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 texture & it takes approximately 24 hours to get one ready. 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 to make the bread, no need to discard.
Checklist for ingredients & tools to make rye starter
- 180g organic rye flour + 3dl room temperature water
- a medium sized (wide) bowl + a whisk
- tea towel + plate to cover the bowl
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 couple of time 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 extra whisking 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 little sour, full and a bit sweet.
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 the rye starter?
You just made a new starter so there’s no point of wasting the efforts. In stead 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 bread 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 in room temperature a day before when making rye sourdough again. The dough starter is to be used within a week or two when kept airtight container in the 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 upside down in a cool place.
You can mimic this age old method by spreading a thin layer of the bubbly starter with your spatula on a plate and then drying it in room temperature. Alternatively, you can leave the dough dry in the bowl in which you prepared the starter (like I have done here) and scraping it when fully dry. The dry starter is kept in airtight container & dissolved into water and fed when baking rye sourdough again.
I recommend keeping and baking with the rye starter as it will build complexity, strength and more flavor by time. This article shows a nice variety of rye sourdough shapes whilst talking about the rye traditions in Finland.
Useful tips when making the starter
- don’t forget to whisk air into the starter porridge multiple times
- use a wide ceramic or wooden dish which keeps the temperature steady
- 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 – 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.