The earliest leavened bread baked by the Slavs was a type of sourdough. A lump of dough was reserved from each bread-baking and allowed to ferment, then used as the starter for the next batch. Even today classic recipes for yeast-raised dough begin with an opara, or starter, to add that faint taste of sour the Russians so love. This bread is especially aromatic as it bakes, reminding one of early accounts of St. Petersburg, where the stirring odor of freshly baked bread drifted down Nevsky Prospect at dawn.
Five days before bread-making, prepare the sponge by mixing the
Once the sponge is ready, prepare the bread. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water along with the sugar. Stir the sponge, which will have separated, and add it to the dissolved yeast. Stir in the salt, caraway seed and remaining
Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning the dough to grease the top. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1½ to 2 hours.
Punch down the dough and knead again for a minute or two. Sprinkle a large baking sheet with cornmeal. Shape the dough into one large round loaf and place on the baking sheet.
Cover the loaf and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. With a sharp knife slash an × in the top of the loaf. Brush it with cold water and bake for 45 minutes, until the loaf is nicely browned and sounds hollow when tapped.
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