Beatrice Ojakangas column: Old-time bread made overnight

Beatrice Ojakangas
Beatrice Ojakangas

If there is any positive I can think of that’s come out of the last couple years, it is that people are more interested in bread baking. My granddaughter has been making sourdough bread because she couldn’t find yeast in the stores. I haven’t had trouble finding yeast, but it seems everything I do takes more time — that could also be that I am a year or so older!

For me, a great time saver is to make bread with dough that I can mix ahead and shape and bake with later — even the next day.

Looking through my bread stories and recipes, I realize that I have mined ideas from all around the world. Bread is basic. Every country has contributed at least one or two classics. The Scandinavian contribution centers on whole grain breads like rye, oats and barley.

An old Finnish custom was to mix bread dough in a wooden trough-like bowl so the natural yeast would be retained in the grain of the wood. Thus, the old timers never had to add yeast to their dough. This method was the way they made the original “ruisleipa” — the delicious classic Finnish sourdough rye bread.

I haven’t been experimenting with wooden troughs, but I love to bake bread — all kinds of bread, especially the kind that are based on “mix ahead” methods like the two I am sharing here. The first is an icebox yeast dough that you can make into dinner rolls or gooey caramel rolls, or just a simple loaf. The next is an overnight limpa rich with the flavors of orange rind, caraway, anise and fennel seeds.


Icebox Yeast Dough

This chilled yeast dough is a great one to have on hand and became popular more than 75 years ago when refrigerators entered our kitchens. From this basic dough many variations are possible. Among them the favorite “dinner rolls” sometimes shaped into “Parkerhouse rolls.” I have even used this method to make another version of our favorite cardamom bread: pulla.

  • 2 packages (2 scant tablespoons) active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • About 5 cups all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, combine the yeast and warm water; stir until well mixed. Let stand about 5 minutes or until the yeast begins to foam. Stir in the butter, sugar, eggs, and salt. Add the flour gradually, 1 cup at a time, until the dough is too stiff to mix which may be before all of the flour is added. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours or up to four days.
Continue as directed in one of the variations:

Dinner Rolls: Cut the chilled dough into quarters. On a lightly floured board, roll out 1 part at a time to about half-inch thickness. Cut into 3-inch rounds. Brush with melted butter. Crease each round of dough just off center and fold each piece so the larger part of the fold is on the top side. Place on a parchment-covered baking sheet. Or, alternatively, shape each into a smooth round ball and place close together into a buttered baking pan. Brush with additional melted butter.

Giant Caramel-Pecan Rolls: On a lightly floured board, roll out the chilled dough to a 12-inch square. Brush with ½ cup soft butter and a mixture of ½ cup packed brown sugar and 2 teaspoons cinnamon. Roll up jelly roll fashion. Cut into 12 equal slices (using a knife or a piece of thread). Melt half-cup butter in the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Sprinkle with chopped pecans. Drizzle with half-cup real maple syrup or dark corn syrup. Sprinkle with 1 cup chopped pecans. Arrange dough slices evenly over the nuts in the baking pan. Cover and let rise until almost doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden. Let cool slightly, then turn out of the pan while still warm.

Cardamom Pulla: Replace half-cup of the water with half-cup evaporated milk and add 1 teaspoon finely ground cardamom seeds to the mixture of yeast, water and milk. Proceed as directed. Chill the dough as directed above. When you are ready to bake, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, divide the dough into three parts, and roll each out into a rope about 15 inches long. Twist the three parts into a braid, tuck the ends together and place onto a greased or parchment covered baking sheet. Let rise until puffy, brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake at 350 degrees. for 20-25 minutes until golden. Makes 1 braid.

Overnight Swedish Rye Bread

Makes 2 generous loaves

You need a big bowl to mix this dough. The mixture of orange rind and spices characterize this Scandinavian classic.

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • ¼ cup warm water,105-115 degrees
  • 2 cups (1 pint) milk, 1%, 2%, or whole
  • 1/2 cup dark molasses
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup rolled oats, quick or old fashioned
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon each caraway seed, fennel seed, and anise seed, ground together (I grind the seeds in the coffee grinder)
  • ½ tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
  • 1 cup rye flour, light or dark
  • 5-6 cups all-purpose flour, divided

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Stir and let stand about 5 minutes until the yeast is thoroughly dissolved; add the milk, molasses, oil, oats, brown sugar, salt, ground spices, orange zest, and rye flour and stir until mixed well. Stir in 4-5 cups of the all-purpose flour until well-mixed. Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight or 6-10 hours. Dough will rise to the top of the bowl.
When you are ready to continue, stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can. Turn out onto a lightly floured countertop or board. Begin folding the dough over onto itself and continue until the dough is smooth and silky. This may take from 5-10 minutes. After shaping the loaves, they need to rise until almost doubled. Let the dough rest while you wash your hands and grease two loaf-shaped pans or two round cake pans.


Place dough into the pans and cover with a towel. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center of a loaf comes out clean and dry. Cool on a rack. Makes two loaves.

Beatrice Ojakangas is a Duluth food writer and author of 31 cookbooks. Find her online at

This column was updated at 9:30 a.m. to add a step to the Overnight Swedish Rye Bread recipe. it was originally posted at 11:01 a.m. Jan. 19.

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