Belarusian breakfast

June 28, 2011 § 2 Comments

The latest in the series making up our Breakfasts of the World project.

What an anonymous and grim-sounding place Belarus is. It’s a landlocked country nestling between Poland and Russia which declared independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. The landscape is largely flat, marshy and forested and thanks to this and the Soviet legacy its economy is dominated by agriculture and manufacturing.

Whilst researching Belarus and its food I was amused to come across Alby’s travel blog documenting the all-action Italian’s trip there in 2005:

“It’s difficult to give impressions about Belarus. From a certain point of view travelling here it’s nice: no hassle with the policemen and it’s quite safe, but on the opposite the landscape is monotonous and there’re not highlights enough to justify the trip. In addition the food doesn’t help, since it really sucks, but what can push you there is the possibility of a off-of-the-beaten-track travel in a country almost under a dictator that today turns out the most isolated in Europe.”

The dictator he refers to is Alexander Lukashenko who has held the presidency since 1994. Although not at the forefront of news stories, various European countries have imposed economic sanctions as a response to Mr Lukashenko’s authoritarian rule. Things may be changing – there are very recent BBC news reports of protestors defying the ban on public demonstrations in Minsk and making silent, peaceful protests. Something to watch as well as the higher news profile Arab Spring/Summer stories.

Perhaps understandably given travel blogger Alby’s view of the food he ate on his trip, descriptions of Belarusian food are few and far between on the web or from other sources. I did come across this little snippet from an unknown author on http://www.mapsofworld.com/belarus/society-and-culture/

“Belarusian cuisine mostly comprises of meats, vegetables and breads. The staple food of Belarus includes pork, potatoes, cabbages and bread. The diet of a typical Belarusian includes a very light breakfast with two heavy meals and the dinner becomes the largest meal of the day. Both wheat and rye breads are consumed in Belarus society and culture. Drinks are also a very popular part of the culture and society of Belarus.”

So, not much to go on. I decided a light breakfast might mean a cup of tea and a piece of rye bread. So far so good as, thanks to last year’s baking course at Welbeck, homemade 100% rye sourdough is now a regular feature of the breakfast table. It doesn’t appeal to everyone but I enjoy its dense, dark sourness. Rye bread takes well to the addition of fruit and,on a whim, I threw a handful of dried apricots into this particular loaf:

Surely that can’t be it though? I had another hunt around for Belarusian recipes and came up with Draniki, a fried potato pancake which is the de facto national dish of Belarus. I don’t know if draniki are eaten for breakfast in Belarus but that’s how we chose to eat them, with the addition of sour cream and smoked salmon as an atypical decadent touch:

The Draniki turned out pretty well and reminded me of Jewish latkes:

In fact, looking through a few recipes for latkes now, I see that the list of ingredients and the method are practically identical. In common with many simple, traditional recipes, it seems that each person has there own way of making draniki. Some say no flour, some say a little; some grate the potato very finely almost to a purée, some have more distinct potato pieces. The draniki recipe I give below is the one that I used having looked at a number of different Belarusian recipes. What’s important is to get the grated potato as dry as you can by draining off the excess water.

If emerging Belarusian tennis star Victoria Azarenka breakfasts like this today she’ll certainly power through her match to make it the Wimbledon semi finals – I’ll be watching later…

Recipe for draniki

Makes 8-10 individual pancakes serving 4 people in a modest way

Ingredients

6 medium potatoes
1 onion
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons flour
flavourless vegetable oil for frying

Grate the potatoes finely into a bowl. Drain off excess water, pressing with kitchen roll to absorb more liquid if necessary. Finely chop the onion and add to the bowl. Add the beaten egg, flour and seasoning to the bowl and stir together vigorously with a wooden spoon to make a thick batter.

Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan until hot but not smoking. Drop in spoonfuls of batter which will form thick round pancakes. Fry until golden brown then flip over and fry on the other side. Drain on kitchen paper to absorb excess oil and serve.

Recipe for rye bread

You can find this in a previous post here

Artisan baking part 2 rye sourdough

November 23, 2010 § 2 Comments

This post is the second of series describing the inspiring 4 day bread baking course I attended in last month at the School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire. I’ve decided to forget about describing the course contents in logical chronological order but instead to write about what inspires me at the moment. This week, that just happens to be rye bread, specifically rye sourdough.

Before the course, the inner workings of rye bread were a mystery to me: it remained an occasional eccentric supermarket purchase – cellophane-wrapped packets of pumpernickel containing dark brown strips of cardboard textured slices which seemingly last for ever had a certain masochistic expeditionary appeal.

I hadn’t appreciated that organic stone-ground rye flour was widely available and as a result I’d never have dreamed of trying to bake it myself at home. Since the course, all that has changed.

Our teacher, bread guru Emmanuel Hadjiandreou was brilliant and packed in so much information over the 4 days that it’s taken a while to sift through my photos and video clips. I’ve taken a crash course in basic video handling and editing in my latest One to One session at the Apple Store in Manchester and my very first little movie, imaginatively titled “Rye Sourdough” can be viewed by clicking on the following link.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qUNKKO1ULU

Now you can see yourself Emmanuel’s deft handiwork, the exact consistency of starter and finished dough and even hear the sound of a perfectly baked loaf.

Let’s start with Emmanuel’s recipe. The ingredients and quantities are exactly as on his beautifully typed-out recipe sheets handed out on the course but I have on occasion put his methods into my own words.

Recipe for dark rye sourdough bread

Ingredients

For the ferment

150g dark rye flour
100g rye sourdough
200g water

For the bread

1 quantity ferment (see above)
200g dark rye flour
6g salt
150g very hot water

Optional flavourings

For apple rye – add 200g chopped dried apple
For apricot rye – add 200g chopped dried apricots
For sultana rye – add 200g sultanas
For prune and pepper rye – add 200g prunes and 10g pink peppercorns
For onion rye – add 200g chopped onion, lightly fried

Begin the day before you want the bread by mixing together the ferment ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Cover with a smaller mixing bowl and leave to ferment overnight at room temperature. In another bowl, weigh out the remaining flour and salt and mix thoroughly. Set aside.

The following morning, when you’re ready to make the bread pour the flour and salt mix over the ferment in the first mixing bowl. Then pour over the measured quantity of very hot water (from a just boiled kettle). The layer of flour will protect the hot water from scalding and killing the yeast within the ferment. Mix thoroughly and add any optional flavourings at this stage. Shape into a greased tin.

Allow to rise/prove for about 2 hours. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees C. Place the proved loaf into the oven at this high temperature; add a cup of water on a hot tray in the base of the oven to form steam then lower the oven temperature to 220 degrees C.
Bake for about 30 minutes. Turn out and cool on a wire rack.

And now for the raw materials.

What we have here is a bowl of ferment (noun) – a wet dough mixture made the night before and left to ferment (verb) to activate the wild yeasts and develop the characteristic background sour flavour of good rye bread. Next to it is the weighed-out rye flour and salt. And that’s it. The rye flour had a silky texture and the prettiest more-than-pastel grey-green colour which when baked is transformed into a dark chocolate-brown loaf.

Here’s fellow student Jethro inspecting the small bubbles which have formed overnight in his ferment. Being able to see what’s going on in your dough from all sides was a bonus of using the semi-translucent plastic bowls we were provided with on the course. These lightweight bowls can be upturned and used as protective covers over fermenting doughs, another useful home-baking tip potentially saving metres of clingfilm and faffing with damp teatowels.

You can also see fellow student Diana carefully weighing out dry ingredients on the “My Weigh” (geddit?) scales we were provided with on the course. These were brilliant and so quick and easy to use and of course accurate to within a gram too – essential especially for getting the right quantity of salt in a recipe. We weighed everything on the scales, the water too, as of course 1ml of water weighs 1g and it’s much more accurate not to say speedy to weigh the water rather than use a measuring jug. Since coming home I’ve bought a set of these scales (Amazon marketplace) and consigned my retro scales with their dinky brass weights to the cellar.

Here is my brandy new all-singing, all dancing set of My Weigh scales on the kitchen table at home:

It seems very odd adding near-boiling water to a bread recipe. Rye bread is unique in requiring this step and Emmanuel talked about this causing a process within the flour called gelatinisation – the dough takes on a porridge like consistency. He showed us how to protect the ferment containing the essential wild yeasts from the hot water by using the flour as an insulating blanket with the hot water being poured over the top.

The rye dough doesn’t look very inspiring when first mixed – more like a building material. I quipped to Ben, a young chef from South Africa who was sharing my workbench that the dough reminded me of childhood holidays on the beach in Wales. He looked puzzled – it seems that beaches in South Africa are of the pure white sand variety rather than the grit, shingle and mud we’re used to over here!

The wet dough mixture is shaped by being tipped into the oiled tin and patted and smeared using a dampened plastic scraper into a mounded loaf shape. Emmanuel advised being careful not to let water from the scraper run down the sides of the tin as this will cause the loaf to stick.

After two hours or so, the rye loaves had increased in size dramatically. We were given the option of sprinkling the top with rye flour and you can see the effect this produces in the loaf on the left in the picture below:

I’ve not stopped making this recipe since returning home after the course. I’ve been using Bacheldre organic stoneground rye flour which gives really good results (sorry Jethro but Ocado don’t stock your stuff). It’s become a bit of a weekend routine to resuscitate the rye starter on a Thursday night ready for a Friday night ferment (sounds more exciting than it really is!) and a Saturday baking session. Here’s a pic of a couple of loaves I baked at the weekend. The resulting bread is moist, flavoursome and delicious, makes fantastic sandwiches and toast and is nothing like those cardboard pumpernickel slices….

Guten Morgen Von Österreich: Austrian breakfast

September 2, 2010 § 4 Comments

It was during winter holidays in Austria that I first began to gain an understanding of the German (in the widest sense) concept of gemütlichkeit (usually translated as cosiness but meaning much much more). At the Hotel Karl Schranz in the resort town of St Anton in the Tirol, this concept was embodied in the dining room with its wood panelling, flickering candlelight, pink linen napkins, and perfect attentive service. The eponymous Herr Schranz would occasionally grace us with his regal presence: the skiing wild child of the 1960s now transfigured into portly gentleman hotelier.

Herr Schranz clearly runs a tight ship as breakfast at his hotel was always an absolute delight – fruit juices decanted into glass jugs (my favourite being “Multivitamines” a bright orange concoction big on carrot and passion fruit juice); müsli and other cereals; delicious thick yoghurt; fruit salad; all kinds of jam, boiled eggs; and best of all wonderful bread – multigrain loaves thick with pumpkin and other seeds, rye bread, white bread and the distinctive and ubiquitous semmel white rolls.

Here is the Karl Schranz experience recreated at home as best I could:

A trip to Chorlton’s legendary Barbakan bakery and delicatessen provided most of what was needed in terms of wonderful fresh bread, cheese and ham. Chorlton is a suburb of South Manchester with a cluster of good food shops – the Unicorn grocery for fruit, vegetables and vegetarian items; Frosts the butchers for excellent meat (including unusual items like squirrel from time to time!) ; Out of the Blue fishmongers for properly fresh fish filleted in front of you, bags of clams and the like…is it worth moving house to have all this on my doorstep I wonder? For now, food shopping in Chorlton remains an occasional treat.

Here’s the Barbakan shop-front, a little unprepossessing from the outside but a real treasure-trove inside. My hands were too full and the shop too busy for me to take a good photo inside. On sunny Saturday mornings, the queue for fresh bread stretches out of the door so best to get there early.

I’ve just checked out the website http://www.barbakan-deli.co.uk/ and see that they have recently won, very deservedly, the 2009/10 Manchester Food and Drink Festival’s “Best Food and Drink Retail Outlet” award.

Barbakan’s 2 founders are Polish and much of their bread has a distinctly Eastern European feel – lots of rye loaves, and both caraway and poppy seeds are a preferred flavouring. Sadly on the morning I called they were fresh out of both Vienna sticks and Kaiserbrot, both of which would have been perfect for my Austrian theme. Instead, I opted for two loaves (German Altenburg rye bread “the true taste of Bavarian rye” , and a second rye loaf this one flavoured with caraway) and and some Polish poppy seed biegles, the originator of the modern US bagel. After all, poppy seeds are popular in Austria too most startlingly in the form of a main course germknödel (poppy seed dumpling) served with lashings of custard…I digress, so back to the bread, pictured below:

A true Austrian Hausfrau would have made all her own jams and preserves. Mine were all bought on this occasion, but as a nod to tradition I made a simple blackcurrant compôte to serve with yoghurt from the tempting looking punnet of blackcurrants that came from the Unicorn grocery just across the road:

Pictured with the blackcurrants are an equally tempting bag of ripe apricots and the fabulous Glebelands Road grown salad leaves – you can’t get more locally grown salad than this unless it’s in your back garden of course.

Here’s the finished compôte together with yoghurt and some pumpkin seeds to sprinkle on top. Austrians are nuts about pumpkins in any shape or form. Especially good is the deep green roast pumpkin seed oil which gives a wonderful flavour to salad dressings and, drizzled on top, to pumpkin soup.

All very pretty, but it takes a lot of effort to keep up this gemütlichkeit business – fresh flowers from the garden, best china, freshly laundered napkins and so on. The Austrian Hausfrau must be chained to the kitchen keeping up appearances. So for now it’s back to toast and cereal on the usual crockery, until our next international breakfast, this time from Azerbaijan…

Barbakan contact details

67-71 Manchester Rd
Chorlton cum Hardy,
Manchester
M21 9PW

Telephone: 0161 881 7053

http://www.barbakan-deli.co.uk/

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