Russian Gourmet:Bread

There can’t be a Russian meal without a loaf of bread. Nowadays, with everyone trying to lose weight, bread may not be as essential as it used to be but if you have bread in the house you won’t go hungry. I survived two years in the army by eating mostly bread and butter and whatever edible bits I could find in the crappy food we were given; the bread was always fresh and delicious. I have a 92-year old aunt who will not sit down for a meal without some bread; that comes from living through the war, evacuations, bread rationing and hunger.

I wrote about bread before. Luckily, after years of substandard “wonder” bread, bread-baking is making a comeback in this country as it should. Many people responded to the recent Donna’s post about baking bread. What do I have in common with a lady who lived all of her life on the farm? We bake bread! The commonality ended when she wrote about breeding a cow, but still…

I posted this recipe before ,it was published in Cooks Illustrated some time ago. but this time it will be illustrated and the bread will be rye – even better for you. It apparently promotes weight loss, so I ate about half-a-loaf yesterday hoping to lose a lot of weight.

To start, you will need to assemble these simple ingredients:

  • 3 cups of flour (15 ounces) consisting of 8 oz of unbleached all-purpose flour and 7oz of Rye flour, plus additional for dusting work surface.
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water (7 ounces), at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mild-flavored lager (that would be beer for you- unsophisticated readers)
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar

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You will also need a large-size cast iron pot or Dutch oven. If you feel like throwing away close to two hundred dollars for a fancy one, be my guest (literally, be my guest), I bought mine for $23.

I also recommend getting a scale. It can have multiple uses in the household especially if you are dealing drugs.

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1. Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar. Using rubber spatula, fold mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until shaggy ball forms.

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Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours; I let it sit overnight and even longer. I usually put it in the oven with an oven light turned on to keep it warm. Here is another important step: if you followed directions you should have 9 ounces of perfectly good beer left in the bottle. If you are a gentleman – finish it, if you are a lady – yell at this lazy no-good domestic partner of yours to come make himself useful and finish this nasty beer. If you don’t have anyone to yell at or your domestic partner is another lady, just go ahead and drink it yourself, no reason to waste a good product. Now relax, you are done for the day.

2. Lay 12- by 18-inch sheet of parchment paper inside 10-inch skillet and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead 10 to 15 times. Shape dough into ball by pulling edges into middle. Transfer dough, seam-side down, to parchment-lined skillet and spray surface of dough with nonstick cooking spray. Parchment and Wax paper may look similar  but they are not the same, do not use wax paper or you bread will taste like you are sucking on a candle.

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Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with finger, about 2 hours.

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Time for another beer.

3. About 30 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place 6- to 8-quart heavy-bottomed Dutch oven (with lid) on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. Lightly flour top of dough and, using razor blade or sharp knife, make one 6-inch-long, 1/2-inch-deep slit along top of dough.P1020320

Carefully remove pot from oven and remove lid. Pick up dough by lifting parchment overhang and lower into pot (let any excess parchment hang over pot edge). Cover pot and place in oven. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake covered for 30 minutes.

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Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 210 degrees, 20 to 30 minutes longer.

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Carefully remove bread from pot; transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.

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Now, if actually waited for 2 hours (I admire your patience)  you can finally slice your bread and spread some real butter on it, maybe a pinch of salt of you feel adventurous.

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Eat is slow, crunchy crust, warm crumb, amazing smell…

Here is a clip from a very famous 1949 movie Kubanskie Kazaki about the joy and excitement of wheat harvesting  at the collective farm.

  • DKC

    Every time I come to your site I gain a pound.

  • that’s why I attached a workout song at the end.

  • Grace

    You are the BEST! An illustrated tutorial, now I have really no excuse. Oh wait, I still don’t have a heavy pot. Where did you get yours for $23?

  • it was on sale of course. they are cheaper without enamel, but I like them with enamel, not a bad price at wal-mart, you’d have to wait for $23, it doesn’t happen every day.

  • I’m thinking a person could improvise and not have to buy the pot. So, in order to make this bread I’m going to have to buy rye flour and get a can of beer from my daughter (I’m a wine person, hubs likes whiskey).

    8 to 18 hours? Good grief, I have trouble waiting 2 for my bread to rise!

    It sure looks good though.

  • I have my own bread recipe:

    Ingredients: 1/2 gallon of gasoline, 1 credit card (master card or visa, not discover).

    Directions:
    1) Drive toGreat Harvest Bread Company .
    2) Buy bread
    3) drive home and enjoy.

    But I guess your recipe works, too.

  • Donna, I think long time is due to no kneading and relatively wet dough. There is an explanation in the magazine why it works. You don’t feel the beer flavor in the bread, it’s used because it’s also a yeast product and it adds a certain fermented taste as if you used bread starter. Pot is needed for moisture so crust will form. Commercial ovens spray steam to create moist environment, you can’t do it at home too, but with the pot you don’t have to bother.
    Emaw, 1.my bread is better. 2. I am waiting for the election to be over, so I can be added as an authorized user on your credit card and be allowed to drive your nice vehicle twice a week. Until then, I am baking my own.

  • Grace

    here’s another no-knead recipe that gets good reviews: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/081mrex.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
    I’ve never made it myself, as I used to live just blocks from Sullivan Street Bakery and preferred to stroll down anytime I wanted a fresh loaf. Some might call me lazy, but I call myself a patron of artisanal small businesses. Without lazy people like me, these places could not survive! However, I have been privileged to taste Meesh’s version also, and in my opinion, he should quit his day job and open a bakery right here in KC and make millions.

  • Cory

    Nice Work on the bread! I lived for a few years in Romania, and I miss the hot collective farm bread. I enjoy the mixing of KC and Russia. Maybe I’ll start a companion site blending Olathe and Romania…Nah, that would be way to trite.

    Peace Tovarasi!!
    Cory

  • JustCara

    OK, you’ve shamed me into making this, what with the pictures and clever narrative. But when I fail miserably (and I will) I will make you come over and eat the abomination I create.

  • Thanks for posting this. I have a client who wants bread with every meal. I generally buy it from the bakery or use my bread maker. I tried to make a bread yesterday with beer and I ended up throwing it out because it looked so awful. I can’t wait to try this one! It looks delicious.

  • I don’t bake. Really it is one area of cooking I avoid. But daaaaamn the looks good man. If I can’t get the girlfriend to make it for me I guess I’ll have to go buy a cast iron pot.

  • I should start making money on the things I link, I probably sold 10 cast iron pots by now 🙂

  • Robert MacDonald

    Hi Meesha,

    I baked something like Russian rye bread and just posted about my lugubrious experience yesterday.  We have lived in St Petersburg Russia since 2000 and people here have little knowledge of what unbleached wheat flour means.  So I had to use a standard bleached white along with rye four.  Part of a beer in the dough sounds good.

    I saw a similar bread made by a NYC baker…http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/08mini.html?pagewanted=all

    We here in old Leningrad are big fans of yours.

    Rob MacDonald
    American Russia Observations
    http://www.amrusob.blogspot.com

    • Pretty sure that this recipe is Cooks Illustrated improved version of the original NYC recipe. I don’t think bleached flour would make much of a difference.
      You are in Leningrad, you shouldn’t have to bake bread, don’t they have good bread anymore?
      Good luck.