On September 25, 2018, I’ll be leading a group of up to 20 bakers and bread enthusiasts on a 12-day bakers’ tour of coastal Finland and Latvia. We’ll explore the cities and countryside, visit farms and mills, meet with national bakers’ associations. And, most important, we’ll learn from the bakers who produce some of the world’s finest rye breads. For details, visit the tour website.
by John Melngailis – Partner, Black Rooster Food, LLC
NOTE: I first met John Melngailis at Bread Furst, James Beard winner Mark Furstenburg’s Washington DC bakery. Mark had been kind enough to arrange for me to appear at the bakery to publicize The Rye Baker, and invited John, whose love of his native Latvian rye breads prompted him to found Black Rooster Food and start baking them commercially. Needless to say, John and I hit it off immediately, spending a good part of the morning talking about the marvels of Baltic rye. He was also kind enough to bring me a loaf of each of his breads — dense, sweet-sour rupjmaize, and a triangular loaf of his fruit-and-nut holiday bread, both of which were extraordinary. So when John sent me this essay on his relationship with the bread he loves, I simply had to share; it’s a fascinating read.
|Stages:||Sponge, Scald, 2-Stage sponge-scald|
|Leaven:||Rye sour culture, Instant yeast|
|Start to Finish:||28-32 hours|
|Hands-on Time:||45-50 minutes|
|Yield:||One 3.15 lb/1.40 kg loaf|
Latgalian Rye is one of those complex Baltic breads I’d been meaning to make for some time, but life, as usual, got in the way. Finally, having found the time to devote to this flavorful, technically interesting Baltic rye, I took the plunge.
Like other Latvian rye breads I’ve eaten, this one features a dark, chewy crust, close yet tender crumb and distinctive sweet-sour flavor profile. Likewise, the use of multiple pre-doughs, including not just a sponge, but also a scald and two sour-scalds, produce enormously complex and nuanced flavors.
|Stages:||Sponge, Final dough|
|Start to Finish:||24-30 hours|
|Hands-on Time:||30 minutes|
|Yield:||One 4 lb./1.80 kg loaf|
Over the months and years I’ve spent baking rye breads, I’ve developed a special fondness for Baltic ryes and for coarse-textured rustic breads. This Coarse Rye from Latvia fills the bill on both, making it one of my favorites. Interestingly, it combines bulk ferment, soaking and proofing into a single 12 to 16-hour stretch, after which the dough gets benched and baked in quick succession.
|Stages:||Scald, Sponge, Opara, Final dough|
|Leaven:||Rye sour culture|
|Start to Finish:||24-28 hours|
|Hands-on Time:||30-40 minutes|
|Yield:||One 2 lb. (900 g.) loaf|
I love Russian and Baltic rye breads for their intensity. So when, a few months back, I found some imported Latvian breads at my local international grocery store, my heart skipped a beat. Although I’d baked several different Baltic ryes while researching recipes for The Rye Baker, I’d never had the opportunity to taste the real thing, and so I immediately snapped up a loaf of the “Classic Rye Bread.”
Before I even sliced the loaf, I was struck by its density and the intoxicating sweet-sour perfume that enveloped me as soon as I unwrapped it – an aroma that I hadn’t experienced in any of the Russian or Baltic ryes I’d baked until then.