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Trilogy of Scandinavian Breads Part 1: Rye bread

Apr 3, 2013

Scandinavians are known for being big bread lovers and hence we are big consumers of this food.   Besides our famous open face sandwiches which we serve at various occasions, both breakfast and our evening snack often consists of hearty breads topped with a variety of meats, cheeses, jams and vegetables.


Photo Credit: Svein Brimi

What distinguishes breads from Scandinavia is that most often they are made with whole grains and are often healthier, darker, denser and contain more nutrients (dare I say) than breads from the southern parts of Europe, where white flour dominates (baguetttes, focaccia, ciabatta, etc.).   Rye breads are particularly popular in Denmark, but Norwegians also love this type of bread.   Today I will start a trilogy of posts that will talk about specific breads from the Nordic countries, and hope you will join me in trying these out for yourself!


Rye is a grain that arrived early in the Nordic countries, most likely from the old Russia.  The vikings were the first people who started to grow this type of grain, because they were of the opinion that rye gave them increased amounts of strength.  Besides, rye was used in both porridge and breads, and by the middle Ages, rye was the grain  most often used in Norway.

wheat as background

For a long period of time, the interest in rye was declining, and Norwegian neither grew nor used rye very much.  However, today’s research on how rye prevents certain illnesses and is a healthy addition to a diet, has helped increase the interest yet again in this grain.

Rye does not contain the same type of gluten as wheat. This means that rye bread never can be as light and airy as regular wheat breads.  Rye breads will turn out very compact and rather heavy so some people choose to add some regular all purpose flour to the mix.   Rye breads will keep for a long time, and the fiber content in rye helps keep the bread juicy and moist for a long time.  This type of bread also have a rounder, richer taste than breads baked with just regular flour.   Rye breads take a bit longer to rise, because the dough is heavier to work with and also a bit more laborious.  All this aside, it is definitely worth the effort!

I’ve included two different recipes for rye breads below – one that contains a mixture of rye and white flour, and another that is strictly made up of rye.  They can be made simultaneously quite easily, so test them out and find out which one you prefer!


(makes 2 loaves)

1 3/4 cups water

1 1/4 cups orange juice

50  grams fresh yeast or 1 1/2 packet dry instant yeast (3 1/2 tsp)

2 tsp salt

1 tbs caraway seeds

1 quart rye flour

4 cups  (or slightly less) all purpose flour

Mix warm water with cold orange juice, the temperature should be about 37 degrees Celcius/98 degrees Fahrenheit.  Crumble the fresh yeast or drizzle the dry yeast into the liquid and let stand for a couple of minutes until it makes bubbles.

In a separate bowl, mix the rye flour, salt,  and caraway. Mix in the yeast liquid and combine well. Add the all purpose flour until you have a firm and smooth dough. Let the dough rise in a warm spot covered by a towel for about 1 hour.

Place the dough onto a floured work surface.  Knead for about five minutes, add more all purpose flour if necessary. Divide the dough into two parts, shape them into loaves and place into loaf pans that have been coated with butter and/or spray.  Let the breads rise under a towel again for about 45 minutes or so.  Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Brush the top of the loaves with some water, and place in oven on the middle rack and bake for about 40-45 minutes.  Cool loaves, slice and enjoy with your favorite topping!



1/2 cup water

1 cup buttermilk

50 grams fresh yeast or 1 1/2 packet dry instant yeast (3 1/2 tbsp)

50 grams /3 1/2 tbsp butter

1 tsp salt

about 4 cups sifted rye flour

warm milk for brushing loaf

Melt the butter in a pot, add in water and buttermilk and combine, let the temperature reach about 37 c/98F.  Mix in the yeast and let sit for about 3 minutes to proof.

In a separate bowl, sift in the rye flour and salt.  Pour in the yeast mixture and knead until a smooth and firm dough.  Place the dough in a warm spot, cover with a towel and let rise until double in size, about 1 hour.

Place the dough on to a floured work surface and knead for about 5 minutes.  Roll the dough into a loaf size and place it into a buttered loaf pan.   Score the top with a knife, let it rise again for another hour, covered by a towel.  Preheat oven to 400F (200C).

Brush the top of the loaf with some warm milk, and bake on the lowest rack in oven for about 40 minutes.  Cool and slice into open face sandwiches, top with whatever your heart desires!



  1. Judith Hansen Connelly

    The juicy rye bread reciepe has me confused. In the recipe it says orange juice but in the instructions it says apple juice. Which is the best to use?

    • Sunny

      Hi Judith! Thanks for stopping by my blog – so sorry about the confusion, thanks for catching the error, I will go in and change it right now! It should be orange juice! Thanks again and happy baking! 🙂

  2. outsideoslo

    I’ve been meaning to try making a good, classic, hearty Scandinavian bread, so thanks for the inspiration and recipes! I’m not a skilled bread baker, but you’ve inspired me to give it a try.

    • Sunny

      Thanks so much, glad I could inspire!! 🙂

  3. dreamingwriter

    What do you use instead of buttermilk when you’re in Norway? I’ve never quite been able to figure out what’s the closest thing over here.
    (Kefir? Kulturmelk? That’s what I use for cornbread, anyway, and that does the trick. The whole ‘make your own buttermilk substitute with regular milk and vinegar/lemon juice’ thing never really works out for me.)

    • Sunny

      Hi Maren and thanks for stopping by my blog! The best thing to use in Norway is indeed kefir or kulturmelk, it’s even better than buttermilk, as I feel it’s richer and tangier and gives it a better taste/texture. And yes I agree with you that while you can make your own ‘buttermilk” nothing substitutes really unless you have a lot of time- I prefer sometimes to use a mix of sour cream and regular milk with a splash of lemon juice, if I don’t have anything else on hand. Hope that helps! 🙂

        • Judith Hansen Connelly

          I got an answer but it was for Maren (something about buttermilk) I’m still waiting for my answer

          • Sunny

            Judith, I already answered yours (see above before Maren) – you are to use orange juice (not apple juice), it was my mistake in the recipe, but I have corrected it in the post now. hope that clears it up. Sorry for the confusion and thanks for stopping by!

          • Sunny

            Judith, I already answered yours (see above before Maren) – you are to use orange juice (not apple juice), it was my mistake in the recipe, but I have corrected it in the post now. hope that clears it up. Sorry for the confusion and thanks for stopping by!

  4. saucygander

    Love a good, dense, “meaty” rye bread. It’ll be a rainy weekend, so I should have time for baking!

    • Sunny

      Nice, saucygander! Let me know how it turns out! 🙂

  5. Sophie33

    I am a big fan of home-made rye bread & thee 2 versions sounds amazing! I love that there is orange juice in your 1stv rye bread! So special too! MMMMMMMMM! I only eat darker home-made breads!


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