Disclaimer: this 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.
In this blog post, I break down how to make an old fashioned rye starter. Give your other sourdough starter a day off & bake a rye loaf from scratch. These step by step instructions and photos give you a good reference on the starter maturity and type of rye flour used.
There are many ways to make rye bread & this is a classic Finnish version of rye sourdough baking (hapanleipä in Finnish). The starter is used to bake two rye loaves so if you’re planning to make just one loaf, scale the starter portions down accordingly. You are all set to bake with the 1940s rye sourdough recipe after making the rye starter.
Making the rye starter has a runny porridge-like appearance & it takes approximately 24 hours to get one ready. Minimum. Your timeline may differ from this depending on the room temperature where the starter is kept. Use my timeline as a reference. All of the starter is used to make the bread, no need to discard.
Checklist for ingredients & tools to make rye starter
- 180g organic rye flour + 300ml (1,27cups) room temperature water
- a medium-sized (wide) bowl + a whisk
- tea towel + plate to cover the bowl
Many US readers have used Bob’s Red Mill Organic Rye* flour 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. Here’s a listing of millers who are using New American Stonemills.
Do share in the comments if you have a good rye brand you would like to recommend to others. I recommend using fresh wholegrain rye, preferably stoneground.
Rye Sourdough Starter | Step by Step
DAY 1 @4PM | Mixing 60g rye flour + 1dl room temperature water. Whisk the mix into a porridge. Give the mix extra whisking a couple of times during the course of the evening. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and a plate, leave it in room temperature or a warm spot overnight.
DAY 2 @8-12AM | Whisk the starter porridge while having your morning coffee. Add another 60g rye flour + 1 dl of room temperature water into the mix before noon. Whisk the porridge couple of minutes more. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and a plate, leave it in room temperature or a warm spot.
DAY 2 @7PM | Adding 60 rye flour + 1 dl room temperature water. Whisk the porridge. Give the mix an extra whisking a couple of hours later before you go to bed. Keep the bowl covered in room temperature or a warmer spot overnight.
DAY 3 @MORNING | Ready to make the bread! The temperature my ready bubbly starter was 28°C (82,4°F) at this stage. The starter should now be full of bubbles without any extra whisking as is in the photo below. The scent is somewhat sour, full, and a bit sweet.
Check these visuals
My runny starter is now mature, what’s next?
All set to bake fiber-rich and healthy rye sourdough? You can start working on the dough by adding more flour and water but not all at once. Finnish classic rye sourdough (hapanleipä) is made only with rye flour, water, and salt. Please follow the recipe here to make your wonderful rye bread.
How do I keep a copy of the rye starter?
You just made a new starter so there’s no point in wasting the efforts. Instead of keeping and feeding a runny starter in the fridge in a glass jar, the old fashioned way is saving a piece of the actual dough before adding the salt in the final stage.
This firmer piece of dough is kept in the fridge in an airtight container. The dough piece is dissolved into water & fed with rye flour at room temperature a day or two before making rye sourdough again. The dough piece is to be used within a week or max two if kept airtight in a cold fridge.
The historical way, however, is to leave the rye dough dry in the bowl you used to make the dough. In Finland we have taikinatiinu, a wooden pail specifically used for making rye sourdough only. The dry form of rye starter is conveniently always ready in the wooden bowl which is kept dry, upside down in a cool place.
You can mimic this age-old method by spreading a thin layer of the bubbly starter on a plate and then leaving it to dry at room temperature. Alternatively, you can leave the dough dry in the bowl or the whisk which you used in baking (like I have done here). Just gently scrape the dry starter. The dry starter is kept in an airtight container & when baking rye sourdough again, just dissolve dry starter into warm water and continue feeding.
I recommend keeping a dry backup of your sourdough starter for emergencies. You can use the rye starter to bake all different kinds of bread and starter will build complexity, strength and more flavor by time when it’s used. By the way, this article shows a nice variety of rye sourdough shapes whilst talking about the rye traditions in Finland.
Useful tips when making the starter
- use fresh whole grain rye flour
- don’t forget to whisk air into the runny starter multiple times
- use a wide ceramic or wooden dish which keeps the temperature steady (beware of lead)
- if your kitchen is cold especially during winter, (≤24C, wrap a warm towel around the bowl or keep the starter in a warmer spot, e.g. a cold oven with the only the light on.
- keeping an eye on the temperature is useful especially during winter as 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.