Finally it was cold enough so that it makes sense to warm up our baking oven. In the summer I don’t bake and that makes life a bit difficult because good organic bread is not available in the local supermarkets. Maybe one day I need to build a summer baking oven outside…

The wooden dough bucket in front of the baking oven.

So how do I start? The wooden big bucket ”taikinakiulu” I use for the rye sourdough has been on top of the baking oven since I baked the last time in May. At that time I had taken all the dough out but of course I hadn’t washed because the sourdough is in the wooden bucket and is preserved there because it dries out. Also the flour from the table with bits and pieces of dough was in the bucket under the wooden lid. So that is how I preserve the sourdough. Sourdough or the ”levain” is simply dough from the previous time you baked. In Finnish we call it ”juuri” which means root. Our rye sourdough goes back to Samsara bakery and Kuusian Leipä and to Rekola biodynamic farm bakery where my ex-wife picked it up in 1988 when we started Kuusian Leipä. Ryebread sourdoughs usually have long histories that are proudly told but of course you could make your sourdough yourself by starting from scratch – i.e. fresh organic rye flour and water. I presume you could even take a wheat bread sourdough and it will adapt to rye with time. But you need to keep your rye sourdough and wheat sourdough separate – they are different ”animals”.

So on Thursday (today is Sunday) I poured two litres of cold water from our well into the dough bucket and mixed it with the flour that was already there to get a semiliquid porridge. This is called ”raski” in Finnish. Then I put the lid on. The next day I added 1L of cold water and stone milled 1L of rye to add. On Saturday the same thing. Of course I have a look at how the raski is doing, if it is developing gas and the smell is nice and sour. Sunday morning the same thing again so then I have 5L in total. If I had decided that I don’t have time to bake today I could have continued the same for a some more days. Or I could add more or less depending on how big a dough I want to prepare. The main thing is that the dough has food and the consistency is right, i.e. pretty liquid porridge. You just keep it going until you bake. If you need to have a long break you take care that the remaining dough is as dry as possible and mixed with flour. You could even make very thin sheets of dough and dry them and preserve in a paper bag. Or you could freeze it just in case.

The baking oven is fired from the other side.

So today was baking day. All the water that you add in the dough must be added well before you finally make the dough. So previous day or if you’re baking in the afternoon you can still add some in the morning. No water is added when you make the dough! A Finnish rye bread is sour – we call it ”hapanleipä” which means sour bread. In the fermentation you are developing manly lactic acid and acetic acid. The more the balance is on acetic acid the more sour the bread tastes. That’s why I use cold water – you get more acetic acid fermentation if the temperature is lower. That’s a personal preference but I think it is more tasty like that.

So I add 15 g salt per litre water and then I add fresh rye flour from my mill. The flour I use for the raski is pretty coarse but now I turn my stone mill so I get finer flour. I mix it in with the pedal until it is right. I keep the dough as wet as is practically possible. I’ve been doing quite a lot of brick laying lately so it is roughly the same as mixing a mortar. Rye doesn’t contain any wheat gluten (rye has gluten but it is different) so you just mix- no need to knead. I think you need about 1,5-1,6 kg flour per 1 L water.

Finnish Rye Bread

  • 1,6 kg wholemeal rye flour
  • 1 L water
  • 15 g salt

I buy the rye as grain from nearby organic farmer in 25 kg paper bags. If you are reading this outside Finland I think one challenge is to find the right rye. Essentially the Finnish rye bread is an adaptation to bad quality rye. The parameter in this case is the falling number which reflects to what degree the grain has started sprouting and the enzymatic breakdown of the carbohydrates. For the dough and leavening to function as expected the falling number should be relatively low – at least not much over 100. If your falling number is too high, maybe you need to sprout part of the grains. Haven’t tried that though.

Small stone mill for fresh wholemeal flour.

We have a big insulated brick baking oven (Finnish mass oven) – I think there is more than 3000 kg of bricks. I can fit 10 loaves at a time in the oven and if I heat it right I can bake 3 times with one heating. On Friday I fired the first time so that the oven is already preheated – anyway it was the first time I fired it after spring. On Sunday at 13.00 I fired it again and at 14.30 I filled it up again. So altogether some 24 kg of firewood. I want the oven hot so that there is enough energy for the 3 baking rounds but I try not to go much over 300C° so that I don’t need to wait too long before baking. I clean the baking stones inside the oven and when the coals are black I close the chimney. Then I make the dough.

I lift some dough on the table, weigh 10 pieces just over 500 g (or 600 g for the loaves) and form them into hole breads ”reikäleipä” or round loaves ”ruislimppu” (no difference in the dough). I leave them to rise and when they are ready I put them in the oven. Again time doesn’t count – you must see when they are ready. It can take 15 to 30 minutes – if longer than that something is wrong, but what to do – you need to wait. If you put them in the oven too early the bread is too dense and if too late you get pancakes.

Then you bake them until they are baked. In a brick oven the temperature is not constant and also it is hotter in the back than in the front. If the oven is really hot (still almost 300C°) a hole bread might bake in 10-15 minutes but less than 20 min is difficult to manage so better wait for the oven to cool down. I need to move breads from the back to the front and it’s difficult if you don’t have enough time. If the oven is hot I’ll form the second batch after I put the first in the oven. Usually the 2nd batch is loaves. They’ll rise 20-30 minutes and bake maybe 45 minutes. So I have to wait before forming the 3rd batch. By that time the oven has cooled down and even a batch of hole cakes could take 1 and a half hours to bake. Today I just made 2 batches of hole cakes. Baking 3 batches requires that everything goes right so I didn’t want to risk it the first time. Which was good because I forgot to close the chimney. By the time I noticed it, the oven had cooled to 200C°. I could still manage the 2 batches but the 3rd would not have been possible.

The dough should be as wet as practically possible – like mortar.

I like my rye bread with a hard crust but you need to manage how hard it gets. There are three main points:

  • the crust dries when leavening the breads so you need to protect them with clean towels. In a home setting it is difficult to manage the air moisture content (make a leavening tent)
  • the crust forms in the oven so by adding moisture you can try to avoid too hard crust
  • the crust gets hard when the bread releases moisture right after baking when cooling down. Put the breads under a thick layer of towels. In a home setting this is the easiest way to develop a reasonable, not too hard crust.

I bake also the holes and those we usually eat fresh with butter melting on them. Rye bread is nice because it tastes always good but different depending on how old it is. You can enjoy the bread hot from the oven when the inside is still sticky and hasn’t set. After it has cooled down the next morning it is fantastic fresh rye bread. Day by day it changes and after a week it is quite different from the fresh one but the taste still develops. If you like your rye bread mature it is better to bake loaves because they don’t dry so much. Keep your rye bread in a paper bag.

First I form the round loaf and then flatten it and take the hole out with a glass. Leavening on newspapers – flour under the loafs – so that it is easy to move them on the bread shovel.

We freeze the extra bread the next morning as fresh and when we melt them again they are again fresh. Some of the bread goes to our kids or neighbours etc. To me it is more fun to bake bigger volumes.

It’s worth looking at my earlier posting about the same topic in Finnish just for the photos.

The rye hole breads fresh from the oven.

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