Hapanleipä–Sour Rye Bread from Finland

For several years I was the district exchange officer for Finland in the 5950-5960 Rotary Exchange Program.  Once a year my wife and I would invite all Finnish students in our two districts to spend a weekend with us.  There were some conditions:  We would cook dinner the first night and the Saturday lunch.  I would do the breakfasts.  The students could cook whatever they wished, but they were responsible for the Saturday and Sunday dinners.

When I suggested this arrangement to the first group of students, they lamented the fact that they would not have Hapanleipä, a sour flatbread, so I offered to make it if someone could tell me how.  In a few weeks a letter arrived from a student.  He enclosed the recipe and  instructions from his mother and the helpful tip that his grandmother said that the dough “should smell really stinky.”.

INGREDIENTS:

2 Packages or 5 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups warm water, about 110º F
3 cups rye flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
Butter

PROCEDURE:

In a large bowl, dissolve 1 package or 2 1/2 teaspoons of yeast in 1 3/4 cups of warm water.  Stir in the rye flour.  Cover and let stand in a warm place until the mixture develops a good sour aroma (usually 36-48 hours).

Dissolve the rest of the yeast in the remaining 1/4 cup of warm water and add to the rye mixture.  Add salt and stir in enough bread flour to make a stiff dough.  Let the dough rest for 10 minutes, turn it out on to a lightly floured board, and knead it until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes).  The dough will be sticky to start with.  Add flour to board and lightly knead until the dough becomes easy to work with.  Place the dough in a greased bowl and turn it to have the greased side up.  Cover with a damp towel and let rise until doubled in bulk (about 2 hours).

Punch down, knead briefly  and divide the dough in half.  Shape each half into a ball and place each ball on a greased baking sheet.  Flatten each ball into a 12 inch diameter circle.  Pull a two inch diameter circle in the middle of each loaf as you form it so that the loaf looks like a flat doughnut.  Cover the loaves and let them rise until doubled in bulk (about one hour).

Heat the oven to 375º F.  Pierce the loaves all over with a fork.  Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.  Remove the loaves from oven, brush the tops with butter, and cover with a towel to soften the crust.  Cool.  To serve, cut into wedges, and split horizontally.

NOTES: Pizza pans are ideal for baking Hapanleipä.  Six Finnish teenagers and two adult Americans can eat both loaves at one meal.

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