Method

When preparing bread, some dough always remains on the bottom and sides of the kneading trough. These scraps of leftover dough are enough to sour the next batch of bread. If you prefer a more sour dough, you must leave an additional piece of dough, the size of a goose egg, in the trough. Never wash the trough but keep it clean, always covered with a tablecloth and a round wooden plank. This way, the dough will not go flat and it will be protected from dust. The trough must be stored in a dry and clean place where the air is fresh, otherwise the bread may spoil. Do not use this trough for any other purpose. Sometimes it happens that the leaven in the trough spoils. In that case, the bread will fail to rise and, upon baking, will turn black, heavy, and hard. Some people rectify the trough as follows: turn it over and pour boiling water over the bottom, wipe the interior with an onion and salt, rinse with water at room temperature, and prepare dough as usual for fresh leaven. Always bake sieved rye bread with pure water, but sieved wheat bread may be baked with either whey or yogurt. Every type of bread, however, must have its own special trough. Using the wrong trough will cause the bread to spoil. It is impossible to indicate precisely the amount of flour and water needed. This depends on the quality and dryness of the flour, but the approximate propontions are as follows. For ¼ pail of water, whey, or yogurt, use 1 pail flour.

Flour intended for bread must first be thoroughly dried by spreading it out in front of the oven on a table covered with a cloth. In the evening prepare a dough; that is, take a piece of leaven, dilute it with water, and mix. Pour ⅓ or ½ of the intended flour into the leaven, dilute with the intended water, whey, or yogurt, which has not been boiled but heated to only 25 degrees Reaumur. Mix thoroughly with a paddle (vecelochka), sprinkle the flour on top, cover, and set in a warm place until morning. If using sifted wheat flour, the dough must be rather liquid, but if using ordinary rye, the dough will be thicker. By the next morning the dough will have risen (but only if the kneading trough has stood in a warm place) and the flour, which was sprinkled on top, will not be visible. Sprinkle on the remaining flour and some salt. Add caraway seeds if desired. Knead the dough as usual for at least half an hour. After the dough is well kneaded, Le., when it no longer sticks to your hands, cover with a tablecloth and leave it in the kneading trough until it rises. It should rise in 1½ or 2 hours if it rests in a warm place and is well covered. Roll the dough into loaves. If the bread is made from sieved wheat flour, the loaves may be dropped into water (as cold as river water in the summer), where they must stay until they rise. When the loaves float on top of the water, set them in the oven. This method is good because one need not worry about the time required for the bread to rise; quite simply, when bread rises to the surface, set it in the oven. However, if the loaves rise on the table, a small piece of dough may be dropped into water as a test; when it rises, all the loaves should be set in the oven.

Or, after rolling out the loaves, set them on the table, covered, in a warm place, and let them rise. It will require 30–45 minutes and sometimes a little longer for the dough to rise as it ought to. In large part the success of the bread depends on this. If it has not risen enough, the bread will be heavy and dense, and if it has risen too much so that it cannot rise any more in the oven, the dough will fall and become hard.

To transfer the bread into the oven, set the loaf on a wooden bread peel* sprinkled with flour. Pour boiling water over the bread, smooth the surface, and set in a cleanly swept out oven. Bread that has risen in water need not have boiling water poured over it.

For bread made of sieved wheat flour, the temperature of the oven must be 60 degrees Reaumur, but the oven must be much warmer for ordinary rye bread. The oven can be tested by throwing a handful of flour into it. If the flour browns gradually, the temperature is suitable for baking. If it immediately burns or does not brown at all, then the oven is too hot or not hot enough. Close the damper after setting the loaves in the oven.

It is difficult to judge how long to leave the loaves in the oven. The time varies according to the heat and the size of the loaves. A 12 lb loaf should bake in 2 ½ to 3 hours and a 1 lb loaf in ¾ hour. Take one loaf from the oven to test whether the bread has baked long enough. The loaf is done if it is light and if, after tapping the lower crust with the middle joint of your fingers, a knock can be heard. When the bread has browned and is almost done, remove each piece one by one. Immediately pour boiling water over each loaf, right by the oven, and return the loaves to the oven. Rye loaves need not be doused with boiling water at all; only smooth them over when setting them in the oven, after dipping your hands in cold water. After they are done and have been removed from the oven, moisten them lightly with water. The loaves must be removed from the oven carefully. Place them on the table around a drum sieve; that is, place one end on the table and lean the other end against the sieve to allow air to circulate underneath and to cool both the upper and lower crusts at the same time. Let the bread cool before moving it to a cold place.

*A bread peel is a pole with a broad flat disk at one end used for thrusting bread and pies into the oven and removing them from it. One of the oldest baking tools, peels are still a necessary implement for large, deep ovens. In American commercial establishments, they are commonly used for baking pizzas.

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