Finnish Rye bread

Is there anything more Finnish, than sourdough rye bread?  I do not think so. There is a lot of writings, about rye bread. In my opinion, real one comes from Finland, where I come from. Finns are particularly crazy about 100% rye bread: it contains coarse rye flour, salt and water, starter and sometimes some store-bought yeast. It is a bread, that takes time to make, but believe me, it is worth of all the trouble. Results quite unique from the taste, and when you use your homemade starter, again and again, the taste of the bread will just improve! Some of the sourdough starter is hundreds of years old.They have been passed in the family as an heirloom.


In my experience the flour is most crucial: it should be coarse and whole grain. Black rye flour is the best. Scientific approach as often described by obsessive technicians (as opposed to bakers) is really unnecessary. The proper recipe comes with experience. So, do not get desperate or be disappointed,  if your bread does not look anything like mine, after the first time of baking it. I have been doing this bread now, about half a year, and finally, I have it as I want it.

I got my mother dough as a gift from our Summerhouse neighbor in Finland. Old, wonderful lady, Sirkka gave it to me. As far as she knows the starter is at least 300 years old and came as a wedding gift from a farm called Uusi-Rauva which is situated in Mouhijärvi, Southern Finland. She has been baking this bread in wood heated oven her whole life! She also gave me the instructions how to do this. The original recipe is from Rural Women’s Advisory Organisation.

I have killed the started once, (Sirkka will kill me when she finds this out 🙂 ) but managed to bring it back to life with a piece of a old bread, that I had as left over, and the starter recipe. For this, you need to soak the dry bread in water and proceed the same way as when you make the starter from the scratch.

I am using flour from Der Backprofi. I tried several rye flours but till now this has been working the best.


The dough recipe as the whole is:

  • 1,5l warm water
  • 2 dl starter
  • 2-3 kg good quality organic whole wheat black rye flour
  • 3-4 teaspoons of salt
  • (you might want to add little yeast, completely optional but will result having “lighter bread” from consistency)

Sounds simple and it really is. A just little bit time-consuming. Proper slow cooking 🙂 So let’s start working. If you do not have a starter, you can make it yourself. This is how it is done:

Make the starter:

  • 3 tablespoons coarse rye flour, preferably organic, and 3 tablespoons water (I use room temperature boiled water to get rid of excess chlorine). Mix, put in a glass container and tightly cover. Keep at room temperature or better in a warm place. Floor heated bathroom is a good place for this 😀 I use switched off baking oven.
  • Feed it: add a similar amount of flour and water, once a day or every two days. You will see that it sort of foams eventually and bubbles: it is OK. If it stays flat: start again or cheat.Add just little bit yeast, thumbnail size piece is enough 😉
  • After 4-7 days it is ready. Longer you let it ferment, stronger the taste will be!  If you do not use it, store in the refrigerator, and feed it as above once every week. After feeding you may keep it for a while in a warm place until it revives-foams again. If the jar gets too full, discard some. If you use some, re-start building it up, as above. Alternatively, you can freeze your starter or dry it.



After you have your starter ready, you can start to prepare to make the sponge and the dough. This process will take at least two days.


Make sponge

  • 1,5l lukewarm water
  • 2 dl sourdough starter
  • about 1 kg good quality dark rye flour, whole grain (I prefer Organic)
  1. Mix together the starter, flour, and water. I use about 1 kg flour and same amount by weight of water.  It will be a dense, shaggy, sticky mass.
  2. Put in a bowl and tightly cover. Next morning it will become much looser, bubbly and acidic smelling. Keep it for 1-3 days in a warm place (not hot), depending on how intensely sour bread you like. It should now have a strong sour, fermented aroma. Mix the sponge with wooden spoon time to time.This helps the fermentation process.


You will get from this dough: 4 loafs or about 30 small pieces of bread or 5-6 round bread with the hole in the middle.The total amount flour used, will be about 2 kg.  It is hard to estimate the exact amount needed because it depends on the quality of your flour being used. Rye takes the water in slowly, so be careful not to add too much flour. Your dough should be from consistency quite soft!

And now let’s start baking.

1.Make dough

  • Dump the sponge from the bowl (do not scrape it clean so the residue will jump start next batch) into mixing bowl, (or alternatively take about 2 dl from the dough as starter. Store the starter in the fridge, freeze it or dry it.)
  • Add the second kilo of the flour. Add salt (and about 2 teaspoons of dry yeast).In a heavy-duty mixer, knead at medium speed for 30 minutes (yes, 30). Scrape down the bowl as needed. The dough will be VERY sticky. You might need to add more water.
  • You may also try to omit yeast-the bread may be quite good but denser. Cover the bowl with a wet towel (rye dries fast and forms a stone hard crust) and wait about 10-20 min.

2. Final proofing and forming the bread

There are several different forms, that you can bake this bread into. The most traditional is a flat circle, that has a hole in the middle. The hole is because the bread was stored in old times in wooden sticks in the ceiling.


Another form is a loaf.I use proofing baskets for the loafs but to proof then on a baking sheet works as well as too. I just noticed that the bread, in general, rises better in a wooden basket when the dough gets enough air.Third is small bread, that is really handy as snack or sandwich bread.

However you proof your bread , take care that they are covered properly with a wet towel or plastic wrap to hinder the dough to dry. And keep them warm. Longer you let them rise better the end result will be!

This is one hella messy, sticky dough. Keeping your hands wet is critical, otherwise, it sticks to you like glue! I have a separate bowl of cold water next to me when I form the bread.

  • Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface. Then wet your hands, shape the dough into a ball and place in a large, floured bowl. Sprinkle the top of the dough ball with additional flour until it looks dry. Cover and set aside in a warm place to rise for approximately 90 minutes.Cover with wet towel.
  • Line two baking sheets with parchment then sprinkle heavily with rye flour.
  • Transfer the dough to a floured working surface and dividintoin 5-6 pieces. Transfer the round to one of the parchment lined baking sheets. Wet your hands and shape each half into a flattened round about 20-25cm in diameter, rewetting your hands as needed to keep the dough from sticking.
  • Poke a hole in the middle of each round bread,I use a small cup, and enlarge it to about 2 inches wide.
  • With wet hands, smooth the top of each round, then using a fork, poke holes evenly all over the round, then dust with a generous sprinkling of rye flour.Finally cover with plastic sheet or wet linen towel, and keep 1-2 hours in a warm place (I use oven with oven light on).
    • Or alternatively, you can make small breads. Make a ball. Place it on baking sheet and flatten it. With a fork poke the little breds couple of time.Finally cover with plastic sheet or wet linen towel, and keep 1-2 hours in a warm place (I use oven with oven light on).
    • If you make loafs, just divide the dough in four. Take your proofing baskets, dust them with the flour and dump the dough in! Smooth the surface and cover with plastic wrap or wet towel. If you do not have proofing baskets use normal kitchen bowls but line the first with baking paper.Otherwise you will never get the bread out from the bowl. This will also make transferring the bread into the pot easier, if you are using the cast iron pot method as your baking method.Finally cover with plastic sheet or wet linen towel, and keep 1-2 hours in a warm place (I use oven with oven light on).img_1565

    3. Baking.

    I am using two different methods to bake this bread:

    Method 1. Conventional oven and tray

    • Preheat oven to 250 c and on lower shelf put a pan with hot water. Bake about 10-15 min, then lower temperature to 225 c and best cover the bread loosely with aluminum foil.
    • Bake another 45-60 min. Take bread out of the pan (that’s how parchment helps) and check if knocking on bottom produces a hollow sound. If it does not, return loaf (without pan) to oven for another 5-10 min. Small breads take about 20-25 min to be ready.
    • Bread will be hard when it comes out from the oven .Cool completely on a rack (best overnight) wrapped in towel.I use the same moist linen towel that I have used for proofing . You can eat it then or keep for a day or two in a plastic bag and start eating then.

    Method 2. Pot bread


    • Put your pot into the oven. Heat the oven to 225 c. Pot has to be hot before you put your bread in it. I usually heat my pot about 20 minutes before starting to bake the bread.
    •  Remove your cast iron pot from the oven, dump the bread in the pot. (You can use sheet of baking paper under the bred. This will make it easier for you to lift the bread out later to check if it is done.) Put the lid on.
    • Put the pot back into the oven, set the timer, and at 30 minutes remove the lid. Turn the oven down to 200c and bake a further 30 minutes.
    • Take bread out of the pot (that’s how baking paper helps) and check if knocking on bottom produces a hollow sound. If it does not, return loaf (without pot) to oven for another 5-10 min.
    • Remove the pot/bread from the oven, and let it cool a little. Usually removing the bread requires a knife to be slipped around the edge of the pot to loosen the bread. Turn the pot upside down and remove the bread. Keep wrapped in moist towel to cool down.

    Underbaking will give you a gummy, gluey loaf; overbaking, one that’s dry and burned.

    Eating and storage

    The bread will mature over several days and the taste will change and improve. Slice it  thinly with a heavy, sharp knife, very carefully since it will be hard and the knife can slip and cut you. Use real butter,oh yeah!! Have a glass of cold milk and enjoy ❤

    Rye bread also  freezes really well. I usually make small bread and freeze them in batches. When you  take them from freezer you just toast them and the taste is like freshly baked rye bread!

    Note: this bread is not intended to have a crunchy, thick crust like a French baguette. Store in a closed plastic bag. The bread keeps very well up to 2 weeks (by then we ate it all and a new batch was baked).Remember that this bread has a lot of fiber and it may influence your digestive system to the better.




    5 Comments Add yours

    1. Anonymous says:

      “Is there anything more Finnish, than sourdough rye bread?” —> Mämmi ? 😉


      1. Hannele says:

        Absolutely, if you like it! I don’t 😉


    2. Olli says:

      Not sure where you live, but Finnish Deli in Thunder Bay, ON, Canada can source “real” rye flour. The flour does make “real” rye bread using cast iron pot method. Not sure if flour can be shipped to US.


      1. Hannele says:

        Olli, I live in Austria. Austrians use rye flour,but the milling is not the same, as in Finland. Actually Austrians sell lots of rye to Finland 😊The flour is usually milled without the corn husk,resulting into light and very fine flour. When baking with this type of flour, result will be light colored bread. Still really yummy but.. Till now, one of my friends has been milling the rye grains into type of the flour that I need. That’s why I were really happy to find Der Backprofi. Der Backprofi has three different kind of Rye flours available. I am using black rye and whole wheat flours mixed. The very fine one, I use mixed with whole wheat, for making Karelian Pies. I am very sure that what ever good quality organic rye flour you have available, will give you excellent baking result.


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