The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Real Finnish 100% sourdough rye bread

ludwiks's picture

Real Finnish 100% sourdough rye bread

There is a lot of writings about rye bread. In my opinion real one comes from Finland where I often live and learned to bake it. Finns are particularly crazy about 100% rye bread: it contains coarse rye flour, salt and water, starter and sometimes some store bought yeast. In my experience the flour is most crucial: it should be coarse and whole grain. Scientific approach as often described by obsessive technicians (as opposed to bakers) is really unnecessary. The proper recipe comes with experience. Thus, the measures below are approximate. I developed a very good recipe in Finland, but when I came back to USA I had to redo it to adapt to local ingredients. In any case, the version described below passed the most stringent test: by my Finnish wife, who now must have this bread every day.  In fact, we do not buy bread at all nor bring it from Finland anymore (we used to bring a year's supply and freeze it). In following recipe I use exclusively coarse, whole grain rye flour: Hodgson Mill is excellent.

1. Make starter:

a. half cup of coarse rye flour and similar weight of water (I use room temperature boiled water to get rid of excess chlorine). Mix, put in a glass container and tightly cover (1 quart jar with screw top is fine). Keep in room temperature or better in a warm place.

b. feed it: add 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.

c. After a week or so it is ready. If you do not use it, store in refrigerator, and feed it as above once every week. After feeding you may keep it for a while in 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.

2. Make sponge.

Mix together about 1 cup, more of less of starter (remember to replenish your starter jar gradually), flour and water. I use about 2 cups flour and same amount by weight of water.  It will be a dense, shaggy, sticky mass. Put in bowl and tightly cover. Next morning it will become much looser, bubbly and acidic smelling. Keep it for 1-3 days in warm place (not hot), depending how intensely sour bread you like.

3. Make dough.

a. dump the sponge from the bowl (do not scrape it clean, so the residue will jump start next batch) into mixing bowl. Add another half to one cup of starter. Add flour - another cup will result in one large loaf (the total used will be 3 cups). Add water-no more than same amount as flour by weight, but add gradually, so the dough will be sticky and soft and manageable. Add some salt and about 2 teaspoons of dry yeast. I also add about one third (more or less) of gluten to get better body. Mix for about 10 min. on low in a mixer (or by hand). You may also try to omit yeast-the bread may be quite good but denser. Cover and wait about 10-20 min.

4. Final proofing.

dump the dough on well-floured counter and using a scraper fold it a couple of times on itself. Finally form a log not bigger than your baking pan. Put it in the pan (best sprayed with PAM and lined with baking parchment paper). You can also bake it free-form, round, but it will not raise up, but spread horizontally forming a rather low loaf. Cover with plastic sheet and keep 1-2 hours in a warm place (I use oven with oven light on).

5. Baking.

Preheat oven to 450 F and on lower shelf put a pan with hot water. Bake about 10-15 min, then lower temperature to 375 F 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. Cool completely on a rack (best overnight). You can eat it then or keep for a day or two in a plastic bag and start eating then.

6. Eating and storage.

The bread will mature over several days and the taste will change and improve. Slice it  thinly (about 1/4 inch) with a heavy, sharp knife, very carefully since it will be hard and the knife can slip and cut you (it happened to me). Note: this bread is not intended to have a crunchy, thick crust like a French baguette. Store in a closed plastic bag. Mine kept 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.

Bon appetit.





pmccool's picture

A couple of clarifications, please:

1. "some salt" - a teaspoon?  1-2% of flour weight?  Other?

2. "I also add about one third (more or less) of gluten" - 1/3 cup?  Something else?

Like I said, it sounds very good.  Do you have a picture to share?  You note that the bread is more dense without the added yeast.  I wonder how it would be if the gluten were also left out?


ludwiks's picture

Thank you for such quick comment. As I mentioned in my first posting it is impossible to be exact in all measurements and get exactly same results. I give only the range of measurements or times or temparatures and then you zero-in on what works best for you, considering variables such as humidity and nature of ingredients and the real temperature of the oven (the one you set is notoriously inaccurate), as well as your taste. I would start from low values and increase the amounts depending on the results.

The one-third of gluten referred to a one-third cup.

My previous routine was to use only the starter. On the first try I took rye flour, 4 cups (for one medium sized loaf) and added half of that by volume (2 cups) water and about 1 tsp salt. I covered the bowl and waited: to begin with 1 day and then each time a day more. The last try was 4 days. I did not add gluten since I did not have it (I was then in Finland and stores did not carry it). Also, the flour was rather fine, since I could not get coarse one. After that time I dumped the dough and formed the loaf. Sometimes it was too loose so I had to add more flour.  Some dough remained sticking to the sides of the bowl and it worked as a starter for the next batch. As the result the successive trials resulted in more and more sour dough. At the end I settled on 3 days wait, but the bread was much too sour for my taste althought my Finnish wife liked it so I sticked with it. Now she (and I) like the less sour bread made as I described in my initial message.As the movie says-"Some like it hot".


Good luck

joanne914's picture

Where could I get an old starter in the Seattle area? A friend of mine has a daughter who is just learning to cook and I wanted to start her with making bread.

Sarirap's picture

If you still want it Ed wood has a site where he sends out starter. I am in seattle Ann's have one that works well that weare ourselves with the kids. I will share but it is a great homeschool project to make it from scratch. Email me if you like at

Evelyn B's picture
Evelyn B

Hi, has a good sourdough starter if you haven't found one. This starter has been active for over 250 years. I have successfully been maintaining this starter for several years, and use it regularly. Although the feeding instructions call for AP flour, I'm sure it would adapt to coarse rye flour nicely.

Happy baking!

parlyle's picture

I am 1/2 Finn on my dads side of the family. My mom and my aunt used to make a flat free form white Finn bread that was to die for. I don't have any receipe, and both relatives are passed on now and I didn't get any from them before. Do any of you have some idea of what I am looking for?

My m0m used to make a 5 grain free form loaf we use to have with boiled dinner too. I don't have that receipe either. Both my parents were from the Iron Range area of Minnesota. Dad from Embarrass, and my mom from Eveleth (Leonides, originally).

Good reading. I will have to try the receipe for your loaf.

alhyyt's picture

I began my starter last Monday. On day 2 it was bubbling like mad, so I transferred it to a larger jar. After feeding it again with about equal parts rye flour and water it ceased bubbling. Should I be worried and start again, or is it alright? It's sure starting to smell sourdough-y :) Kiitos!!

dabrownman's picture

activity are dying off since they cannot stand the low pH acid environment being created.  The less frisky good wee beasties,that can stand high acid, are now starting to take over.  What you have is completely normal.  By day 4 all will be well.

zsofia's picture

I'm super excited to try this recipe, but in the first batch I started two days ago, the sponge got moldy and I threw it away this morning. I wanted to leave it for 2 or 3 days (you say 1 to 3 days) for maximum sourness. I had it in the kitchen, which is not very warm at all—between 64 and around 70 degrees. Do you have any idea why it got moldy? I covered it with a kitchen towel. Should I have covered it with plastic wrap instead? If I only leave the sponge for a single night, the kitchen towel is okay, right? That's what I've done in the past with other recipes. Thanks, in advance, for any advice you may have.