Bread is not only the basis of Russian table, but also a symbol of people’s wellbeing. This is why there are a number of customs related to bread. From times immemorial the Slavs believed that people who shared bread became friends forever.
Hence is the old tradition of welcoming dear friends, newly-weds, and new settlers with serving bread and salt. Bread means full table, whereas salt is an ancient and nearly forgotten symbol of protection and guarding home from fire.
It should be remembered, that national Russian bread is first of all black and sour rye bread on leaven. Being much cheaper and more nutritious than white wheat bread, it has played a dominant role in life of the people. However, there were such grades of rye bread, which even well-off men could not always afford. Among them was, for example, "Boyars" bread made of flour of special grinding, fresh butter, moderately sour milk, and seasoned with spices. Such bread was baked only on special orders and on special occasions.
Sitinik - bread of finely sifted flour was much gentler than that made of large sifted flour. Bread prepared of non-sifted flour was considered low-quality. The so-called “grainy” white bread of well processed wheat flour was reputed the best grade and made in rich houses.
In case of poor harvests, when there was lack of rye and wheat stocks, flour was mixed with all possible additives, such as carrots, beetroots, later potatoes, as well as wild-growing plants: ashweed, orach, nettle, acorns, and even oak bark.
From olden days bakers have stood high in esteem and respect. Bakers were required to be not only skillful, but also honest. After all, hungry times were not rare in this country. In those hard years special watch was established over bakeries, and those who secretly admixed something into bread or spoiled it, and furthermore profiteered in bread, were severely punished.
In the late 19th century countrymen baked bread themselves in Russian stoves, whereas townsfolk usually bought bread from bakers, who made it in big quantities and of various grades. In bakeries on trays they sold hearth bread (high thick flat cakes) and mold bread (in the shape of a cylinder or a brick).
In addition to bread of various sorts, there was a variety of bakery products, such as pretzels, bubliki (doughnut-shaped bread rolls), and baranki (sweetened slightly dry bread rings). Villagers seldom regaled on them; they usually bought them in town as a treat for their children and did not consider it as meal. Townspeople, at the same time, widely used all these baked goods in their everyday life.
Kalachi were in great favour in Russia. Kalachi were present both at the every-day table of ordinary townspeople, and on magnificent tsars’ feasts. Tsars used to send Kalachi as a special gesture to the patriarch and other persons with high clerical titles. When giving a leave to a servant, the master, as a rule, also gave him a small coin to spend “on a kalach”.
Moscow bakers were famous for their excellent bread. Especially popular among them were Filippov’s bakeries, always packed with buyers. Their goods were in great demand far beyond Moscow. Filippov’s kalachi and saiki were daily sent to Petersburg for the imperial court yard. Moreover, strings of carts with Filippov’s rolls and bread went even to Siberia.
When Filippov was asked, why his “black bread” was so good, he answered: “Because bread loves care” and added his favourite saying: “And it’s very simple!”
Recipe of Moscow Kalach
500 g flour
10 g fresh yeast
2/3 glass milk
3 tbspf sugar
2 eggs + 2 yolks
Little bit of drawn butter
5 tbspf salt
How to make it:
Sift half of the requited amount of flour, put it into a big bowl and thoroughly mix with warm (38–40 °Ñ) milk and yeast. Cover the bowl with a towel, put it in a warm place without draughts and leave it to rise for 30–60 minutes.
Add into the leavened dough remaining sifted flour, salt, sugar, 3 tablespoonfuls of melted butter, an egg and one yolk. Knead dough for at least 10 minutes. Cover the bowl with a towel; put it in a warm place without draughts and leave to rise for an hour or an hour and a half.
After the dough has risen for the first time, press it down slightly: with a few light movements with an open palm press it down to get rid of surplus of gases. There should be no less than two of such rises and pressings, with around an hour and a half in between them.
Divide ready dough into 3 or 4 parts. Roll each part into an oval 1 cm thick. On the one side of the oval cut out an arch 2 cm wide from the edge.
Grease the derived “tongue” with remaining drawn butter and bend it onto the other side of a kalach.
Put Kalachi on a baking sheet, grease the surface with remained yolk, leave it for proof for 20–30 minutes, and then bake in the oven heated up to 200 °Ñ till ready. It will take 20 to 30 minutes. Use a little wooden stick or a match to check its readiness: stick it into a kalach and remove – if it is dry the buns are ready.
Recipe of Petersburg Kalatch
800 g flour, 50 g sugar, 25 g butter margarine, 350 g water, 10 g salt, 8 g yeast; 2 g butter for greasing, 5 g refined oil for greasing the baking sheets, 1 egg for greasing.
How to make it:
Prepare leavened dough as described in the previous recipe. Divide the dough into pieces about 100 g each, roll them into round flat cakes, and after 5 to 8 minutes sheet them thin. Cut out half a circle at the distance of 1.5 - 2 cm from the edge of each cake. Slightly grease the formed “tongue” with melted butter and bend it onto the other side of small kalach. Put kalachi on a baking sheet, leave them to stay for proof, then grease with egg and bake for 10 - 15 minutes at the temperature of 240 - 260°Ñ.