Hapanleipä – Finnish Sour Rye Bread

by Paukku.

“Here is bread, which strengthens man’s heart, and therefore is called the staff of Life.”
–Matthew Henry

I like baking bread. Of all the cooking and baking I do, the making of bread is the most joyous and gives me the most satisfaction.

Bread is one of the oldest prepared foods, going back at least 30,000 years. The making of bread involves community and society and family. In many cultures bread has a significance beyond simple nutrition, and often denotes something necessary and valuable. It is an interesting fact that the word companion comes from the Latin com- “with” + panis “bread”.

In Finland, bread is very important and is served at almost every meal. And Finnish bread is a treat. So much more falvourful and full of texture than what Americans commonly think of as bread, the abundance and variety of bread found there can be overwhelming. As I noted previously, it is on my Top Ten Finland List. The most popular (ubiquitous) bread in Finland is ruisleipä (rye bread). It is very different from what most Americans think of rye breads (like German style rye bread) as it lacks the greasy/moist texture.

When I was on exchange in Finland, one of my host mothers made a type of ruisleipä traditional in western Finland, hapanleipä (sour bread). It is one of my most vivid memories of Finland, watching Aira take the sticky rye dough and forming it into round, flat loaves with a hole in the center.

Ruisleipä, or even a close approximation, is hard to come by in the desert southwest. And Finding traditional hapanleipä is impossible. Happily, I love making it and over the years have become pretty good at it.

When you make this bread you need to plan ahead. It takes two days for the dough to sour.

Ingredients: Hapanleipä

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


In a large bowl dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add two cups rye flour and beat to make a smooth mixture. Sprinkle the top of the dough with one cup rye flour.

Cover tightly and let stand in a warm place for 24 hours. It will ferment and sour.

On day two, add two cups of the rye flour, stir, and let stand another 24 hours. The dough will now have a sour aroma.

Stir in the salt and final amount of flour, but do not exceed nine cups. It is very important to not put in too much flour. This dough is unlike most bread doughs people are used to as it needs to remain very moist, almost drop cookie-dough moist.

Knead (in a heavy-duty mixer if you have one) for 30 minutes. The dough should be very sticky.

Using wet hands, shape dough into a ball and place in the bowl again. Sprinkle with enough additional flour to make the top of the dough dry.

Let rise about one and 1/2 hours in a warm place.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board and divide into two parts. Cover two baking sheets with baking parchment (or lightly grease them) and coat the sheets with dark rye flour.

Shape each half into a round loaf about eight inches in diameter. Make a hole in the center of each loaf and carefully pull the hole until it is about two inches in diameter. With hands dipped in water, smooth out the edges and top of each loaf.

Using a fork, poke holes in the tops of the loves, making the distribution of holes as even as you can.

Brush loaves generously with water and sprinkle with a generous coating of rye flour.

Place the loaves in a warm place until they have flattened out, spread apart, and the tops start to crackle a little.

Place a large, deep pan (like a casserole dish or a jelly roll pan) on the bottom rack of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Fill the pan with boiling water and bake the loaves for one hour or until firm.

This is the hardest step, especially if you have not baked with dark rye before. Without experience, it is easy to misjudge when the bread has baked as they already start out a dark brown colour. Baked not long enough and the center will be unbaked and gooey. Baked too long and the bottoms will burn.

Wrap baked loaves in towels to soften. As tempting as it is, it is best not to cut these loaves right away. They actually slice best the day after they are baked. I very rarely make it that long.

This makes two respectable sized loaves.

The loaves will keep refrigerated for several months. They also freeze well. This bread rarely goes bad and I have never seen it mildew, but it will dry out. Finns claim that this is good for your teeth.

This bread is good for you. It is higher in fiber than many common types of bread and has a remarkably strong flavor. It can be eaten plain with a meal, or topped with cheese, cold cuts, or smoked fish.


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