of the flour (700-180 = 520g) for dough building. The 300 ml water is used for the rye starter, and the last 300ml added into the dough on the day of baking.
To summarize, you basically use a portion of the flour and water to build a runny starter porridge. And to make 100% rye bread, you need to make this rye starter porridge/sponge every time as you would build fresh leaven from your mother starter for your wheat-based loaf.
Depending on your dark rye flour, you may require a little less or a little more water when making the sponge and the dough. Consistency and fermentation of the dough are the keys to success, you will learn your way when you get to know your rye flour better.
The hydration ratios before the shaping stage
- The starter/sponge makes approximately ~37% of the final dough (does not include the flour in the shaping stage)
- The starter sponge / raski is 166% in hydration
- The final dough is 86% in hydration (does not include the amount of extra rye flour you use during shaping)
Making the sponge / raski
In a bowl, add 100ml 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 feedings a couple of times adding 60 grams more flour and 100 ml of water each time.
The consistency of the sponge reminds you of runny porridge. It’s important to remember to whisk air into the NEW rye starter multiple times. If you haven’t made a rye starter or sponge before, please check this post: the photos and steps in this blog post give you a good reference for this easy process.
Keeping an eye on the temperature is useful especially during winter. You can use warmer water up to 30°C/ 86°F). 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 porridge/raski is ready, measure the rest of the ingredients, and build the dough. Whisk water into the starter porridge and add more rye flour little by little. When the dough is too heavy to be mixed with a whisk, let the dough rest for a while so that the rye flour will set. Then, add more rye flour and continue mixing with a wooden spoon. Give the dough another pause.
Finally, add the rest of the flour with salt but don’t forget to take a piece of unsalted dough aside. Instructions and purpose of this small piece of dough 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 cross 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 specifics of 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/the loaves rise for an hour. Preheat the oven to 225-240°C/437-460°F with a baking stone at least 45min in advance.
Into the oven
The surface of the bread now shows crackling and the pyramid like boule shape has flattened. 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 crackling and a rather flattened dome but the crumb should not be overly 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 to 200°C/392°F. Smaller loaves bake in 40 minutes whereas a bigger loaf can take over an hour depending on the oven. I usually bake my loaves in 45-50 minutes with the current oven we have.
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.
If you haven’t used rye flour before in bread baking, the Fresh Loaf has good info on different types of rye 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 a 25-Pounds sack. In the UK, Doves Farm has 2 X 1Kg bags of wholegrain organic rye flour*. 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 five years mostly on a weekly basis. The best feedback I got already with my first loaf when our neighbour, 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 shared with you is kept at our country home. It’s never washed with soap or too hot water & I 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 the rye starter is more often in the fridge in the dough form.
Useful resources to 100% rye sourdough baking
The traditional rye sourdough recipe adopted from the book: Oksanen Aili, Harmio Liisi (2004) Maija keittää. Jyväskylä: Gummerus Kirjapaino Oy. 18. Edition.