My husband is half Finnish so he grew up on Finnish Rye Bread, and now that we live across the country from his mom, he doesn’t get it very often. Well, he decided last week that he was going to attempt making it (I think this is really his first time baking from scratch, at least the first time I know of!) and it turned out really well!

According to my mother in law, both bread and cheese are basically a staple of everyone’s diet in Finland, and rye bread is their most common bread. This bread is flat, round, and traditionally cooked with a hole in the middle so the bread can hang on wooden poles in the ceiling. This is important because traditionally, Fins would make large batches of bread only a few times a year since it has a very long “shelf life.” This would get them through their long winters.

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(Picture source)

There are actually a lot of health benefits of rye! Rye is made of 100% whole grain and has four times the amount of fiber as wheat does. It is also very low in fat content (source, source).

Before I share the recipe, I want to add a few important tips about this bread:

  • Finnish Rye Bread is not sweet, it is a tangy sourdough bread
  • It should turn out flat and stiff. It is more of a dry bread
  • It is best served by warming it up for just a minute in the toaster (do not let it stay in too long-just enough to warm it). Traditionally it should be served with butter and a slice of cheese on top
  • Most importantly: Read the entire recipe before you begin! Although it is very easy to make, it has to sit and sour for 24 hours TWICE. So this is not going to be made in one day.

Finnish Black Bread (Hapanleipa)
This recipe makes 4 small loaves or 2 larger loaves

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3 packages active dry yeast
4 cups warm water, 105 F to 115 F
7 to 9 cups of dark rye flour
2 teaspoons salt (optional)
Additional flour for shaping

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water. Add 2 cups rye
flour and beat to make a smooth mixture. Sprinkle the top of the
dough with 1 cup of rye flour. Cover tightly and let stand in a
warm place for 24 hours.

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The second day, add 2 cups of the rye flour, stir, and let stand
24 hours more. Stir in the salt and the final amount of flour,
but do not exceed nine cups. Knead, by hand or in a heavy duty
mixer, for 30 minutes.

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The dough should be very sticky. With damp hands shape the dough into a ball and place in the bowl again.Sprinkle with just enough flour to make the top of the dough dry. Let rise 1-1/2 hours in a warm place.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board. Divide into 2 parts (we made 4 smaller loaves instead of 2). Lightly grease 2 baking sheets and cover with a thick coating of
dark rye flour.

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For a loaf with a hole in the middle, shape each half into a round
loaf about 8 inches in diameter. With a floured finger, press a
hole in the center of each loaf. Brush loaves generously with
water and sprinkle with a generous coating of rye flour. (The
reason for this shape used to be storage – the Finns would bake them
in massive quantities and store them by stacking them on poles or
hanging on ropes.) FYI: When cutting the bread in this shape, simply cut thin
wedges and then slice the wedge in half.

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For round loaves, shape each part into a ball. Roll the ball around
on a rye floured board until it resembles a huge chocolate drop with
a slightly pointed top. Place loaves on the baking sheets with
the point upwards. You may put both loaves on the same sheet if
it is large enough. Brush with water and sprinkle the tops with
more flour. The extra wetting and heavy sprinkling with flour
produces a very thick, hard crust that helps keep this loaf (if
uncut) for a long time.

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Place shaped loaves in a warm place until they have flattened out,
spread apart, and the tops appear cracked.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Bake the loaves for 1 hour or until firm. Wrap bakes loaves in
towels or waxed paper to cool.

Additional tips:

Do not try cutting this loaf until it’s cool.

The loaf does take some effort to cut as it is a stiff bread with a crusty exterior.
Just patiently work away with a bread knife. Believe me, the taste
is worth it!

It slices best on the second day after baking. Apparently you can keep this rye bread refrigerated for several months, or freeze them. Historically the Finns baked
these loaves twice a year (spring and fall), so I would guess they
have great keeping qualities.


Thanks for reading and have a great day!