While I’m not a particularly avid sports fan, I’ve always held a certain fascination for the Olympic games, as they stand as a multicultural link between our modern world and the games’ mythical origins over 2700 years ago. And what I love the most about our modern Olympic ritual is the transportation of the games to a different country for each biannual incarnation. As the spotlight of the games moves across the globe, we are allowed a unique opportunity to stop, examine, and celebrate the culture and history of countries outside of our own. With the games being in Russia this year, I have been relishing the chance to take a moment and discover for myself the cultural heritage of this year’s Olympic hosts. Because of my fascination with culinary history, I have been particularly excited to try out some of Russia’s traditional cuisine, especially since my knowledge of Russian delicacies really begins and ends with caviar and vodka. Today, then, I thought we’d dig right into the heart of Russia’s rich culinary past with a culinary form that embodies the stark duality of historic Russia: suffering and triumph.
Just like any other ancient civilization, Russia’s food history seems to begin with the humble loaf of bread. However, what makes Russia’s bready origins unique is the rye grain native to eastern Europe which has allowed the Russian people to triumph over the adversity of their country’s climate. Producing a denser, darker, more flavorful and healthful loaf than traditional wheat grains, rye bread (also known as “black bread” due its dark brown color) allowed the Russian people to avoid starvation in the harsher periods of their tumultuous history. As the rye bread has followed the Russian people into modernity, it has grown to represent the overcoming of incredible difficulty, and the prosperity that can be found after hardship. So, while our cultural eye is fixed on Russia for the Olympic games, let’s take a moment to break the bread that has allowed the Russian culture to flourish into the modern age!
Russian Black Rye Bread Recipe
- 1 1/ cups warm water (100 – 110 F / 37 – 43 C)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 2 Tablespoons molasses
- 2 cups bread flour
- 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 cups rye flour
- 3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder [This is a modern addition to the recipe to deepen the color of the bread, and is completely optional]
- 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons caraway seed
- 1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
- 2 Tablespoons melted butter
- 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- Mix the molasses and yeast into the warm water, and let the yeast proof for 10 minutes, or until the top of the liquid becomes foamy. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the bread flour and 1 1/2 cups of the rye flour. Stir in the [optional] cocoa powder, brown sugar, salt, caraway seed, and fennel seed.
- Pour the yeast mixture, melted butter, and apple cider vinegar into the large mixing bowl and stir until the ingredients combine to form a rough dough.
- Place the dough on a floured surface and knead for 3 – 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. If your dough is wet and difficult to work with, knead in additional rye flour in 1/2 cup increments until the dough is only lightly sticky.
- Transfer the kneaded dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean cloth, place in a warm spot, and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
- After the dough has risen, punch it down and divide into two equal pieces. Roll the pieces into loaf shapes, and place each in a 9 x 5 inch, greased loaf pan. Cover the pans with a clean, floured cloth and let rise again for 30 minutes.
- Cook the loaves in a 400 F / 200 C oven for 25 – 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the bread reaches an internal temperature of between 180 – 190 F /82 – 87 C.
- Remove the finished loaves from the pans and let cool completely on a wire rack.
- Slice, toast, and enjoy this piece of Russian history with a healthy topping of butter and caviar, a nice sharp cheese, or your favorite sandwich toppings!
As always, thanks for stopping by for this week’s recipe! I hope to see you again on Sunday for another taste of cultural cuisine!