Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Day 147! Russian Federation - Russian Black Bread and Caviar - Русский черный хлеб - - Up Next, Rwanda

I got up at 5:00 a.m. this morning to make Russian Black Bread. It's not so much that I like to be up at uber-early hours of the morning, although do I love the hush of dawn before the demands of the day come calling. The truth is that the mere thought of turning my oven on to bake anything once the sun rises and the temperature climbs to 90+ degrees( as predicted today), is nearly unbearable. But more unbearable would be not to make this bread at all, as I've been literally dreaming about it for a few days now.

There are virtually thousands of interesting Russian dishes I could have made - Beef Stroganoff, Chicken Kiev and Veal Orloff to name but a few of the more popular offerings. But there's something about the ancient ritual of making bread that both sustains and defines a country and its people that I am completely drawn to. According to many sources, there is no bread more important to the Russian culture than Black Bread. During times of economic hardship, this bread has historically meant the difference between life and starvation. Conversely, during years of prosperity, Russian Black Bread is a symbol of wealth and celebration. And, of course, no matter our language, cultural or ethnic barriers, breaking bread together unifies and nourishes us.

This dense and aromatic bread can be eaten fresh from the oven, or  buttered with dishes of  pickled cucumbers, mushrooms, tomatoes; sliced salami, Russian bacon, marinated herring or potatoes. Lightly buttered and topped with caviar alongside ice cold vodka or champagne, versatile Russian Black Bread also makes a lovely and elegant appetizer.  So 5:00 a.m. Russian  Black Bread it is. Just me, the birds and a mammoth cup of my favorite fair trade very dark roast (but not burned) coffee -  Blend X Witches Brew .  Besides the awesome name, the stuff gives me official Wonder Woman powers. And while we're on the subject of super heroes, shout-out to my super-foodie-friend, Ben for stopping by Culinary Delights, a Russian Deli that specializes in Eastern European food in Natick, to pick up a jar of brined cucumbers and mushrooms to accompany my bread. Oh, and I splurged and bought domestic Golden Whitefish Caviar  from a local company, The Little Pearl - I had to do it!

Known as both Russia and the Russian Federation, this northern Eurasian semi-presidential republic encompasses 83 federal subjects. The largest country in the world, Russia borders the following countries (all of which I have cooked in!): Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea. Its maritime borders are the Sea of Okhotsk, United States and Bering Strait. Russia is also home to the largest reserve of mineral and energy and forest resources. Russia's vast lakes equal approximately 1/4 of the world's fresh water resources as well. Russia's history dates back to 3rd century AD when Slavs settled the rugged land. In 988, Orthodox Christianity and the rise of Byzantine Empire further established the country, and by the 18th century, the Russian Empire had expanded to become one of the largest empires in the world's history. Russia's role as an allied power in WWII, as well as it's super-power recognition for technological advances, makes it a powerful and important country in the world's economic and political landscape.

Russian's vast multi-cultural history finds its roots in peasant food that was farmed and produced in primarily rural and harsh climates. Cold tolerant greens and vegetables such as cabbage, beets and mushrooms (to name only a few) are commonly cooked with. Fish, poultry, smoked meat and game make up the majority of protein sources. Berries, honey, rye, wheat, barley and millet are used to make bread and pastry, some which have French and Austrian influences. Sour cream, dill and parsley season Russia's many varieties of hot and cold soup. Dumplings and pancakes and many, many varieties of pickled vegetables are served as appetizers or simply along side a hearty meal.

Russian Black Bread (Adapted from Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads)
(Served with pickled cucumbers, marinated mushrooms and caviar...nom!)

2 packages active dry yeast
3-1/2 cups all-purpose white flour
4 cups pumpernickel or medium rye flour
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 cups whole bran ceral
2 Tbsp. crushed caraway seeds
1 Tbsp. each instant coffee and dried minced onion (or powder)
1 tsp. crushed fennel seeds
2-1/2 cups water
1/4 cup each cider vinegar and dark molasses
1 square (1 ounce) unsweetened chocolate
1/4 cup shortening
1 tsp. cornstarch, mixed into 1/2 cup cold water

Two 8" cake pans, greased; or, if the dough is fairly stiff and will hold its shape, use 1 greased or non-stick cookie sheet.

Mixing and Kneading
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the yeast, 1 cup white and 1 cup pumpernickel or rye flour, salt, bran cereal, caraway, instant coffee, onion powder and fennel.
  2. In a saucepan, combine the water, vinegar, molasses, chocolate, and shortening. Place over low heat. When the liquid is warm (the chocolate and shortening need only be soft), add to the dry ingredients. Beat at medium speed with the flat beater for 2 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally.
  3. Add 1 cup white and 1 cup rye flour. Beat for 2 minutes. Stir in 2 more cups rye and enough white flour to make a soft dough.
  4. Now switch the paddle attachment for the dough hook, working flour into the dough. Cover the mixing bowl with a clean towel and let it rest for 15 minutes.
  5. Next, turn the mixer on low, and knead bread with dough hook until smooth and elastic. If it seems a little sticky, dust it with a little flour. The dough should pull away and clean the sides of the bowl.
First Rising
  1. Place dough in a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and leave at room temperature until puffy and doubled in bulk (about 1 hour)
  2. Punch down the dough and turn out onto a lightly floured work surface. Cut the dough into 2 pieces and let the dough rest for 5 minutes. Shape each piece into a ball, flatten slightly, and place wither in the cake pan or on the cookie sheet.
Second Rising
Cover with wax paper and leave at room temperature until the loaves have doubled in bulk, 45 minutes.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F about 20 minutes before baking.
  2. Bake for about 1 hour, or until a metal skewer inserted in the center of a loaf comes out dry and clean. When tapped on the bottom crust, it will sound hard and hollow.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the glaze. In a small saucepan heat the cornstarch and cold water. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture boils. Hold the boil for 1 minute, stirring all the while.
  4. When the bread is baked, remove from the oven and brush the loaves with the cornstarch mixture. place back in the oven for about 3 minutes, or until the glaze has set. 
  5. Remove from the oven, turn from the baking sheet or pan, and place on a metal rack to cool.
(C) 2010-2011, What's Cooking in Your World?/ Sarah Commerford/All Rights Reserved 


Ethan said...

Russian black bread is fantastic. Thank you for sharing. I already knew how to make it, but came here for some ideas on what to top it with.

sadie said...

Hi Ethan! Thanks so much for the kind words - I hope you'll try both the recipe and the toppings :) - Happy Holidays!