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211 Notes on Russian Sourdough Bread


This article is from the collection of recipes from the Sourdough Mailing List, by David Adams with numerous contributions by others.

211 Notes on Russian Sourdough Bread

# From feldstei@silver.ucs.indiana.edu (ronald f. feldstein)

Notes on Russian Sourdough Bread

I. Sourness of Russian cultures and the ratio of rye:wheat flour.

I would like to comment on certain things that have been said about
Russian sourdough bread and cultures. My knowledge of this has mainly
come from reading such books as the technical manual Bread Production
(Khlebopekarnoe proizvodstvo. Kiev, 1966), by I. Royter, as well as
several years of practical experience as a hobby.

I. Many people comment on the fact that the Russian sourdough culture
is very sour. This is not by accident. The general rule of Russian
breadbaking is that dough from wheat flour is not supposed to be sour,
while dough from rye flour is supposed to be very sour. Thus, Russian
bread manuals are divided into two basic sections: wheat flour dough
and rye flour dough. When rye flour constitutes over 50% of the total,
it counts as rye flour. Wheat flour dough is, therefore, leavened by
using regular commercial yeast or yeast sponges. Rye flour dough inev-
itably is made with the use of a sour, which can be boosted by yeast if
it is too weak. The lactic acid in rye dough is not considered to be
necessary only for its flavor. As Royter notes: (p. 62)
Rye bread is supposed to contain much more acid than is wheat
bread. This is essential not only for giving flavor, but to halt
the activity of ferments, which are high in number in rye flour,
and to improve the physical properties of the rye dough and bread.
The use of sours is also facilitated by the fact that lactic acid
bacteria are the ones that mainly develop in rye dough. The lac-
tic acid which is formed in this process gives a pleasant taste to
the bread; even when it occurs in large quantities (15-18 degrees
N) it is well tolerated by the yeast cells.

Therefore, in Russian bread the amount of sourness is roughly propor-
tional to the quantity of rye flour. A chart on pp. 108-110 of the
above mentioned book makes this clear. Here are some ratios of rye and
wheat flour and the suggested acid level (in N degrees):

     Name                  Rye:Wheat            Degrees of Acid
Plain Whole Rye              100:0                   12
Borodino                     85:15                   10
Ukrainian types:             50:50                    9
                             20:80                    7.5

The conclusion to be drawn is that a full rise with a real Russian
culture will produce a sour bread, which would only be considered tasty
and normal in the case of a high percentage of rye dough.

II. A sample recipe for Borodino bread.

The following general recipe has worked well for me. It is based on
the booklet Household Bread (Domashnii khleb. Moscow: 1991). The
amounts are approximate. It is assumed that an active sour starter is

1. Put 2 cups of whole rye flour (finely ground is easier to knead) in
a mixing bowl and pour 20 ounces of nearly boiling water over the
flour. Add 1 teaspoon of ground coriander seed and 4 tablespoons of
malt syrup. Mix thoroughly and let cool to around 85 degrees F.

2. When the mixture is at 85 deg., add 1/2 cup of the sourdough start-
er. If the starter is too weak to raise the dough, you could add com-
mercial yeast also at this point. Let this mixture sit for 10-12 hours
at around 85 degrees F.

3. Add 2 teaspoons of salt to the mixture and mix well. Add 1 cup of
whole wheat flour and mix. Continue to add rye flour (around 3-4 cups)
until it can be kneaded without too much sticking. Sprinkling the
surface with cold water or a little vegetable oil helps hasten this
process. Shape and smooth loaves, using water. (I get 2 small loaves
out of this quantity.)

4. Proof the shaped loaves around 1 1/2 - 2 hrs., or until it doesn't
rise anymore.

5. Bake at around 325 deg. F. for 2 hours.


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