31 October 2016

Quite near

Downstairs a drama is unfolding.

In my bedroom there is a mosquito on the window, it makes thumping sounds as it runs into the glass, in angular curves, like the ones on a cardiogram, moves from one corner to the next. I'm in bed, arms under a pillow, and I'm watching it. There is not much choice for the mosquito to go elsewhere, the window is closed. I'd give it a moment before it will sense there is warm blood on the pillow, an easy reach. The sky is all grey, thick grey, it makes the mosquito look grey too.

A man with a pistol walks out of the hallway, starts to pace in front of the building.

The wine last night has left me with the disinclination to get out of bed too early. It was a good red, too good to stop at a glass. I baked a loaf of Russian rye and there were well-aged Dutch farmer's cheese, butter, a couple of soft-boiled eggs that trod on the edge of hard, and the remnants of an OK, store-bought roast chicken. We both agreed we could have made a better chicken ourselves, but we'd been too hungry to wait I suppose. Anyway, all that was dinner, and it was delicious. We had it on the floor, with the balcony door open, 'a picnic'. 

Downstairs police cars are everywhere, a security cordon around the entrance. The man has fired the pistol. Sirens break through the glass, come to a halt quite near. I wonder what may be wrong, eyes tracking the mosquito's ups and downs along the window frame.

The phone buzzes, but it's so far away, on the computer desk. The thought of getting up and out from under the warm blanket isn't so agreeable right now, it's my free day after six days of work. I'll get out of bed when the mosquito has finally reached me, I'm thinking. The phone buzzes again, makes me curious. I'm now willing the mosquito to finally get close enough to be annoying, so I have a good reason to make a move myself. Now it starts ringing. I'm getting up.

It's 12 p.m. on the phone clock, plus two messages and a missed call from Anthony. There is a shooting right in front of our building, says one, and a link to a Dutch news site in the other. I stare at the phone screen, make out that at least no one is injured.

I sit back down on the bed to call back Anthony. We exchange a few incredulous can-you-believe-its. After I hang up I reach for a newspaper by the bed and swat at the mosquito. Got him. Then I open the window and go to the kitchen. I set the kettle on and as I wait I cut a thick slice of the rye bread from last night to go with my coffee. I'll spread honey on it now. It's my favourite most comforting Russian bread -- Borodynsky.

Borodynsky Bread

Adapted from Bread Matters, by Andrew Whitley
Makes 1 large sandwich loaf

This is a beautiful bread: hearty, moist, dark, dense, intensely sour and flavoured with coriander seeds. Somebody I know even compared it to beer, something to do with the floral coriander seeds. It's certainly the most consumed bread in Russia, I grew up on it. Some time ago a great idea descended on me to make my own Borodynsky. Now I have a tub with rye sourdough starter in the fridge, I'm starting to think of it as a pet, I only need to name it. Alriiiiight. 

The process is really straightforward. You need the aforementioned rye sourdough starter that will require four days to fully come to life. Then you make a production sourdough, which is going to be more active than the starter itself, and which will be used, as the name suggests, for the production of the bread. And then you make the main dough. Frankly, it's almost a one-bowl operation, save for a tub and a loaf tin.

For the rye sourdough starter

100 g dark rye flour
200 g very warm water (40 C)

For the production sourdough

100 g rye sourdough starter
300 g dark rye flour
600 g very warm water (40 C)

For the dough

540 g production sourdough (the rest can be mixed into the sourdough starter as a “feed”)
460 g dark rye flour
10 g fine sea salt
40 g unsulphured molasses
180 g warm water
2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds, divided use

To make the rye sourdough starter:

On day 1 mix 25 g of dark rye flour with 50 g of warm water in a large jar or a plastic tub with a lid. Keep out of the fridge. On day 2,3,4 continue adding another 25 g of dark rye flour and 50 g of warm water. The starter will get a little bubbly, and that's of course a very good thing. After the last feeding let the starter ferment for another 24 hours out of the fridge before moving on to the next step to make the production sourdough.

To make the production sourdough:

Mix 100 g of the rye sourdough starter with the dark rye flour and warm water in a large plastic tub. The rest of the rye sourdough starter can be stored in the fridge, and fed with 25 g of dark rye flour and 50 g of warm water once every 2-3 days, and at least 24 hours ahead of your next Borodynsky loaf.

Let the production starter ferment, out of the fridge and for about 12 hours. Place a bowl underneath the tub in the (likely) event the production starter overflows; it will get very bubbly.

To make the dough:

Thoroughly oil a bread loaf tin about 23 x 13 cm. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of slightly crushed coriander seeds over the bottom of the tin.

In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together. It will be a very sticky mass. Wet your hands and place the mixture in the tin. Even it out, cover loosely (a clean plastic bag works well) and leave to prove until the dough has increased in size by about one third. This can take up to 4-5 hours.

Preheat the oven to 220 C. When the dough is ready, sprinkle another teaspoon of lightly crushed coriander seeds over the top. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 200 C and bake for further 40 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. If necessary, run a sharp knife along the sides of the tin to ease the bread out. Cool completely before storing (wrapped in cling film). Borodynsky is best the day after baking.