17 October 2011

My Chancy Attempt at Russian Rye Bread


A kneading break after a 5 minute workout.

Hesitation and procrastination...

I was worried baking bread would be more chaos than Larissa could stand, maybe with yeasted dough growing quickly to fill the kitchen, and bulging out the door. 

First, I was going to wait until she was gone for the day, but then I thought that was a little sneaky, and anyway she might come home (not the first time) to a smoking disaster.  She stayed calm, helpful, and a good sport about the mess in her kitchen.


Finding ingredients...

Our two neighborhood supermarkets in our part of St Petersburg have no

  • onion powder
  • unbleached wheat four
  • un-bromated flour
  • molasses
  • malt or
  • dried mustard. 

Without the right ingredients it’s hard to make a good bread.


20 Steps to get started baking bread...

If you break apart something you plan to do, and figure out what’s the first step, second step, and so on... why then you have enough confidence to start.

After checking many recipes for Russian Rye Bread, I selected two authentic recipes [listed below] that appeared possible for a beginner to bake. Then I melded what seemed sensible into 20 steps. 

The 3 1/2 hours span these steps take allows gluten and other ingredients to become digestible.  If bread disagrees with you, it’s probably because now in 2011 it is made -start to finish- in two hours, an unhealthy fast bread process which the baking industry has foisted on consumers since the 1950s.  Dough is best if allowed to ferment for more than 6 hours.


Some cogitations and adjustments along the way...

The recipes weren’t clear about when and how to add the wheat flour.

I found it necessary to switch to a larger mixing bowl half way through the recipe.

We didn’t have a metal sheet so I resorted to circular baking tins.

Two loaves on a cooling rack. 


My lugubrious thoughts on trying my bread...

That evening it just wasn’t edible. It would have been easier to saw wood than to cut this bread. It hurt my old teeth and gums. The taste wasn’t good. 

That night  I had dejected thoughts.

    These loaves could be doorstops. 

    A piece of this bread would be better than the proverbial sheriff’s badge, better than a small Bible in the left breast pocket, as it could easily stop a bullet.

    This bread could parry a knife attack!

    If you smacked someone’s face with it, it would leave a nasty bruise.    

    If dropped on your foot, your toes would hurt for a week.

But with the new day...

OK bread that pleased the Russian wife!

We had a few pieces with soup at dinner.  Now cool, the crusty bread has become softer and Larissa liked the taste.  Noosha the parakeet eagerly took crumbs from a piece wedged in the side of her cage.


What to learn from my bread experience? 

I need practice!  I found some good ideas in the Hubpages [listed below].

Start with pleasantly warm water, not tepid, not hot.  Error on the side of a few more ounces of water, as wetter is better in dough handling, even if you have to knead in the bowl instead of on the board.  In the oven, the yeast will stop acting and the excess water will evaporate.

Understand what punching down means.  I  took this literally and joked that it’s preferable to hitting one’s wife,  Actually, the French call this step turning the dough... moving the dough and gently folding it over on itself to keep as much gas in as possible, not deflate the mixture.

 I will...

  • Add a pinch of salt
  • just a teaspoon of vinegar... or none
  • use caraway spice only
  • use just a pinch of baker’s yeast
  • allow more rising time
  • use a baking tray
  • add a pan of water to the bottom of the oven to help initial oven spring
  • use the central oven rack
  • try the Lahey method... let the dough sit for 18 hours, with no kneading


I’ll keep at it until I report back with good results.  This first attempt tastes better with time.  And  Russian rye is famous for keeping teeth white!

Notes worth checking!

Two bread recipes

Russian Rye recipe from King Arthur Flour, credited to Anya Von Bremzen, Please to the Table, the Russian Cookbook.

Russian Black Rye by Natalya Mann, Missouri translator originally from Volgograd.


      Never punch down the dough, by John D. Lee

      Baking bread easy, by Steph Harris

More valuable information

      Nourished Magazine... How bread became a negative.   .

      Bread Experience... A great reference.

      Let Time Do The Work...  Mark Bittman, NYT, about Jim Lahey


Comments, suggestions, and tips are very welcome!  Or see other ways to communicate on the Wibiya strip below.



  1. Well done Robert for trying - but mind those teeth!

    1. Hi Rob,

      Yes, strong crusty bread is great tasting and good for toasting but can be dangerous for aging teeth!



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  3. Hi Kathy,

    Thank you for stopping by!



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