December 25, 2010

Finnish Bread - Puolivahva and Rieska

Christmas Greetings from the Winter Wonderland!

We finally made it to Finland after travelling in Japan for 2 weeks (you might have seen some of my posts from our travels). It was snowing and the temperatures were well below zero degrees Celsius when we touched down in Helsinki, but we had one more flight to catch, followed by an hour drive until we finally reached my home town.

My 94-year old granny is always one of the first people I visit when I get home. This time mum and I packed our baking gear and headed over to granny's to bake some traditional Finnish bread. Granny has fed her delicious bread to the whole family for as long as I can remember, but this time we wanted to give the baking a go ourselves. Under granny's strict supervision, of course.

I would love to give you the recipes for these breads, but unfortunately there are no exact measurements. "How much flour do I add?", I tried asking granny. "As much as it'll need", granny replied. "How much salt?" "Enough so that you can taste it", and so on. There are no exact measurements, no recipe.

We made two kinds of bread: "puolivahva" (meaning "half strong", as in not too flat nor too thick but something in between) and "rieska" (flat bread). Puolivahva is made out of rye and wheat flour, and rieska is made using barley flour only.

Rieska - Finnish Flat Bread

1 litre ice cold water
barley flour

Add enough barley flour to ice cold water to make a 'sloppy' dough (almost like thick porridge). Add salt. Bake into five flat breads and bake in hot oven (225°C) for a few minutes or until golden brown.


starter (from a previous dough)
3 litres hand hot water
rye flour
50 g fresh yeast
dark syrup
wheat flour

In a large bowl, dissolve the starter into the hot water. Add enough rye flour to make a sloppy mixture and leave the dough in a warm place overnight. The next day, dissolve the yeast into some warm water, add salt and syrup and then mix. Add enough rye and wheat flour to make a soft dough. Knead and let it double in size. Make into breads and prick. Leave to rise and prick again just before baking them in a hot oven.

"Puolivahva" on the left and "rieska" on the right, which is traditionally served with butter and gravlax.