There was one thing I missed like crazy when I was living abroad – ruisleipä, rye bread. You get in in different shapes and sizes in Finnish shops, and often it’s not exactly 100% rye bread. One of the most popular Finnish “rye bread” brands has wheat and potato flakes in it, and only 72% of the grains is rye. Don’t get me wrong, I love fresh bread whatever the percentage, but I’ve now discovered how easy it is to make 100% rye bread that only has a few ingredients in it.

A few weeks ago, I attended a rye bread course, ruisleipäkurssi on a farm called Varpulan luomutila in Sipoo, about 30 min drive from the centre of Helsinki. The story of the farm is charming – apparently, the couple running it bought the house “by accident”. It’s the most idyllic and photogenic corner of the area, with some lovely, funny people living in it. It was dark when we got there so I didn’t get a good photo of the beautiful, old, red house which was brought to Sipoo from the other side of Finland in smaller bits when the owners bought it in 2002. You can see some pictures and read about the renovation project on their website:

Riitta, our instructor, made baking rye bread seem simple but like art at the same time. For some reason, I had always thought that rye bread required a secret recipe, special equipment or magic powers because whenever people talk about homemade rye bread, it’s made out to be this unattainable luxury and a tradition that’s dying out. Now that I know there’s no magic trick, I’m wondering why I haven’t tried it before!

Here are some photos of our evening with Riitta and 12 other enthusiastic bakers…

Finnish rye bread dough
Taikina oli vielä löysää tässä kohdassa. The dough was still runny at this point.


Opin uuden sanan, I learned a new word:
–> härkin
– the wooden tool that is used to knead the dough

vaivata (verb type 4) – to knead – preesens, the present tense
minä vaivaan
sinä vaivaat
hän vaivaa
me vaivaamme
te vaivaatte
he vaivaavat

imperfekti – the past simple
minä vaivasin
sinä vaivasit
hän vaivasi
me vaivaamme
te vaivaatte

taikina – dough

leipoa – to bake – preesens, the present tense
minä leivon – I bake
sinä leivot – you bake
hän leipoo – he/she bakes
me leivomme – we bake
te leivotte – you bake
he leipovat – they bake

leipoa – imperfekti – the past simple
minä leivoin
sinä leivoit
hän leipoi
me leivoimme
te leivoitte
he leipoivat

Making Finnish rye bread
Taikinaa täytyy vaivata puisella härkkimellä.
Making Finnish rye bread
Riitta näyttää meille, kuinka taikinaa muotoillaan. Riitta shows us how the dough is shaped.

Reiät tehtiin shottilaseilla.

reikä – a hole
reiät – the holes
tehtiin – were made
shottilasi – a shot glass
shottilaseilla – with shot glasses

This part was challenging because the dough was super sticky. Each of us spent about 5 minutes scrubbing the dough off our hands by the sink afterwards!

And this is what the bread looked like just before the oven…

Reikäleipiä rivissä!

reikäleipä – rye bread with a hole in the middle
leipä – bread
rivi – row

The bread was in the oven for about 45 minutes. While we waited, Riitta served us coffee, organic strawberry juice and, of course, rye bread.

Tämä tyyppi halusi vähän omaa rauhaa. This fella wanted some peace and quiet.

45 minuttia myöhemmin…
Reikäleivät olivat valmiita!

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Traditional sourdough rye bread recipe by Riitta Rantanen

This recipe is for 4-5 flat round loaves (reikäleipä in Finnish, with a hole in the middle) or 2-3 round (limppu in Finnish – thicker, with no hole in the middle) loaves.

  • ca. ½ to 1dl     frozen or dried rye sourdough starter

  • 2 litres             cold or lukewarm water (not hot!)

  • ca. 3kg            rye flour

  • 1,5 – 2 tbs        salt

Day 1

Pour the water into a large wooden/steel/plastic/ceramic/glass dish/bowl/saucepan.

Mix in 4 dl of rye flour and the dried or frozen starter. Don’t defrost the starter in the microwave! It’ll thaw on its own in a baking dish in an hour or two.

Stir the water-starter-flour-mix, cover the dish with a cloth and let the starter dissolve into the water. Let it stand in its dish until the next day. The fermentation process has started even though you can’t see it in any way at this stage. Keep stirring the mix every now and then, if possible.

Day 2

After about 24 hours, add the salt and 1 litre of flour into the mix. The dough will become gruel-like. Mix the runny dough until it’s smooth.

Let the mix stand for another 24 hours. Stir it every now and then, if possible – it will help the fermentation process.

(1 l rye flour ≈ 700 g; 500 ml flour ≈ 350 g; 1 dl flour ≈ 70 g)

Day 3: Leavening and baking

Mix in some flour until the dough becomes like thick gruel. Let it rise for an hour. Finally, knead the dough whilst adding so much flour that it becomes firm and bouncy but not hard. If you’re making loaves, the dough can be made a little bit firmer. For flat loaves with holes in the middle or smaller “button” rolls, the dough may be softer. Make sure that you don’t leave any lumps of flour (“flour pockets”) in the dough. If the dough ends up being too firm, knead in some lukewarm water.

Cover your hands with flour and smooth out the dough so that it’s pressed against the edges of the dish. If you want, you can draw a cross on the surface – this will help you keep an eye on the dough and see if it has risen.

Cover the dish with a cloth and let the dough rise for about ½ -1 hour. Place a baking sheet on an oven tray and sprinkle some rye flour on it. Take a lump of dough the size of a couple of fists and shape it into a ball. Place the ball on the baking sheet and pat and press it into a flat 2 cm disc.

Use a drinking glass or some other mould to make a hole in the middle of the disc. Use a knife or a pastry wheel to carefully cut a few stripes on the surface to divide the bread into “sector” pieces. You can either make traditional “reikäleipä”, loaves that have a hole in the middle, or you can use your imagination and decorate the bread with various cookie cutters or other kitchen utensils.

If you want to make smaller rye roll “buttons”, you can shape the dough into a bar and cut it into 3 cm pieces. Pat the pieces into flat elliptical, circular or square-shaped rolls. Roll the bigger loaves (that have no holes in the middle, limppu) into flat cones – they will form loaves as they rise. It’s a good idea to stick holes in both the “hole loaves” and the normal round loaves with a fork before putting them in the oven. Cover the bread with a cloth and let it double its volume (about 45 min).

Don’t forget to take 1 or 2 handfuls of dough and dry or freeze it – this way, you’ll have a starter for your future baking sessions!


You can bake the bread

  • in a regular electric oven in 200°C for 40 to 45 min

  • in a fan-assisted oven in 200°C for 30 to 35 min

  • in a traditional baking oven. After 15 min, switch the loaves’ places, bringing the ones in the back of the baking oven to the front and the front ones to the back. Keep them in the oven for another 10-20 min.

The bread is done when you tap on the bottom of the loaf and it makes a hollow, “cloppy” sound and when the upper crust feels firm when you press it lightly. If you don’t think the bread is ready, put it back in the oven for another 4 to 7 min. The little rye buttons will be ready about 5 min before the bigger loaves. When you take the bread out of the oven, cover it with a cloth straight away to avoid them getting too hard.

Remember that the dough for the thicker loaves (those with no hole in the middle) should be slightly firmer than for the flatter loaves with the hole, and they will need 5 to 10 min longer in the oven, too.

Happy baking!

Recipe: Riitta Rantanen, Varpulan Luomutila – (Varpula Organic Farm)

FIN-ENG translation: Emmi Seppälä /

More information about the Varpula farm: