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Fortunate am I to receive occasional parcels of unsold bread from a friend who runs a really top quality bakery here in mid-Wales, Andy’s Bread. A few months back he gave me several loaves of pumpernickel, a dark, dense and sweet rye bread.  His version includes whole rye grain, rye chops, rye, sourdough, molasses,  and old pumpernickel. The loaf is coated in rye chops (and baked in a hot oven which is then turned off overnight); a “lid” is placed on top of the tins to “steam” the loaves and prevent their drying out.  Andy’s pumpernickel is something special– and not so dissimilar from his Borodinski breads which contain coriander seeds and powder, malt extract and molasses.  These are true artisan breads in that they come from long and varied traditions and are expertly crafted in particular, local conditions.

Andy’s pumpernickel makes great croutons for leek and potato, and split pea soup; I will be using some from another batch tomorrow for chocolate Christmas bark as per Claire Ptak’s wonderful recipe here.

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Being gifted with food that is “surplus” or “waste” anyway is really freeing, and allowed me to feel I could experiment.  I’d long been curious to try Bread Kvass, so in the absence of any planned trips to Russia or Russian communities elsewhere, I knew I’d have to try to make it. I also wanted to reproduce an effort from a while earlier in which I made a sourdough cake from recycled bread.  And I sadly found out that the friend who taught me her resourceful and roughshod approach to bread had died– so I was of a rare mind to bake bread.

BREAD KVASS

This is a recipe from Darra Goldstein’s 1983 classic A La Russe: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality, an affectionate, literary, enticing look at Russian cuisine that I’m determined to know well as a book.  I followed the recipe approximately — meaning, I decided to forego both added yeast and cream of tartar because after all these years I trust the “wild” in “wild fermentation,” — how I learned.  I kept the rice in, one third for some kind of recipe obedience, one third for superstition, and one third for really having so little idea why they are in there at all.

Black Bread Kvass (Kvas Sukharnyi Domashnii)

  • 1 1/2 pounds stale black bread cubed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dried mint
  • 1 small lemon, cut into chunks
  • 10 cups boiling water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 8 grains of white rice

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It’s important to toast the bread really well.  I’ve read somewhere (sorry, can’t recall where) that this is as much for a characteristic dark colour as for flavour.  Into a large crock (in my case jar) add the bread, sprinkle the dried mint, add the chopped lemon, and pour on boiling water.  Let it sit for 6 hours or so.

“Strain the liquid though cheesecloth,” writes Darra Goldstein, “pressing down on the bread with the back of a spoon in order to extract as much liquid as possible, but without pushing sediment through.  To the strained liquid add the sugar, the cream of tartar and the yeast…. Stir well to mix. Cover the container, and let stand undisturbed for 8 hours.

The next day, strain one more through cheesecloth and pour into a 1 quart bottle. Add the 8 grains of rice. Seal. Let stand for 8 hours more at room temperature. Then strain once more through cheesecloth into a clean bottle and refrigerate until ready to use.”

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I capped it in the bottle for a little fizz to develop. The resulting kvass is very nice, and somewhat odd– I know Russians love it but I’m not sure in what category to place it.  It’s not a soft drink, it’s not alcoholic, it’s not fruity (though maybe lemony, which I know some people don’t even think of as “traditional”).  Yet it’s a bit bracing, and all the while refreshing.  I’d kept intending to make a vegetarian version of cold summer garden vegetable soup called Okroshka (also from an A La Russe recipe) with the kvass as a kind of stock, and didn’t quite get there.  I have used the kvass to top up some vegetable ferments that might have been getting lower in brine.  And it sits in a bottle now, in a basket on my counter, among other fermented siblings, awaiting good things.  It’s a little vinegary now–living foods living lives on a continuum.

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Pumpernickel Black Forest Cake

After straining that 1.5 pounds of rehydrated bread from the kvass liquid, I found myself with quite a bit of soggy bread meal.

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So I decided to see if I could wing making a cake without a recipe, knowing that a lot of the grain and sweetness would already be present.  In terrible, unbloggerly fashion, I must confess I don’t remember exactly what I did, but I think the point was, I did it therefore it’s doable.  and this was the second time I flounderingly made a cake like this — not haute patisserie but –if you are ever on a dessert island (or hidden in an annex– name your dark fantasy) and need to figure out how to make a chocolate cake from a stale loaf of bread, if you can vaguely recall my vague recollections, you might be able to whip up a birthday cake.

I’m pretty sure I trusted that leaving the bread soaking in a little water and milk would reactivate some of the yeasts,

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and later I added melted butter, cocoa powder, and sugar to make a batter. I did this visually, approximating the visual memories I have of all the cakes I’ve made through the years.  I divided the batter into three, and baked it.

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You can see the “rye chops” that are part of the texture of the bread in this closeup of the one cake layer that fell apart a bit.

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I put raspberry jam in the middle, sweetened kefir cheese on the top, and decorated the top with cherries from a jar.  A kind of larder/cupboard cake. Very rich with a slight bitter edge and a dark rye tang.  Recycled bread cake anyone?

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Stale Bread Bread

OK, bread is easy and you don’t need a recipe.  I believe this and I treasure the memory of an old friend demonstrating this principle with handfuls of this flour and that flour, a bit of water, salt and oil, and telling me it’s all about how the dough resists the palm of your hand.  To this day, 28 years later, I still make bread this way which made using sourdough starter, variable in liquidity and liveliness, feel natural.  (And of course each batch of Andy’s pumpernickel uses bread from the former batch too.)

I placed the old wet pumpernickel in a large bowl, and added an equal visual measure of wheat flour, and a maybe a half cup of my trusty sourdough starter. (Seven years ago I initiated this starter using the method in Wild Fermentation, one of my favourite books EVER, as everybody knows.)

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 I stirred and let it sit for a few hours, until it began to develop bubbles as it will. 

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At this “sponge” stage, I added more flour, until it was possible to knead and make a dough.   

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From the dough I kneaded and shaped two nice balls, and let them sit and expand.

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Then gave them light slits, let them sit a little more, and started them out in a very hot oven, temperature of which I lowered to medium after the first half hour, and baked for maybe half an hour more.

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A most passable bread, with a perfectly fine crumb:

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The point of this is that one perfectly good use for stale bread is just to moisten it and make another loaf.