The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Russian sourdough no more?

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Lucifer's picture
Lucifer

Russian sourdough no more?

For those fortunate few to know what real russian bread tasted some while ago I have bad news - that bread is no more.


I just came back from a week long trip to Russia. My hopes to get a feel of what Borodinsky and other authentic breads should taste were shattered when I encountered the same spongy-type bread most of the west is eating now.


My reference point is 20-30 years back.


The bread came in these common types across most of the country with some local variations:



  • white brick, low grade - 15 - 18 kop (kop = copeika = cent), not worth remembering

  • white brick, med grade - 20 kop, sourdough, the staple of most families

  • borodinsky - 15 - 18 kop, top notch, made to the original standard in most cases

  • "baton" - 22 kop, high grade flour, resembles french bread

  • "round" - 40 kop, a big round high grade sourdough loaf

  • "rizhsky" - ?? kop, a rye/wheat sourdough brick


What they sell at the moment resembles in appearance the bread of that time, but it doesn't taste anywhere close. It is still cheap, though. It neither tastes good nor lasts long.


I feel very disappointed because I really really hoped to get some reference point to what I am trying to re-produce.


Sure, there are still bakeries that do make excellent bread, but the masses were switched to the same low quality commercial alternative by the new foreign owners of former state-run baking plants.


Maybe it's just the towns I visited this time?


Someone, please, tell me I am wrong.


 

Franko's picture
Franko

Lucifer,


The multi-national grocers and industrial bakery firms have found a production model that works for their margin, regardless of the product quality. From what I can gather from other members of TFL in various other nations, it looks like this is what our corporate food suppliers have decided to sell us. Using low prices along with mass and deceptive advertising to 'push' the stuff to the average family, they've created a whole new market in ersatz traditional or 'artisan style' breads. It's anyone's guess as to how long this trend will last, but I suspect this junk will be around for some time to come.


Franko 

ananda's picture
ananda

Hi Franko,


I agree with everything you say; pertinent remarks about the global and current phenomenon which is [at best] very average/ordinary, and [more usually] just plain disappointing foods of all types which are offered up by today's manufacturers and retailers.   Bread just happens to be a particularly poor example  of this.


We just have to work together to push better alternatives by any reasonable means.


Showcasing high quality homebaking on TFL is one fine way to do this!


Sorry about the lack of bread you would call real Russian Bread, Lucifer.   Everybody in the world deserves better.


Best wishes


Andy

Jaydot's picture
Jaydot

Hi Lucifer,


Do you know Andrew Whitley's book "Bread Matters"?


There's a recipe for Borodinsky in it - never made it myself because I prefer rye in small quantities (and I wouldn't know what it's supposed to taste like anyway), but I hear it's good. I believe Whitley has lived in Russia, so he should know what he's talking about.


Cheers,


J.

Lucifer's picture
Lucifer

Jaydot,


From a purist's point of view, what is described as Borodinsky in his book is not the one made in Russia during soviet times.


They had a nation-wide set of standards pretty much for everything. It's called GOST (Gosudarstvenni Otraslevi STandard). It was quite prescriptive on how Borodinsly should be made.


Some of the specific features there were:


1. Use of hot water to scald the flour before adding yeast/starter


2. 80% rye, 20% wheat


I do not follow that standard to the letter. What I get is less dense and simpler to make. Also, I don't use diastatic malt. Only aromatic one. There is enough amylase and other enzymes in the flour I use. Adding any more makes a mud-cake.


I'll be there next year with more time to actually meet with some old-time bakers. They sure have a secret or two to share :)

Daisy_A's picture
Daisy_A

Hi,


Interesting to read your notes on Whitley's Borodinsky. I have started baking with this formula and have actually gone down the route of scalding some of the rye, as I had read of this technique in German formulae and it helped to stabilise my sour. I didn't know it translated into the Russian tradition. Do you know what proportion of the rye was scalded in the Soviet era formula?


I've no knowledge of changing Russian baking cultures so cannot comment on the 'authenticity' of Whitley's formula. 


What I can say, however, is that based on his own description of being given Russian recipes, to be fair to Whitley, he is not drawing on the instructions for baking the standardised and prescribed loaves of the Soviet era. In fact he presents such standardisation as being destructive of local diversity. As he notes, confirming what you yourself say about standardisation producing a limited number of breads,


The Revolution destroyed the small private bakeries and industrialisation spawned standardised bread plants producing volume rather than variety. Regional recipes and local distinctiveness were all but eliminated. From one end of the country to the other, just a few breads were available (Whitley 2001:2).

In contrast, he claims that the sources for his recipes were inherited family recipes (4). These were more likely to have been informed by local distinctiveness and the traditions of bread baking that preceded the Revolution.


Is this accurate or a romantic interpretation? To be fair, I can't tell. What I can say though, is that Whitely is not offering a set formula for what he considers a Soviet era Borodinsky, which is likely to be one of the reasons that he uses rye sour, rather than 'pressed yeast' as a leaven.


I am sure that there are more and less authentic practices for making this bread and that good and authentic practices are certainly well worth protecting and promoting. Whitley, for example, eschews the use of cocoa and coffee as additives and a British-based Russian home baker I talked to a fortnight ago tended to agree with this. 


However I doubt the general promotion of good practice leads straight to the emergence of a single 'authentic' or 'one true' bread, as good practice can surely inform a range of formulae? Apart from the use of wheat in the Soviet formula, which I'd be interested to try, and the use of standardised yeast, which I take to be an corollary of mass production and view less enthusiastically, I see many similarities between the two formulae.


I understand that the Soviet era Borodinsky is the one that you seek. However, given that the fabled emergence of the recipe predates the Revolution by nearly a century,  there must have been hundreds if not thousands of localised versions of the 'one true Borodinsky bread' prior to Soviet standardisation? Moreover recipes continue to be adapted; for example, you mention adapting the formula you have to produce a less dense bread.


Any given Borodinsky recipe is surely only an adaptation or approximation of earlier versions? Wouldn't the Soviet era loaf, however prescriptive the formula, have drawn on previous and more diverse bread making heritages before emerging with a version suited to industrial production?


Still it's good to have this level of historical detail on the prescribed Soviet version. I had to google translate it, which was not ideal as it gave me 'rye wallpaper' as my first ingredient - would this be rye flour or rye sour?


I am also interested in the role of 'suslo' or malted rye. I understood the use of barley  malt in the Whitley formula to be a sweetener and non-diastatic. Is the 'suslo' in the Soviet formula diastatic?


Thanks to you and jlewis30 for bringing the Soviet formula to our attention. I hope your proposed trip and conversations with bakers clarify some of the things you are interested in.


Regards, Daisy_A


Whitley, Andrew (2001) 'Bread and Russia', first published as 'My life and loaves', Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 1(3), 14-18. Available online at http://www.breadmatters.com/files/russia.pdf



suave's picture
suave

Frankly, I think he doesn't know what he is talking about.

Daisy_A's picture
Daisy_A

Doesn't conflict with the opening of the thread, though, that also notes only a few 'national' loaves in the era of Soviet industrialization, e.g. two whites, borodinsky, baton, round and "rizhsky" with only some local variations?


DA

suave's picture
suave

Well, that doesn't ring true either, and I've been to the Soviet Union.  Well, perhaps what he describes would be a par for the course in some small town, but certainly not in a large city.  As to the Borodinsky, despite our infatuation with it, it was not (by far) the only black bread, certainly not the staple, and probably not even that  common.

rff000's picture
rff000

Actually, the percentages were 85% whole grain rye flour (muka oboynaya), 15% wheat flour ("second sort"--somewhere between what we call white and whole wheat in the US), and 5% red fermented rye malt (somewhat similar to crystal malt).


 


The percentage of rye flour for the scald varied. Auerman had it at 25%, but Royter only used 16%. At one time I compared their two recipes in some detail and posted the results on the sourdough section of groups.google.com.


 


I still have around a pound of fermented red rye malt that I bought in Russia last year, but I've been playing around with the red crystal malt I can get in homebrewing shops in my area.


I also had occasion to visit the Medvedkovo bread factory in North Moscow, thanks to the founder of the www.borodinsky.com website, who worked there at the time. I found that my home process was quite close to what they were doing (other than the obvious quantitative differences). They were using yeast, which I don't use, and used Auerman's technique of an extremely hot oven for the first five minutes or so, which gives a better rise.


 


If you can read Russian, have a look at www.borodinsky.com, or www.hleb.net.


 


Ron

Jaydot's picture
Jaydot

Forgot to mention: the book also explains (and condemns :)) all about industrial bread production; the subtitle is "why and how you should bake your own".

davidg618's picture
davidg618

I will begin by stating I agree entirely with the global state of most bread produced for public sale. Where I live (Florida, USA) even the few local bakers that call themselves "artisans" produce relatively poorer bread, than I produce in my home oven. That is the primary reason why we haven't bought commercial bread (artisan or otherwise) for the past decade. In the past year however, mostly due to TFL's influence, I've joined the ranks of passionate, obsessive home bakers.


Bread, is often more than a staple commodity, however. Its ready availability, at cheap prices, has been the root of governments' stabilities for centuries. Conversely, its widespread scarcity has, throughout history, been the underlying cause for local, regional, and ocassionally national revolutions.


In the former Soviet Union, from its formation to its demise, following Lenin's strict tenant bread producution was heavily subsidized by the government. It was nearly always available everywhere, and it was cheap. So cheap, that on at least one ocassion there was a scandal created when it became publically known that pig farmers were purchasing bread at the artificlally low subsidized prices, and feeding it to their pigs.


Good, inexpensive bread was a government assured "right" for decades. I was in Bulgaria, in 1996, in the early years of its current constitutional government, when it was rumored the reigning politicians had sold all the country's reserve wheat stores, and a bread shortage was imminent. A shortage, did not occur, but during the peak of the rumor the anti-politco tension was palpable in the news, the bars, and the streets.


I'm curious if the new governments within the former Soviet bloc countries continue to subsidize bread production, or its entirely a "free market" commodity. I'm not making excuses for the poor quality you encountered during your recent visit, but if what the consumer is willing to pay, after decades of subsidies, is the sole driver of the price of bread, modern practices, i..e., poor quality, seems inevitable.


David G

highmtnpam's picture
highmtnpam

For those of us in our 60's it seems to be a search for what we remember in our childhood or early adulthood... tomatos and bread are my bugaboos.  I went to school in France and the bread was fantastic...I spent years searching down French bakeries in the US for the same taste.  In later years when i traveled in France I really had to hunt for decent bread.  Frankly, I don't think it is the corporations fault.  I think it is ours.  We don't seem to be willing to pay for "fleeting" moments of good food or good companionship.  We seem to want more solid things to show our progress through life. Unfortunately,  Europeans seem to be following our example.  When I was in school in France everyone sat down for a noon meal.  Now, in France they run around eating sandwiches out of their hands at lunchtime.  Who knew???


Pam

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

I agree. We are now so corrupt and diseducated that my parents (both 70+) complain of my bread because it's tasty, rather than totally tasteless as the one they are accustomed to eat every day.

Candango's picture
Candango

In Moldova (now an independent republic, formerly one of the republics in the USSR), there is one major bakery - Franzelutsa - which supplies bread to virtually all of the markets in Chisinau and other major cities.  In Turkmenistan, flour is so important (because bread is such an important part of the diet), that the government would purchase supplemental wheat flour from neighboring countries - Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan - when there was an especially poor harvest in Turkmenistan in order to assure an adequate supply.  The same holds true for a number of other independent republics.


candango

jlewis30's picture
jlewis30

http://www.borodinsky.com/recipe/index-r.html


 


Pretty interesting site, and the google translate function in my browser worked great!

Franko's picture
Franko

Fascinating site! Thanks for sharing the link. I wonder exactly what is meant by 'starch' in the formula. Potato or corn I'm assuming.


Franko

jlewis30's picture
jlewis30

I particularly grooved on the "Standards" description

Candango's picture
Candango

For jlewis30:  Thanks for the site reference.  That is one heck of an interesting recipe, with ingredients including potato starch (they didn't use corn starch in USSR), malted rye, sugar and molasses, added to an 84% rye flour/16% white flour mix, with the hydration level not specified.  At any rate, at 111 kg, they were not kneading that by hand.

Candango's picture
Candango

For Daisy A:  The "Rye Wallpaper" you found via Google should probably be translated as "Whole grain rye flour".  While the word "oboy" generally refers to wallpaper, upholstry and drapes, another meaning (well down the list) is "whole grain milling" (oboyny pomol).  In regard to the malt in the recipe, it is probably diastatic rye malt, as the recipe used 6 kg of sugar and probably did not need another 5 kg of sweetener (non-diastatic malt).


 


Thanks for the reference to the Whitely article.  I have just downloaded it and will read it soon.


 


Candango

Daisy_A's picture
Daisy_A

 


Hi Candango,


Many thanks indeed for this information! I currently have a great (UK) rye flour - Bacheldre Mill which is stoneground, so that should be fine.


I think my barley malt is non-diastatic but I have just acquired some diastatic malt powder which I'm keen to try in small doses. Thanks for this clarification.


I hope you enjoy the Whitley article. I don't know if you know Whitley's wider backstory?  He writes engagingly, disarmingly even in this text. However he has been a real pioneer in the UK artisan bread movement, starting the Village Bakery, Melmerby in the 1970s, when the market was saturated with industrialised white bread, and currently leading the Real Bread Campaign (RBC) .


Andy/ananda who also worked at Melmerby has indicated that a variety of rye formulae were used for actual bakery production. These are more complex in some ways than the version for home bakers in Bread Matters. I'm loving baking with high levels of rye at the moment so may just try to take on some scalding of the rye as noted in both the older VB formulae and the Soviet era one. Wish me luck!


Kind regards, Daisy_A


 

Candango's picture
Candango

For Daisy A, Lucifer, Franco, et al.  While researching the Borodinsky site, I found references to another, "www.hleb.net", which appears to contain lots of information, in Russian and English, on Russian breadmaking.  Thought you might find it useful.


Cheers,


Candango

Daisy_A's picture
Daisy_A

Thanks Candango for this information.


Best wishes, Daisy_A