Wednesday 14 May 2008

Rosy Russian Bread (and Grumpy Baker)

I grew up with my mum baking bread and since I moved out of home I have baked it occasionally. I like to think I know a thing or two about bread making. After kneading and proving enough yeasty loaves to feel comfortable with bread dough, I didn't expect that I would find myself struggling to make sense of what should have been a simple bread recipe.

On the weekend I decided to make Russian Vegetable Bread from New Recipes from the Moosewood Restaurant. I was attracted by the promise of a rosy hue and the opportunity to use up some fresh dill. One of the most helpful guides to bread making is in Mollie Katzen’s Enchanted Broccoli Forest and I would suggest the Moosewood writers take some writing tips from Mollie.

I know, I know, I should read the instructions more carefully. But it seemed odd that there was no sweetener in the ingredients list and yet when I checked the instructions in the appendix which apparently is for ‘wary novices’, I found it is needed. The instructions for adding the flour are vague and I don’t know why I was instructed to beat the dough 300 times.

The suggestion that beginners should go to the back of the book is alienating and patronizing. An ill-advised tactic if you are trying to persuade readers to ‘aspire to that memorable, evocative, appreciative romance with food, which seems to begin with real bread, made by hand’, as is stated at the introduction to the section. Despite my familiarity with bread making, I struggled with this recipe, even with checking the advice in the appendix. I am glad that I don’t consider myself a novice or this experience might convince me that I should never attempt another loaf of bread.

I found that the dough was too soft due to my laxness with adding flour. I kneaded it for 25 minutes and it still didn’t get to the right elasticity. I baked it longer than advised. And, yes, I was a little narky when it finally came out of the oven after 6 hours of kneading, proving, and baking, because it seemed that it wasn’t cooked properly.

As it happens, E has loved this bread. I had expected it to be too strong, too dense, too weirdly coloured for the Grim Eater. But he was full of praise. After commenting that it looked like some alien life form, he happily sampled and told me he couldn’t get enough of the bread. The rosy-hued crust seemed intriguingly unnatural and it was odder still to slice the loaf open and find the inside a warm caramel colour with flecks of crimson beetroot. It was surprisingly and pleasingly soft with subtle flavours of molasses, rye and caraway.

It seems that something went right. In fact, it was good enough and interesting enough that I would recommend trying this bread, despite my anxieties. I hope that I have amended the below recipe enough to make it a little friendlier to novices and experts alike.

Russian Vegetable Bread
(from New Recipes from the Moosewood Restaurant)
Makes 2 loaves

1 tbsp dry yeast (1½ x 7g packages)
½ cup luke warm water
½ -1 tsp sweetener (sugar, honey or agave)
1½ cups hot water
3 tbsp molasses
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp salt
3 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
2 tsp caraway seeds
2 cups peeled and grated raw beets, carrot and/or parsnip
2 cups wholemeal flour
3-4 cups unbleached white flour
2 cups rye flour

Mix the hot water, molasses, oil, salt, dill, caraway seeds, and grated vegetables in a large bowl. Set aside to cool to lukewarm.

Mix the yeast, warm water and sweetener in a small bowl. Sit for about 5 minutes until the yeast begins to foam. When the vegetable mixture is lukewarm, add the yeast mixture. Mix in the wholemeal flour and 1 cup of the white flour. Beat for 300 strokes (What this instruction is all about is not explained and I would prefer a little more kneading so next time I don’t think I will bother with the beating but if you enjoy a little beating, go ahead).

Add rye flour and 1-3 cups of the white flour. (In the book it says enough flour to make a stiff dough. I don’t think I added enough and had heartache trying to knead it in so next time I would add 2 cups white flour.) Mix to a stiff dough.

Turn onto a floured board and knead for 10 – 15 minutes until the dough develops an elasticity akin to your ear lobe. I found it a soft sticky dough that constantly needed to be fed flour to stop it sticking to the board, but it may have been because I didn’t put in enough flour initially. It was amazingly pink and after kneading my hands smelt of molasses, but the flavour was more subtle in the end product.

Place dough in an oiled bowl, turn to make sure all sides are oiled and cover with a damp teatowel or plastic clingwrap. Let it rise 1½ hours in a warm place. Punch down the dough and knead briefly. Set aside again, cover and let rise another hour. This is a dough that rose quickly and ballooned over the top of my large mixing bowl.

Preheat the oven to 375 F or 190 C. When dough has risen a second time, punch down the dough and briefly knead. Oil two 12 x 23cm loaf tins. Divide up the dough into 4 or 6 pieces and knead into smooth balls. Divide these balls among the tins to form loaves. (I put one loaf in a tin and one on a baking tray so they look quite different - just use a baking tray if you don't have the right tins.) Cover and leave to rise about 45 minutes.

Bake for 35-60 minutes. (Mine took 60 minutes but the recipe said 35-40 – tap the bread to see if it sounds hollow. If the crust is still too soft it will not sound hollow.) Keeps well for a few days.

On the stereo:
Live at Royal Albert Hall on 2 November 2007: The Cinematic Orchestra


  1. This looks and sounds like a really interesting bread and I'm sorry it caused you such a hassle to make. 25 minutes of kneading - you are a bread-making star! You've kindly made it easier for all of us to follow you now (it looks like a great way to use up veggies?!)

    Don't laugh, but I loved your giraffe cake so much, and it brought back so many lovely memories of a certain cake I'm hoping to recapture from my own childhood that I just bought the book on ebay!

  2. These loaves look delicious. Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  3. Sounds like a great way to get your veggies! I'm always wary of yeast breads (they've never worked for me in the past), and I think if I'd had this experience, I might have been dissuaded. But yours looks wonderful (love the pink crust!).

  4. Thats certainly an unusual bread. I love you it keeps its pink/purple hue.

  5. Some things are just going to make us shake our heads. The rosy crust really is terrific looking and it sounds like somebody enjoyed it if not the baker. Sorry.

  6. thanks Lysy - 25 minutes of kneading is ridiculously long - but it was a good bread. And I will look forward to seeing your childhood cake - they are lots of fun so am glad you were inspired

    thanks SpiceLove - it did taste great

    thanks Ricki - I love eating yeasted breads and am lucky to have a few people to inspire me with their breads and remind me how good it tastes straight out of my own oven!

    Thanks Katie - the pink crust is amazing - I don't think I have ever seen anything like it before.

    Thanks Tanna - the recipe was a mystery to me but the bread was a wonder - it is just my sort of thing so I did enjoy eating it, if not the making

  7. Thanks for posting a friendy version of the recipe -- I'm oddly intrigued by the thought of pink bread... It makes me think of Green Eggs and Ham... ;)

  8. Wow! What an interesting bread! I love the addition of beetroot in anything and with dill it sounds fantastic. What a silly book though?! Why the hell would you want to keep going back and forth to the appendix. I completely understand how you felt alienated. Great loaf though so I'm glad you persevered.

  9. that's a rpetty colour. let's start a grumpy baker's challenge . lotsa folks will sign up. lol.

  10. thanks Happy Vegetarian - pink bread and green eggs does sound fine psychedelic fare doesn't it!

    thanks Helen - yes I love beetroot in anything too which was a great attraction of this bread - the bit that really annoyed me was the instruction 'proof the yeast' which is not a term I am familiar with but then the suggestion that if I wasn't I was a novice rather than that different books have different ways of saying it.

    thanks Bee - things we put up with for a glorious colour!

  11. That is so frustrating when a recipe is poorly or just plain incorrectly written. Very glad you were able to salvage the loafs, they look pretty darn good. This recipe certainly contains an interesting assortment of ingredients, very unique - I like unique :)

  12. Wow, despite the effort involved, this is something I would love to taste. A perfect project for a rainy afternoon.

  13. thanks LisaRene - definitely unique - I always like something a bit different from the norm too

    thanks Lisa - it is a great rainy day project and feels so good to have soup and bread made at home on a winter's day

  14. Such a curious bread, it really is quite beautiful. Unanimous praise in our house with half of the batch eaten at the end of the day one.

  15. thanks Ricki - yes it is curious esp the alien pink crust and the normal inside - and I agree that eating that much in a day is a great compliment


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