The doughy cleveage of Mother Russia – Borodinsky bread.

June 21st, 2011Katrina K

“Don’t say you’re full if you haven’t touched the bread.” Russian proverb.

Russian black bread, rye bread – it’s the stuff of dream, of national pride, of difference, of melancholic countryside with weeping birches and romantic images of maidens with long blond plaits and bearded men working in fields.

Borodinsky bread. In my garden.

When I was growing up my almost-daily task was to fetch some bread from a local bakery (yes, even in Soviet Estonia there were plenty of small scale bakeries).

One bulka and one black!

My mum would say referring to a loaf of elongated white bread and an obligatory loaf of dense, slightly sour but equally sweet black bread. The white stuff with a golden crumb would be eaten hurriedly (often half gone on the way from the bakery), for the pleasure was fast and easily understandable, even for a little teenage girl. Put a slab of butter and a thick slice of boiled sausage and you are done – not exactly happy but satiated, dumped.

The black bread was always a more complex story. You had to eat it slower, to chew more, it demanded stronger, more pungent flavours, there was a mystery behind its dark exterior and ability to store for days on end. This dark bread always had a story…

The dark exterior of Russian bread.

Borodinsky bread in particular is said to have a story deep in mystery and fierce patriotism. Of course the village of Borodino is the place where the decisive battle between Russian forces and Napoleon took place in 1812 – Russian won, triumphantly but having lost lots of blood.

Historians dispute the clarity of the outcome of the battle, but the legend of a Russian woman who volunteered to bake bread to encourage the troops, stays on.  It was September and so there were ripening seeds of coriander nearby, which she added into the mix…

The ‘proper’ (what’s proper is always open to negotiations) Borodinsky bread is made with suslo, rye malt, thick, syropy liquid. Andrew Whitley of ‘Bread Matters‘ who had lived in Russia and studied its bread, suggested instead using a combination of molasses and barley malt extract, or, if everything else fails, black treacle, although the result will be noticeably more sweet than the real thing.

People continually ask me with big, surprised eyes, whether I make my bread in a bread-making machine. No, I use my own hands to knead and an ordinary oven to bake. I’m not being ponsy, but I’ve never owned a machine and don’t really see the point in spending money – and highly valuable kitchen space – on such equipment, when the whole point of making bread for me is to go through this incredible, life-affirming process of feeling the dough and creating a loaf out of it – child-rearing associations certainly spring to mind.

Borodinsky bread, melted pork fat and smoked salt.

I made several loafs of Borodinsky for my latest Baltic Midsummer Brunchclub, and served it with pork smolets (rendered fat with garlic), herring and then ham with plenty of hot mustard.

Borodinsky Bread.

I am indebted to Andrew Whitley and his inspirational ‘Bread Matters’ book for this recipe and the courage to start making my own bread.

This recipe makes 1 small loaf.

1. first of all – you will to have rye starter, or what Russian call zakvaska.

Rye zakvaska, or sourdough.

I have made my own by simply mixing wholemeal rye flour with water over the course of 4 days (25 g of flour and 25 g of luke-warm water mixing daily, and let to ferment. after 4 days it smells wonderfully beery but only mildy).

My rye sourdough.

if you are not sure how to make it, you are welcome to ask me as I have some left-over or ask me for more specific instructions if unsure.

2. you will need:

270 g of production sourdough (from the process above)

230 g wholemeal rye flour (I often use Doves flour)

5 g sea salt

5 g coarsely ground coriander seeds plus some whole seeds for the top

20 g molasses

15 g barley malt extract (i bought both in WholeFoods)

90 g water (at around 35 C or about your body temperature)

This is what the production sourdough looks like after about 18-25 hours of fermenting. Smells amazing.

3. grease a standard size bread tin with some butter, or, as in my case, pork fat. sprinkle some whole coriander seeds over the base.

4. mix all the ingredients above into a very sloppy dough. the dough will be impossible to handle on a table cover on its own, as it’ll spread. so wet your hands, get your dough out of your bowl and shape with your hands into something resembling a rectangular, sort of wrapping the sides of the dough underneath itself. it will seem like it’s an impossible task, don’t worry, just do what you can and place the dough carefully into the tin trying not to scrape the sides of the tin.

Borodinsky in its tin.

5. important, once placed in the tin do not be tempted to temper with it, trying to smooth the surface. the bread will find its way. the absolute most you can do is very gently press your wet hands against surface if it is really ruffled.

6. cover the tin with a plastic bag (making sure the bag doesn’t tough the dough) and leave it in a warm place for anything between 2 to 6 hours OR in your fridge for 8-12 hours2-24 hours. at the end of this time, you’ll see that the dough has risen quite noticeably, about 3/4 of the tin is the original dough was below half.

7. whilst heating your oven to 200C, gently brush the top of the bread with just a bit of water, and sprinkle some crushed coriander seeds on top. place the bread in the oven.

8. turn the oven down to 180C after 10 mins and bake for another 40 mins.

9. take out at the end and leave to ‘sweat’ for 10-15 mins, after which it’s easier to take the bread out. it’s the task is still proving too difficult (never happens to me though when I use non-stick tins), leave to cool for longer and then use a wooden or plastic spoon to ease the bread out.

Eat with cured herring (as we did for the Baltic brunch), mature Cheddar, or heavy layer of honey – buckwheat honey in particular, I’d say.

  1. Roger says:

    Many thanks Katrina. I have followed your advice and have produced a perfect loaf of sourdough Borodinsky bread. I baked the bread uncovered at 200C (fan oven) for 10 minutes then at 180C for 40 minutes, removed the bread from the tin turned it over and put it back in the oven for a further 10 minutes to finish off. This gave a good even crust. I am really pleased with the result, which is absolutely mouth-watering. One very important part of the preparation seems to be the use of a ”sloppy” dough. My previous attempts have resulted in very dense bread, which didn’t rise very much. I put this down to the dough being too stiff. This time, using sloppy dough it rose quite considerably in the baking tin prior to baking and resulted in much lighter bread with a good even texture throughout. Delicious!
    Kind regards

    • Katrina K says:

      Dear Roger

      I’m absolutely chuffed that the bread came out so beautifully!

      Yes, my understanding that with most sourdough breads the dough should be really soft. When it’s wheat sourdough the dough is not so completely wet as it is with rye, but nevertheless. I love Borodinsky recipe, I have to admit, because no kneading is required, and the result is so delicious and complex.

      Hope you’ll come back for more recipe later!

  2. Roger says:

    I have recently been baking rye sourdough bread and trying different recipes. Your recipe for Russian Borodinsky bread is next and I’m really looking forward to it. Can you tell me please if it is a good idea to cover the bread with tin foil during baking. I have tried this on other recipes and it seems to leave a more even consistency of the top of the bread as opposed to a hard crust. Also another recipe for rye sourdough bread suggests baking for 1 hour at 170C(fan oven) then a further 30 minutes at 150C. I would appreciate your comments please.

    • Katrina K says:

      Hi Roger

      sorry for the delay in replying.

      no, I do not cover bread when baking it and wouldn’t suggest doing so. this dough is very soft and by covering it I think you risk ruining the finished result.

      as for baking time – have to admit never come across such long baking times (and I’ve got several books on baking rye recipes). why don’t you try with one loaf and see what happens? I’d certainly be curious in hearing how it went!

      btw, something I didn’t mention in the original recipe. I would strongly suggest taking the breads out after about 40 mins of baking, taking them out of their boxes (yes, they’ll be hot but leave them for a few minutes, then use towels), turning them upside down and baking them for further 5-10 mins. this way you’ll have a loaf that has an even crust all over, and not just on top.

      hope this helps.

  3. Igor says:

    This typical old Soviet school handwriting on the jar but in English looks funny. 🙂

  4. Katrina G says:

    I am confused about something, and I want to clarify before I begin. When I am making the starter, will I be adding 25g of both the rye flour and water daily? Or will I be stirring it daily. I am sorry, but I have never really cooked bread before, and I am embarking on my journey with this recipe. I love black bread, and I am so excited to find a recipe that does not containe coffee or chocolate. I refuse to try a recipe that contains those ingredients.

    • Katrina K says:

      hey Katrina

      to make the starter you combine 25 gr of flour with 25 gr of water one day 1, then add 25 gr of flour and 25 gr of water on day, and so on.

      you are right, the old ‘authentic’ recipes don’t contain coffee or chocolate – they are not needed to give the beautiful colour or that very particular sweet and sour flavour.

      any more questions, just let me know.

  5. Katrina K says:

    hehe, Karina, I totally agree – this bread-making business is for developing patience!:) – come to me, anytime

  6. I have thoroughly read your Borodinsky Bread recipe and reread it agin. I am clearly not as patient as you are, my dear. I am afraid that I have to come to you ( by a special request !) and try it again!


  7. Браклустов Евлампий Гундеевич says:

    Конечно, хорошо что я не пошёл если почти всё было со свинячиной, но увидев эти фотки хлеба да ещё и почитав, я, еле двигаясь после ланча, почувствовал голод и непреодолимое желание пожевать твоего бородинского.

    • Katrina K says:

      There was only one dish with pork, dear Evlampij Gundeevich (a a tiny optional nibble). But yes, Borodinsky was success too.


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