Oulu loaf; or, bread for the entire extended family

This blog has been plagued by assorted recipe-related failures (not all of which I’ve actually blogged about yet) lately, so today I’m going with something safe and unadventurous – bread. I’m also going with a safe and unadventurous cookbook: “Kotiruoka” (“Home-cooking”), a Finnish cookbook for homes and schools written and published in 1908 by three ladies about whom I haven’t found out very much yet.

Edit Reinilä-Hellman, Sofie Calonius and Valma Krank-Heikinheimo were probably home economics teachers, because their names appear on several cookbooks from the early decades of the 20th century with titles suggesting educational purposes. “Kotiruoka” is a Finnish classic. First published in 1908, it had gone through nine editions by the time my copy came out in 1923. It is now onto its 74th edition, though the current version holds little in common with the first editions. “Kotiruoka” is one of those books that gets scribbled in and passed down, and though mine came from a flea market rather than being passed down in the family, it has been scribbled in. A lady by the name of Helga has inscribed her name and the date 31.5.1925 on the first page, and the book has been embellished with numerous hand-written recipes and newspaper clippings. Some of these are from ad recipes for Rumford’s baking powder.

Rumford started making baking powder in 1856 in Providence, Rhode Island, USA, and by the turn of the century the company had a significant slice of the baking powder market. The ads that have been glued into my book urge the reader to ask for Rumford at the colonial goods store. Let that irony sink in for a moment.

But now, to the bread! I chose a recipe called Oulun limppu. Oulu is a city in central Finland, and limppu is a loaf-shaped leavened bread with a sourish taste and soft texture. Bread has a central place in Finnish food culture, and limppu-style breads were an integral part of the Christmas spread.


  • 50 g yeast
  • 1 liter lukewarm buttermilk
  • 2 dl syrup
  • 2 tbslp powdered bitter orange peel[1]
  • 1 tbslp salt
  • 1½ tblsp crushed caraway seeds
  • 800 g wheat flour
  • 800 g rye flour

[1] Bitter oranges are also known as Sevilla oranges and marmalade oranges, and would you have guessed it, they’re used for making Sevilla marmalade. The peel, when dried and ground into powder, is a bitter-tasting but fragrant spice that is used in traditional Finnish baking, especially gingerbread and loaf bread or limppu.

In hindsight this makes an awful lot of bread, so if you’re not baking for a dozen people you might want to consider halving the recipe.

This is what you need. If you can’t find buttermilk I supposed you could just use regular milk, but that won’t give you the sourness you need. Try mixing milk and sour yoghurt, buttermilk is runny but thicker than milk.

Warm your buttermilk until it’s as warm as your hand. Yeast needs a temperature of about 37 degrees C to function perfectly. Much colder and your dough will rise too slowly, much warmer and you’ll kill the yeast. Don’t kill the yeast, what did those poor microbes ever do to you? Mix the yeast into the buttermilk.

Add about half of the wheat flour into the buttermilk and stir until you get a gooey porridge. Put this in a warm place for a while. If everything has gone smoothly you should start seeing bubbles in your goo as the yeast does its magic.

While your goo is waiting for bubbles crush your caraway seeds, then mix the sour orange peel and caraway seeds with the syrup and warm it all up. I’m not sure why the recipe wants you to do this, perhaps the heat releases more aromas from the spices, or perhaps it’s to help the yeast somehow. Whatever the case, once your goo is nice and bubbly you add the somewhat cooled syrup mixture and the rest of the flour, both wheat and rye.

Knead your dough thoroughly. At this point I realised that this recipe was originally designed for a much bigger household than mine, and a much stronger set of arms than mine. 1,6 kilos of flour makes a great big batch of dough, so kneading it is quite the workout. Knead until you have a good consistency to your dough – ten minutes minimum, keep at it longer if you can. Set it in a warm place to rise for 45 minutes or so, covered with a teatowel. If you’re making the full-sized batch be sure to use a container that’s big enough, ideally your dough will rise to twice its original size.

Once your dough has risen give it another knead on the table, just a quick one. Form the dough into three loaves and set them to rise in a warm place, again covered with a teatowel. Let them rise for another 45 minutes or so.

If you didn’t kill your poor microbes, you should get this.

The recipe says to bake in “normal oven temperature for 1 hour”. That means about 200 degrees C. You can test to see if your bread is ready by tapping the bottom of a loaf. If it sounds hollow it’s finished. Now go soak your fingers in cold water since you burned them on the hot bread[2].

[2] Pro-tip: a layer of honey works wonders on all the little burns you get while fluttering around in the kitchen.

Pretty bread.

This recipe gives you a toothsome, no-frills bread – typically Finnish in both taste and style.


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