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The legend has it that this solemn dark rye sourdough was first baked before the battle of Borodino, to give courage to the Russian troops for the fighting ahead. Another version holds that it commemorated a Russian general fallen in the battle, baked (bread, not the general) by the grieving widow. Good tales, either way. If the bread baking traditions were as strong in Britain, we should now have Waterloos, Blenheims, D-Days or at least Charges of the Light Brigade in supermarkets instead of Hovis or Tesco Everyday Value.
The loaf is rather hard-core if you’re used to your plain sliced white. It’s dense, intensely sour, strong on coriander and dark in colour. It takes forever to rise and doesn’t do much oven spring. You have to start the rye sourdough on a Monday at least in order to enjoy a weekend loaf. But it works if the recipe is followed closely and the end product is very rewarding. No wonder Napoleon had to eventually beat a retreat…
The recipe comes from the excellent Bread Matters by Andrew Whitley.
- For the rye sourdough (made over 4 days):
- 100g wholemeal (dark) rye flour
- 200g very warm water (at 40C)
- For the production sourdough (fermenting for 12-18 hours):
50g rye sourdough starter
- 150g wholemeal (dark) rye flour
- 300g very warm water (at 40C)
- For the main dough:
- 270g production sourdough (the rest can be used for another loaf, or binned)
- 230g rye flour (light or dark)
- 5g sea salt
- 5g coarsely ground coriander plus a little extra to sprinkle on top of the loaf
- 20g molasses
- 15g barley malt extract
- 90g warm water (at 35C)
- whole coriander seeds, to sprinkle in the tin
On day 1 mix 25g dark rye flour with 50g very warm water in a large jar or a plastic tub with a lid. Keep it in the warmest place in the house you can find (airing cupboard does well). On day 2, 3 and 4 add another 25g of rye flour and 50g of warm water. You should get a bubbly starter – bubbles are the sign of life here, it doesn’t significantly expand. Let the starter ferment for 24 hours after the last feeding before making the production sourdough.
Mix 50g of the starter with the other ingredients for production sourdough. The rest of the starter can be stored in the fridge, and fed with 25g flour and 50g water 24 hours ahead of your next rye loaf.
The production sourdough needs to prove in a warm place for 12-18 hours.
Prepare a small loaf tin by greasing it thoroughly with butter. Sprinkle some whole coriander seeds over the bottom of the tin.
To make the Borodinsky dough, mix all the ingredients to a soft dough – it won’t be anything like wheat dough, not stretchy or elastic, rather resembling a brownish concrete mix or mud! Turn it out onto wet worktop, wet your hands too and form a rough shape of a loaf. Place it in the tin, cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for up to 6 hours. If you use just dark flour for the main loaf, the rise will be very slow indeed – but the flavour more intense.
When the loaf has risen appreciably, at least doubled in volume, sprinkle the rest of the crushed coriander over the top and put in the oven preheated to 220C/425F/gas 7. Bake for 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 200C/400F/gas 6 and bake for further 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and turn out onto a wire rack. If the loaf doesn’t want to come out, leave it in the tin for a while. Cool completely before wrapping in cling film or a polythene bag. Rye bread is best after it’s had a day’s rest and slices more easily.