hapanleipä – finnish sour rye bread #BreadBakers

Way back when I was a snotty pre-teen know-it-all who scoffed at the notion that a mere movie could scare me, I remember staying up late one night to watch The Birds on TV. Well. Not only did it make me cry but afterwards, I refused to turn the lights off at night and insisted that someone accompany me to the bathroom, just in case there were birds in there waiting to get me. Even now–decades later–a gathering of birds (a murder of crows couldn't be more apt here) has me looking over my shoulder and running for shelter because I'm convinced they're going to peck my eyes out. (It's still the scariest movie I've ever seen. This is both a testament to Hitchcock's mastery and the fact I've only seen maybe two or three scary movies since because I'm a colossal wuss.) And that's not all. Statues of weeping angels? I can't run away fast enough, making sure that I DON'T BLINK. I blame Doctor Who for that one. Creepy people lurking in mirrors? Thank you An American Werewolf in London (Jack in various stages of decay) and that damned Doctor Who again (Sister of Mine's fate). Humor me and tell me I'm not the only one who gets these irrational fears and weird ideas in my head, okay?

But what's any of this got to do with bread, you might ask, and a reasonable question it is.  Well, for the longest time, I was totally freaked out by the idea of baking and/or eating anything rye. Because…and here's a fun fact…did you know that there's a rye ergot (that's mold to us non-science nerds) that rarely, and I'm stressing RARELY so you'll know just how nuts I am, turns poisonous and causes hallucinations? Yes indeedy, the base of this ergot is lysergic acid–LSD. Eat this stuff and you'll be trippin' like a hippie at a Grateful Dead concert (in itself a fate worse than death–sorry all you Dead Heads, and you know who you are). In 1951, this is exactly what happened to the entire town of Pont-St-Esprit in France, when tainted bread caused mass hallucinations and sadly, many deaths. The story was documented in the book The Day of St. Anthony's Fire by John Grant Fuller, Jr., and it's a fascinating read. Medical mysteries, government cover-ups (WHAT? Never!)…it's a gripping story–and I really don't mean to make light of it, especially since people died. But it's not exactly a tale that would would make one want to rush out and snarf down, say, a pastrami on RYE. So ever since I read about this way back when, I've given all things rye the hairy eyeball because I was totally convinced that I'd be the one that got the funky moldy rye and I'd end up dressing in tie-dye and listening to Aoxomoxoa on an endless loop while dancing the rainbow dance around my kitchen. I would actually eat some commercial rye breads after a thorough inspection, but bake with it, at least in anything other than miniscule quantities? Nuh uh. 


There comes a time, though, when we must face our darkest fears, gather our weapons–or in this case, whisks–and soldier forth to defeat our demons. (Dramatic much?) It was with this can-do spirit that I tackled BreadBakers' January challenge–you guessed it: RYE. While I'm happy to report that there no acid trips at the House of Dough, it was still a daunting task. Rye is tricky, or rather sticky stuff to work with. You'd think that since I wasn't used to baking with it, I'd start small and simple. And you'd be wrong. Why use just a little rye when you can go 100%?  I mean, if you're gonna start trippin', at least make it a good one.

A little bit of reading told me that the Finns (and Scandinavians in general, I think) seem to excel at this rye thing.  It makes a hearty bread and one that apparently keeps almost indefinitely, which is probably a big part of its appeal up there on the frozen tundra. But danged if it doesn't taste good too. The bread I chose–hapanleipä–is made with a 100% dark rye sour that builds flavor over a two-day period, rich, deep and complex. But woo boy! Is it a @#$%! to work with. Spackle and mortar are a couple of things that come to mind. This stuff is hella sticky so keep a bucket of water handy, otherwise you may become one with the dough. 

Is it worth it? You bet. Like I said, this is a hearty, dense, stick-to-your-ribs bread with deep, strong flavor. It was fabulous just spread with salted butter, and I'd imagine it would be even better with cheese or smoked fish. It was so good, in fact, that I think I'm over my fear of rye-induced hallucinations. The birds, however, are another story.

hapanleipä– finnish sour rye bread


  • 3 packages/scant 7 tsp 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


  1. Day 1: Pour the water into a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast on top and stir well. Let sit until the yeast is dissolved and foamy, then add in two cups of rye flour. Stir until thoroughly combined, then sprinkle another cup of rye flour over the top (don't stir it in). Cover and place in a warm spot for 24 hours, after which it should have a sour aroma.
  2. Day 2: Add another 2 cups of rye flour to the sour, mix in, then cover and let rest in a warm spot for another 24 hours. It should now have a strong sour, fermented aroma.
  3. Add the salt, then add the remaining rye flour, stirring to combine. The dough should be very moist but hold together.
  4. In a heavy-duty mixer, knead at medium speed for 30 minutes (yes, 30). Scrape down the bowl as needed. The dough will be VERY sticky.
  5. Scrape the dough onto a floured work surface. Then wet your hands, shape the dough into a ball and place in a large, floured bowl. Sprinkle the top of the dough ball with additional flour until it looks dry. Cover and set aside in a warm place to rise for approximately 90 minutes.
  6. Line two baking sheets with parchment then sprinkle heavily with rye flour.
  7. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and divide in two. Transfer the round to one of the parchment lined baking sheets. Wet your hands and shape each half into a flattened round about 8 inches in diameter, rewetting your hands as needed to keep the dough from sticking.
  8. Poke a hole in the middle of each round and enlarge it to about 2 inches wide. 
  9. With wet hands, smooth the top of each round, then using a fork, poke holes evenly all over the round, then dust with a generous sprinkling of rye flour. Cover with a lint free towel and let rest in a warm place until the loaves have spread out and cracks are beginning to show in the top.
  10. While the loaves are resting, place a deep heatproof pan in the bottom of your oven and preheat to 450°F.
  11. Place the loaves in the oven and fill the pan with boiling water. Bake for approximately 60 minutes, or until the loaves are firm,  switching racks midway through. Check frequently towards the end as it's difficult to tell from the color if they're done. You should hear a tell-tale hollow thump.
  12. Remove from the oven and wrap in lint-free towels to help soften the loaves. Let cool thoroughly.

The loaves should keep for several months if refrigerated and freeze well.

Adapted from 52 Weeks of Baking


This is one hella messy, sticky dough. Keeping your hands wet is critical, otherwise it sticks to you like glue.

The original recipe is adamant about not exceeding 9 cups of flour, but by the time I reached 9–unless I seriously miscounted, which is not out of the realm of possiblity because…MATH!–I had to add more, otherwise, I would have had glop, not dough. I probably added just under a cup more in total. I say use your judgement but make sure you still have a very wet dough.

The kneading process is mega intense (I don't even want to think about doing this by hand). I'm not sure how it would fare in a standard Kitchen Aid, given the amount of time it takes and the heaviness of the dough. I wasn't willing  to risk my KA, since it's a Hobart-era model and I live in fear that something will go phloeey, so I used my trusty workhorse, the Verona Assistent. The dough was climbing out of it until I got the roller adjusted properly. Oops. It was me, not the mixer.

My holes closed up (that sounds dirty). Next time, I'll probably make them a bit wider than 2 inches.

Since this was my first time baking with 100% rye and it's tough to tell from the color if it's done, I doubled up on the sheet pans to help insulate the bottoms and keep them from burning. Underbaking will give you a gummy, gluey loaf; overbaking, one that's dry and burned. I got mine just right, Goldilocks! At least I think I did.

Not only is The Birds a scary movie classic (and way better than Psycho, in my humble opinion) but the original short story by Daphne Du Maurier kicks some serious butt too.

I'm pretty sure The Day of St. Anthony's Fire is out of print but it's available used from Amazon. Definitely worth a read.

here's what #BreadBakers were baking this month

About #BreadBakers

#BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme.  Follow our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated each month on this home page.

We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient. Thanks to Ansh at Spiceroots for holding this month's challenge!

If you are a food blogger and would like to join us, just send Stacy an email with your blog URL to foodlustpeoplelove@gmail.com.