Finnish Rye Bread

Finnish rye bread is dense and dark and sour, and as biased as I am, I must say it’s easily my favorite bread in the whole world. I always used to think that it’s hard to make, but as it turns out the process isn’t complicated at all – you just need to know what you’re aiming at. Finnish rye bread shouldn’t involve much more than three ingrdients: rye flour, salt, and water, and apart from those all it takes is a sourdough starter and a bit of time and patience. Some say the starter should only have rye flour and water as ingredients, but I used a few slices of stale rye bread to speed up the process and that worked beautifully. Of course, the best bread to be used in a starter is Finnish rye bread that only has those three ingredients: rye flour, salt, and water – I used a very sour organic rye bread from the Samsara bakery that we like a lot.


There’s great regional variation in Finnish rye breads, and big emotions are involved when people start to explain why the baking should be done in a certain way. No one in my family used to bake rye bread, so this recipe is a combination of many I found online and in cookbooks – mainly one great little book called Suomen maakuntaleivät (Finnish Regional Breads) by a Finnish celebrity cook from the eighties, Jaakko Kolmonen. I checked it out form the library, but he also now has his own website, where you can buy copies of all his cookbooks that are still in print. The banner picture with him smiling and hugging a cute little piglet does creep me out a little bit, but his bread book is quite amazing – it’s filled with a variety of regional recipes, and the author has travelled around the country, interviewing and observing bakers in their own homes.

The Rye Sourdough Starter:

  • 3 slices of good Finnish rye bread
  • 10 dl luke warm water
  • about 500 grams or 8 dl rye flour (medium)

I cut the crust off the bread, and crumbled the insides into the water. Then I let them dilute, added the flour, and stirred it in. I covered the bowl with some plastic wrap and poked a few air vents in the plastic.

Now I let the starter sit in a warm place, in room temperature, for about 22 hours. I whisked it briskly every now and then, maybe about five times all and all, and covered again after each time. It was all bubbly and foamy when it was ready, and smelled a bit sour and sweet.

The starter can be developed further for up to another 24 hours, which would most likely make it even more sour. The traditional way is to leave some dough on the sides of the wooden mixing bowl, let it dry, and just add the water and flour in the bowl to wake up the starter when needed. Some food scientists say only freshly milled flour works in a sourdough starter, but I just used what we had in the cupboard and it worked fine. Now if Finnish rye bread isn’t available, I don’t see why any kind of sourdough starter wouldn’t do just as well.

The Bread:

  • about 1 kg or 16 dl rye flour (medium)
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 dl warm water
  • the rye sourdough starter

When the starter was ready I mixed it with the salt and the warm water, and then kneaded in the flour a little by little. I kneaded until the dough was still soft but seemed workable. Rye flour isn’t very glutinous and the dough is bound to remain sticky, but that’s how it should be – the coarser the flour, the softer the dough, as Onerva Niilola explained in Kolmonen’s book. I reserved a piece of the dough about the size of my fist and froze it to be used as a starter the next time I bake rye bread.

Now I let the dough rise in a warm place for 4 hours, in two separate bowls that were covered with clean kitchen towels, until it had just about doubled in size. Then I divided the dough in three equal portions and lightly kneaded them a few times with floured hands until slightly firmer to the touch. I shaped the pieces into three round loaves with well floured hands on a well floured working surface and let them rise, covered with kitchen towels, for about 2 hours more until the surface started to crack. These round loaves are called limppu in Finnish.

Before baking the breads I made a few slits on the surface of the bread, but this isn’t traditional – the breads are usually just poked with the spikes of a fork here and there. I just think the slits are pretty, and I like how they offer a peek inside the bread.

I baked one bread at a time, in 200 degrees Celsius for 50 to 60 minutes, until the crust had browned and the bread sounded hollow when tapped on the bottom. Then I wrapped them tightly in kitchen towels and let the crusts soften overnight. The bread should be moist but well baked in the center, and it’s at its best a few days after baking. We store our rye bread in paper bags – with time it dries a bit and is easier to slice thinly.


  1. Posted June 8, 2009 at 21:07 | Permalink

    That is a gorgeous shot. The bread looks great!

  2. Posted June 9, 2009 at 04:43 | Permalink

    wow, look how pretty! i love making bread.

  3. Posted June 9, 2009 at 08:16 | Permalink

    Your bread looks lovely!

    I’m definitely going to try out this recipe – once I get a handle on the whole sourdough starter thing, that is (there aren’t any Finnish rye breads around here).

  4. Posted June 9, 2009 at 14:58 | Permalink

    I could hug you! That kind of bread is one of my favourites. We have similar versions in Germany. As soon as I’ve converted my wheat starter into rye I am going to make this.

  5. Posted June 10, 2009 at 21:45 | Permalink

    That is one beautiful loaf of bread!

  6. Snufkin
    Posted July 28, 2009 at 22:56 | Permalink

    That looks delish! I love rye bread and look forward to trying it once in Finland! (Coming in August for holiday.) Very pleased to know there is traditional bread that’s also vegan. I don’t have much hope for finding vegan pulla, though . . .

  7. Posted July 31, 2009 at 23:10 | Permalink

    Whoa what a gorgeous Limppu you have baked there! I used do bake a lot of sourdough rye bread once upon a time, and I must tell you this is awesome considering you just made you starter and all! I used to have a starter that originated somewhere in Arkangel a hundred years ago, but these days I can’t keep it alive. Luckily it has a few sisters among my friends.. A good tip with a rye Limppu is that after you have taken it out from the oven, to wrap in a wool blanket and let it wait till the following day before cutting it.

  8. Polly
    Posted August 10, 2009 at 21:59 | Permalink

    Wow! This is awesome! I think in the starter you can use hapankorppu (those thin rye crisp things) if you can’t find Finnish rye bread, a Finnish friend of mine uses that.
    Slashing the dough before baking is good, makes it rise more. Have you thought of spraying the dough with water before putting in the oven? If you bake it at a higher temperature the first 10 mins and then turn it down, it helps the bread rise better. You can also put a roasting tin with boiling water in the bottom of the oven. Just a few general bread making tips, let me know how it works out if you decide to try them :D
    Kiitos paljon reseptistä!

  9. Graham
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 19:02 | Permalink


    Thanks for sharing this knowledge. Using a started nabbed from a good, sour and dark rye baked here in Glasgow, I made three pretty little limpppu that also tasted very yummy!

  10. Nico
    Posted January 7, 2010 at 17:20 | Permalink

    this bread is marvellous, I’m really in love with it.

    Please, can you tell me what flour you used? I do 100% rye bread every week and it never came out so dark, unless I cook it enveloped in aluminum.


  11. Anni
    Posted January 10, 2010 at 13:53 | Permalink

    Nico – the flour I use is just called rye flour in Finnish, I usually get it in our organic delivery, straight from the farm in a brown paper bag. But it is whole rye flour, so maybe that might be why the bread comes out darker than yours? Finnish rye bread always has a very dark crust, but I’m sorry I don’t really know enough about baking or flours to explain why. I hope this helps at least a little bit!

  12. Posted March 28, 2010 at 22:13 | Permalink

    you are doing a great service to society… thank you

  13. Kari
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 04:40 | Permalink

    We have a Finnish AFS Student this year who is missing her Finnish Bread. I am going to make this bread and bring it to our next Orientation :-)

  14. Mindi
    Posted October 16, 2010 at 03:56 | Permalink

    My husband just came back from Finland gushing about this bread! I want to make it but I have no bread pieces to use as the starter. Do you have an alternate recipe for the starter without the bread even if it takes longer?

  15. Dottie
    Posted November 4, 2010 at 01:18 | Permalink

    I seem to have misplaced a very favorite recepie for Finnish- Molassas Oatmeal Bread…
    does anyone have it??

  16. Posted December 22, 2010 at 08:41 | Permalink

    So glad to find this recipe!! My husband is from Finland & there are no Finnish style rye breads in the states. It’s our favorite bread. I’ve been looking for ages to find the best recipe for this bread. You are the best! Now I know where to come to find wonderful recipes.

  17. Pete Kosel
    Posted March 30, 2011 at 23:30 | Permalink

    The recipe says
    * about 1 kg or 16 dl rye flour (medium)
    * 1 tablespoon sea salt
    * 1 dl warm water
    * the rye sourdough starter
    And the starter has 500 g flour and 10 dl water.

    That seems to mean the starter is very wet and the final dough contains a total of 1100 g water and 1500 g of rye flour. Is this correct?

  18. Anni
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 09:22 | Permalink

    Pete Kosel – the starter is wet, kind of like a thick pancake batter. And the measurements you commented on seem to match exactly the ones I wrote in the recipe. I hope this helps, I’m not sure what the confusion was!

  19. doro
    Posted May 4, 2011 at 21:42 | Permalink

    hi, if i dont use bread in the starter, do i need to use yeast? im guessing no?

  20. Kathleen
    Posted March 5, 2012 at 20:12 | Permalink

    Thank you for the directions to this page. I now see the errors I made, but the bread is still very tasty. I did not let it rise the length recommended and I have not been stirring my sourdough mix as much as told to do here. Learning new things everyday. This is an excellent bread.

  21. Posted July 16, 2013 at 22:44 | Permalink

    175267 479262I appreciate you taking the time to talk about them with people. 785738

  22. anna
    Posted December 11, 2013 at 02:16 | Permalink

    Depuis longtemps j’ai cherché cette recette pour faire les petits pains de Finlande assez plats ,ovales avec des trous faites avec la fourchette- je pense que c’est la même pâte.Ils sont très bons – la pâte est très foncée.J’ai un levain de seigle assez vieux- puis-je l’utiliser comme démarreur? Il est à 100% d’hydratation.Combien il faut prendre pour 500gr de farine et 10dl d’eau.Pour avoir un pain très foncé il faut une farine de seigle très complète.

  23. Justin
    Posted February 17, 2014 at 22:39 | Permalink

    Hello Anni,

    This Finnish rye looks absolutely delicious and I am thinking about trying it out! I have plenty of sourdough and was wondering, do you happen to know the all-together amount of sourdough you incorporated into the final recipe?

    Thank you!


  24. Posted October 18, 2014 at 05:23 | Permalink

    I don’t know if you check the comments here or not anymore, but if you do–thank you for this recipe! I’ve been living in Finland (actually, in Kallio, near Karhupuisto!) for a while but I’m back in the U.S. visiting my family and I’ve been craving good Finnish rye bread. Especially on chilly autumn mornings. Since we don’t have it here I was thinking I’d use a sourdough starter, but someone mentioned in the comments that hapankorppuja would work too, and I can get something similar here. Kiitos!

  25. Heikki
    Posted November 21, 2014 at 11:16 | Permalink

    Hi Caitlin, we do check the comments every now and then. =) Thanks for the comment and good luck with the bread baking!

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