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Finnish Sourdough Rye Bread (Ruisleipää)

Grace Chang from United States

Serves
12
Preparation
Active Prep time: 15 minutes. Inactive Prep: 30 minutes to rest dough and 12-14 hours to proof dough.
Cooks in
45-55 minutes
Country of origin
Finland

I arrived in Alajärvi for a three-month art residency at the Nelimarkka Museum. The air was crisp, the ground still covered with snow.

I explored the town. When I smiled and said hello to people, they all had the same reaction. They would look away. Something I had not experienced in Helsinki, Tampere, or Jyväskylä. The supermarket had modern food items with fillers and sweeteners like in the U.S., but no hearty artisan breads.

Everything felt cold: the weather, the food, the people.

A teenage boy yelled “China!” and “Chinese!” at me from a far enough distance that he could easily run away.

People’s reactions to me sparked an idea. I had a hankering for rustic bread since I could only find soft, enriched loaves in town. I would make a traditional Finnish sourdough rye bread (ruisleipää) that you could sink your teeth into and sell it at the outdoor market in town. This would give the locals a platform to talk with me, where it would feel “safe” for them to interact. Jenni, the museum intern, found a regional cultural dress for me to wear. She told me Alajärvi was actually the most chauvinistic and xenophobic region of Finland.

Rye (ruis) has been a staple in Finnish culture since the Stone Age. According to folklore, ruis gives power to the wrists. I was hoping to harness some of this enchantment in the dense, chewy, tangy loaves I would make to connect with the locals.

As with many things in life, nothing went as planned. Imagine a Holly Hobbie play oven. I was dealing with one not much bigger, and it took all night to bake 12 loaves. The tiny oven forced me to change the shape of the traditionally round loaves to oblong. Then it turned out to be an off-week with many fewer booths at market, and few customers came by. We sold several loaves and those folks were curious, but no deep discussions emerged. The rest of the loaves sold back at the museum. On the upside, people really liked the aromatic bread I had made.

But I could not get people talking.

Ingredients

  • 400 grams (1 3/4 cups) Water
  • 70 grams (1/3 cup) Sourdough Starter (omit if making instant yeast version)
  • 1 tsp Instant Yeast (omit if making sourdough leavened version)
  • 245 grams (1 3/4 cups) Rye Flour
  • 245 grams (1 3/4 cups) Bread Flour
  • 44 grams (2 Tbsp) Molasses
  • 8 grams (1 Tbsp) Fennel Seed
  • 2 grams (1 tsp) Anise Seed
  • 3 grams (1 tsp) Caraway Seed
  • 12 grams (1 3/4 tsp) Salt
  • Zest of 1 Orange
  • Oil for plastic wrap (to prevent sticking to dough as dough rises)

Method

  • For sourdough version:
  • In a mixing bowl, mix the starter into the water. Add the molasses, all the seeds and the orange zest.
  • In a separate bowl, combine the flours and salt.
  • Gradually stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients using a dough whisk or spoon until the flour is well incorporated.
  • Cover with slightly-oiled plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.
  • After about 15 minutes, mix again for a minute or two.
  • Again let rest for 15 minutes and mix one more time.
  • Now cover the bowl with slightly-oiled plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature to proof for roughly 12-14 hours.
  • For instant yeast version:
  • The only difference for this version is that you do not use sourdough starter and instead mix the instant yeast into the dry ingredients before combining with the wet ingredients.
  • After the 12-14 hour proof:
  • Stretch and fold the dough and shape into a boule or batard (round or oblong) shape for baking.
  • Cover with slightly-oiled plastic wrap and rest 15 minutes before putting into a proofing basket for the final rise.
  • If you do not have a proofing basket, line a bowl with a well-floured kitchen towel and place the dough on the floured towel for the final rise.
  • The final rise should last somewhere between 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  • Keep the dough covered with slightly-oiled plastic to prevent it from drying out.
  • Preheat your oven to 475° F a half hour before baking.
  • Score the dough with a lame blade, razor or sharp serrated knife (to prepare the loaf for rapid expansion in the oven).
  • Bake for 45-55 minutes or until the internal temperature is approximately 200° F.
  • Let bread cool completely before eating.

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