Thursday, May 28, 2015

Essaying Russian Black Bread

This blog may be an essay as well as the steps I took in essaying this bread.

Let me first say, I have been making bread for over 40 years, though mostly my Mom's and Grandma's recipe for the first 20 or so years. In the last year+ I have really ventured out into the world of fermented starters and making many breads from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. Aside from that, I have created many recipes for my own breads, with great results. My methods are more by "feel" and less of the scientific "baker's formula" (which I just cannot seem to understand), but the breads have come out well and delicious. This is by way of background and my familiarity with making breads and starters. 

Making this Russian "Black" (Rye) Bread was, well, maybe even time consuming is not enough of a descriptor. The process was lengthy at best. I figured I was up for it. Making starters can be time consuming. Rye has less gluten than wheat, so rye breads tend to rise less and be more dense, unless wheat flour is added in a quantity at least half or preferably more than half of the amount of rye flour used. Still, I had made the recipe for 100% Sourdough Rye Bread, twice (from The Bread Baker's Apprentice), so I was pretty sure I could do this. I had also, some years back, ordered a sprouted rye bread ($10. for a tiny loaf), and while it was heavy and very dense, I do enjoy heavy, dense breads, and I enjoy the flavor of natural rye. 
My Russian Black Bread

The end result of making this bread was that it came out much like that $10. loaf: very heavy, very dense, very chewy, and very good. If you like that kind of bread, you will enjoy this one. I do enjoy it, and I am currently enjoying this loaf I made. Cut in very, very thin slices, it is delightful. My husband has zero interest in this kind of bread.

The Cons

Somehow, though, while I expected heavy and dense, I did not expect anything quite this heavy and dense from this particular recipe. In all my reading (and I literally spent over 6 hours reading online), every "authentic" Russian bread, whether Borodinsky or not, was baked in loaf pans. Somehow, I do not believe that Russian bakers would use a loaf pan for this kind of peasant bread when baked in a wood fired oven. I was disappointed on various counts. I'd gathered ideas from a lot of recipes online, and then took these ideas and made my own compilation of what I wanted to do. I was totally heartened each step of the way: the starters grew beautifully, the dough grew beautifully, the formed loaf grew according to expectations. But the bread came out of the oven without even the height it went into the oven with.

What is Russian Black Bread or Borodinsky Bread?
My Russian Rye vs No-Knead Bread

Firstly, "Black" is a misnomer, if you are expecting a black, dark loaf. This bread is made with rye flour, and while dense and heavy and made with 100% rye flour I milled here at home, it is a darker brown bread (compared to white bread - see my photo here at right to compare), but certainly not dark like a pumpernickel. I will admit, a large portion of the time spent researching was in reading the blog and the pages and pages of commentary on The Fresh Loaf. I did read on many other sites, just more briefly. 

Russian Black Bread is made with mostly whole grain rye flour, though there is far more leeway in flour vs wheat ratio and more leeway altogether in the ingredient additions (I've seen things like coffee and chocolate added for color). Borodinsky Bread is a recipe that has had its ingredients set down and defined. To be "true" Borodinsky, it  must have these certain ingredients, without deviations. Here, according to Wikipedia:

". . . a mixture of no less than 80% by weight of a whole grain rye flour with - 15% of a second grade wheat flour and 5% of rye or, rarely, barley malt, leavened by a separately prepared starter culture made like choux pastry, by diluting the flour by a near-boiling (95 - 96 degree C) water, and adding the yeast after cooling the mix to 65 - 67 degrees C, but then mostly inoculated by the previous batches of dough instead of the dry yeast. It is then sweetened and colored with beet sugar molasses, and then flavored with salt and spices, of which coriander seed is required and caraway is optional, but still quite popular."

Ingredients and Stumbling Blocks

The first snag I ran into with trying this recipe is the Rye Malt. Barley Malt is acceptable, but regardless, I still did not have it and on further research found it is available where beer making supplies are sold. I looked online, only to find that shipping for a pound of Red Rye Malt, at about $1.79/pound, was about $15.00 UPS, with no other shipping options available. I found this purely ridiculous. I went back to do more research. 

Again I ended up at The Fresh Loaf (see that article here), with the most information on making one's own red rye malt. To begin with, I had heard the term malt before. I know that some "bread-dough-enhancers" contain "barley malt." I had only the most vague idea of what this meant. I had heard the term "diastatic" and the term "non-diastatic" with no concept of what these were. I also found that a small amount of barley malt powder is added to commercial brands of white flour sold in the US as a matter of course. I never thought to look at the ingredients on a bag of flour. All I expected to see was "wheat"! Who knew?

Organic Rye Berries, many with natural sage green color
As it turns out, Barley or Rye "malt" is nothing more than sprouted rye or barley berries (the whole grain, non-irradiated, preferably organic) that have then been dried and ground to powder. The real difference is in the drying process.

Diastatic Malt

Diastatic Malt is the whole grain berry, sprouted until the sprout is the length of the seed/berry itself, and then dried at a temperature no higher than 55 degrees C, or 130 degrees F. Safest temperatures are 40 degrees C or 104 degrees F. The reason for these very low drying temperatures is to preserve the live enzyme created in the seed when it sprouts. This live enzyme, diastase, releases sugars from the flour/starch and helps with yeast growth and promotes a more golden crust, good rise and "oven spring."

Non-Diastatic Malt

The beginning process for non-diastatic malt is the same: sprout whole grains, and dry them. The difference between these is that the drying process takes place at a much higher temperature (most sites quoted starting at around 160 degrees F and slowly increasing to around 325 F as the highest temperature), thereby killing the live enzyme diastase, and making it "non"-diastatic. The drying process makes the rye berries turn a brick red, and the powder, once ground also has a reddish hue. Non-diastatic malt powder is used as a source of sugar in itself. Adding too much will reduce the rise of the dough and affect the taste. A little will help with lovely browning of crust and add a little flavor. It is often added to the water bath for bagels for this reason.

This malt is often made into a syrup. Barley Malt Syrup is available in most health-food stores and some groceries. 

Do not confuse barley or rye malt with malted milk powder! Though some non-diastatic barley malt powder is usually an ingredient in malted milk powder, malted milk powder is not a substitute in this recipe. 

To Sprout Grains

To make sprouted grains (barley, rye or wheat), start with whatever amount you want of non-irradiated, preferably organic grain. I used 1/2 cup, leaving me with plenty to have on hand for further attempts at this recipe. The timing may differ. For example, it may take more, or less time for the berries to sprout or to dry. The actual sprout, once it appears, should grow to about the length of the grain. Use my timing as a guideline only.

DAY 1: 
  • 4:00 PM: Placed rye berries in a measuring cup and covered with water to 1 1/2 cups.
  • 10:00 PM: Drain the berries. Place a damp paper towel into a wide, flat colander. Put the drained berries onto the damp towel. Cover with another damp (not wet) paper towel. Set in the oven with the light on, at the farthest corner from the light (my oven maintains about 82 to 84 degrees F) to promote a warm, moist atmosphere.
DAY 2:
  • 6 AM: Spritzed the berries with water. Spritzed the top paper towel to re-dampen.
  • 6 PM: The berries have sprouted.
  • 6 PM:Placed the sprouted rye berries onto a dehydrator sheet on low temperature (75 - 80 degrees) for about 14 to 16 hours.
DAY 3:
  • 10 AM: The dried berries are ready to be ground for diastatic rye malt.

To make Non-Diastatic Red Rye Malt:

Use whatever portion of the diastatic malted berries you wish to make into non-diastatic malt and set them onto a baking sheet. Place in a 325 oven and bake until they become brick red in color, about 35 to 45 minutes. Grind into flour, as needed.

Coriander Seeds

I love the flavor of coriander seed. It has a light, almost citrusy flavor and is wonderful in Indian foods, but is also a great addition to things like apple pie or biscuits and scones, among many other things. As coriander is the first go-to choice for seeds added to this bread, I was intrigued. I went the heavy handed route, because I like the flavor, and used 1 tablespoon of the seeds, crushed, in the "mash" part of the recipe (where boiling water is mixed into some of the whole rye flour and allowed to set), as well as 2 teaspoons more in the bread dough itself. For all of 5 teaspoons of crushed coriander seeds in one small loaf - I cannot taste coriander at all. Rather disappointing.
Coriander Seeds at zoom: actual size similar to a whole black peppercorn

This blog is becoming long, and will  be continued tomorrow. This is the groundwork for knowing what is involved in making a Russian Black Bread or Borodinsky Bread. While these terms are not interchangeable (Russian Black Bread can be made Borodinsky style, though it can also have a lot of other ingredients not allowed in a true Borodinsky), there can be crossover. I cannot call my bread Borodinsky, but I will go so far as to say it is an effort at a Russian Black Bread. More work is needed.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.