Baker’s Solstice Countdown: December 3: Finnish Christmas Buttermilk Rye Bread

My great-grandma came from Finland to America with her family in 1896, age 4, but I didn’t know anything about Finnish food until recently. Now that I have collected a fine stack of Finnish cookbooks, I can work out some recipes of my own. This is the first of many Finnish bakes I will share with you, and this recipe is inspired by one from Beatrice Ojakangas’ book The Great Scandinavian Baking Book.

Rye bread is tricky business. To prevent the bread being dry and dense, the dough needs to remain somewhat wet and sticky compared to other breads you may have made. Try not to over-flour it as you knead it. This bread traditionally contains caraway seeds, but The Husband cannot stand the aroma or taste of caraway seeds, so I substitute anise seeds. You do what you like.

(Recipe revised to reflect a few changes in ingredients, and for overall clarity. 12/13/22)


  • 2 packages instant yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 1/3 cup warm water (100-110 deg. F)
  • 3 cups buttermilk
  • 3/4 cups molasses
  • 1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
  • the grated zest of two medium oranges (2 1/2 teaspoons)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons anise seeds
  • 3 cups rye flour
  • 5-6 cups bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • vegetable shortening for greasing


  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the yeast and the warm water with a fork, and let it stand for 5 minutes, or until foamy.
  2. In a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, warm the buttermilk until it is steaming but do not allow to boil. Remove from heat.
  3. Stir into the milk the molasses, melted butter, orange zest, fennel seeds, and anise seeds. Mix well, then pour into the yeast mixture.
  4. Add the rye flour and beat well using the paddle attachment.
  5. Switch to the bread hook attachment, and add 1 cup of bread flour and the salt. Beat well. Continue adding flour, 1 cup at a time until you’ve added 4 cups, beating well in between each addition. Cover the bowl with a towel, and let the dough rest 15 minutes.
  6. Grease a large bowl or container for raising the dough. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface, and knead for 10-15 minutes (possibly 20 if you’re slow), until smooth and elastic, adding in the remaining 1 cup of bread flour as necessary to work with the dough. You may not need all of the flour – do not over-flour (see note above). Place the dough in the greased container, cover and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled, at least 1 hour.
  7. Grease a large baking sheet. Grease a surface for turning out the dough. Turn out the dough onto the greased surface, and divide it into 3 equal pieces (a scale is quite helpful here). Shape each piece into a round loaf, and place the loaves on the baking sheet, with room in between for rising. Cover the sheet and leave in a warm place to rise, 45-60 minutes.
  8. Preheat the oven to 375 deg. F. with a rack in the center. Once the oven is hot, prick the loaves all over with a fork. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a skewer stuck in the middle of a loaf comes out clean. Remove the loaves from the sheet to a rack to cool completely before slicing.

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