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Finnish Black Bread (hapanleipa)

Ingredients
  • 3 packages active dry yeast
  • 4 cups warm water, 105 F to 115 F
  • 7 to 9 cups of dark rye flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt (optional)
  • Additional flour for shaping
Instructions

A Heavy, Tangy, Sourdough Rye. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water. Add 2 cups rye flour and beat to make a smooth mixture. Sprinkle the top of the dough with 1 cup of rye flour. Cover tightly and let stand in a warm place for 24 hours. The second day, add 2 cups of the rye flour, stir, and let stand 24 hours more. Stir in the salt and the final amount of flour, but do not exceed nine cups. Knead, by hand or in a heavy duty mixer, for 30 minutes. The dough should be very sticky. With damp hands and a dough scraper, shape the dough into a ball and place in the bowl again. Sprinkle with just enough flour to make the top of the dough dry. Let rise 1-1/2 hours in a warm place. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board. Divide into 2 parts. Lightly grease 2 baking sheets and cover with a thick coating of dark rye flour. For a loaf with a hole in the middle, shape each half into a round loaf about 8 inches in diameter. With a floured finger, press a hole in the center of each loaf. Brush loaves generously with water and sprinkle with a generous coating of rye flour. (The reason for this shape use to be storage - the Finns would bake them in massive quantities and store them by stacking them on poles or hanging on ropes.) When cutting this shape - simply cut thin wedges. For round loaves, shape each part into a ball. Roll the ball around on a rye floured board into it resembles a huge chocolate drop with a slightly pointed top. Place loaves on the baking sheets with the point upwards. You may put both loaves on the same sheet if it is large enough. Brush with water and sprinkle the tops with more flour. The extra wetting and heavy sprinkling with flour produces a very thick, hard crust that helps keep this loaf (if uncut) for a long time. Place shaped loaves in a warm place till they have flattened out, spread apart, and the tops appear crackled. Place a large pan on the bottom rack of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 F. Fill the pan with boiling water. Bake the loaves for 1 hour or until firm. Wrap bakes loaves in towels or waxed paper to soften. Do not try cutting this loaf until it's cool. As it is, the loaf does take some effort to cut. If you don't have a chainsaw, :) just patiently work away with a bread knife. Believe me, the taste is worth it! When you make this bread, you need to plan ahead. It takes 48 hours for the dough to sour. It slices best on the second day after baking. Apparently you can keep this rye bread refrigerated for several months, or freeze them. Historically the Finns baked these loaves twice a year (spring and fall) so I would guess they have great keeping qualities. All I can guarantee is that they last quite nicely unrefrigerated for about a week--that's about how long they last in my house!!

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