When I was first introduced to kvass last fall, a number of friends tried to prepare me for what I was about to consume and yet none of their descriptions seemed all that appealing. They assured me that nothing could beat a cold glass of the stuff on a hot summer day, but they warned me that it was like nothing that we drink in the US.
“It’s kind of like a flat, sweetened, non-alcoholic beer”
“Think of drinking a glass of liquefied bread”
“Don’t ask questions, just drink up!”
…and now almost 9 moths later, I have been converted.
For those of you who have never spent any time in Eastern Europe, kvass is a traditional beverage made from slightly fermented black bread that has been allowed to steep in a pot with raisins and other fruit for a day or two. After this bready concoction has been left to do its magic, it is then cooled in the fridge and enjoyed amongst friends to beat the summer heat.
Being the homebrewer that I am, I decided that I would try my hand at brewing up my own batch. I also decided that I’d take things a step further by baking my own Russian black bread to use as the a base for the beverage. Here are recipes for both:
Russian Style Black Bread (Makes 2 Rounds)
- 2 packages active dry yeast
- pinch sugar
- ½ cup warm water
- 2 cups water
- ¼ cup molasses
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
- ½ cup whole wheat flour
- 3 cups medium rye flour
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup bran
- 2 tbsp caraway seeds
- ½ tbsp fennel seeds
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp dried minced shallots
1. In a small bowl, combine yeast and sugar with warm water. Stir to dissolve and let stand until foamy (approx 10 min)
2. Heat 2 cups water, molasses, vinegar, butter, and chocolate until the butter and chocolate are melted. Set aside.
3. Combine whole wheat, rye, and all-purpose flours in a large bowl and set aside
4. In a large mixer with a paddle attachment combine 2 cups of mixed flour, bran, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, salt, and shallots. Slowly incorporate yeast mixture and chocolate mixture and mix until smooth. Beat at high speed for three minutes.
(Note: If you find yourself living in a small Moscow apartment without an electric mixer w/ paddle attachment, first give yourself an arm workout by vigorously mixing the ingredients by hand, and then knead the dough on a counter by hand – adding a bit of flour at a time – until it is smooth and springy)
5. At low speed, add half a cup of remaining flour mixture at a time until the dough clears the sides of the bowl.
6. Scrape dough off the paddle, flour your work surface well, and knead to make a springy yet dense dough.
7. Form dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Turn once to grease the top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm area until doubled in size (1.5 – 2 hours).
8. Gently punch down dough and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide in half and form into two rounds. Cover loosely and with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size and puffy (about 45 minutes). Slash an X into the top of the round before baking.
9. Bake in a preheated 350*F oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until loaves are well browned.
(Note: If you find yourself living in a small Moscow apartment with an unreliable oven, repeat this process three or four times – each time burning the hell out of your bread – until you finally are able to tweak the cooking time to something that produces a loaf that is neither raw nor charred.)
10. Remove rounds from baking sheet and cool completely on a wire rack.
I can understand if you want to stop here and simply enjoy your homemade black bread with some salty butter and pickled fish, but if you are feeling adventurous now comes the fun part. Kvass!
- 1 full loaf (or two rounds) homemade Russian black bread
- 1 ½ gallons boiling water
- 3 cups sugar
- 2 packages yeast
- ¼ cup raisins
- 1 large tea towel / cheesecloth
- butcher’s twine
1. Place bread inside of tea towel and tie bundle securely with butcher’s twine. Place bundle in a very large pot and pour boiling water over it. Cover and let sit until water is lukewarm.
(Note: The longer you let the bread steep, the darker and more “bready” your kvass will turn out)
2. Remove bundle from pot and allow excess liquid to drip back into pot of steeped bread-water.
3. Add sugar and yeast, stir, and cover. Let mixture sit in a warm place for 10-12 hours.
4. Pour liquid in a large jar (approximately 1 gallon) and add raisins. Refrigerate liquid for 5 days, and then serve.
(Note: Some fermentation will take place, but not enough to raise the alcohol percentage higher than .5% . If you are using a glass jar for fermentation, make sure to release pressure at least once a day in order to prevent a blowout. If using a plastic jug, keep an eye on the mixture and release pressure if necessary)
So there you have it. After about a week of mixing, kneading, baking, steeping, brewing, and bottling, you too can enjoy a little bit of Russia wherever you might be.