The following bread recipe is invented by the spouse of the President of the Republic of Estonia, Mrs. Evelin Ilves.
As the spouse of the President of the Republic of Estonia, Evelin Ilves accompanies the President of the Republic on official visits, both locally and internationally, and hosts foreign guests who come to Estonia. She supports awareness-raising work on healthy living and is the patron of a number of movements designed to benefit society.
Bread has a personality. This means that one must treat it very sensitively. Already in ancient times people knew that if you think bad thoughts while making bread, the bread won’t turn out right. Bread also prefers warmth and does not tolerate drafts. When I was away from Ärma for three weeks recently, I was somewhat worried about the health of my leaven – after all it had been alone for a long time. But the bread was so happy that it jumped right out of the wooden bowl during the night. I was very happy.
The following is a basic recipe that has to be tuned to suit your taste buds and moods with the help of various flour mixtures, bran, seeds, nuts, raisins, dried fruits, herbs, onion, garlic, bacon or salted Baltic herring. Since our family does not love extra ingredients, I hide them and use tiny seeds – linseed, poppy or hemp seeds. The latter, by the way, are nice and crunchy. The nuts can also be ground, to make the bread healthier and the taste better. If you want lovely coloured bread for a celebration, add green pistachio nuts, golden raisins, dried blue bilberries and red lingonberries, or modern goij berries. One’s own family bread always has the most beloved taste!
3 to 4 loaves
1½ litres lukewarm water
4-5 tbsp leaven (can be more)
150-250 g brown rose sugar
8 tsp sea salt
5 tbsp linseeds (can be ground)
3 tsp ground coriander
a few handfuls of oatmeal bran or rye flakes (optional)
1.8-2 kg whole-grain rye flour (or bread flour)
In a large ceramic or wooden bowl, mix the leaven with warm water and add enough rye flour (about 2 to 3 cups) to form a thick gruel. Cover the container with plastic wrap or cover and set aside in a warm place to ferment. Ideally, the temperature should be between 24 and 28º C. You can also cover the bowl with a terrycloth towel. The room should be draught-free – for instance, a sauna or bathroom.
The next day, at least 16 hours later, finish the bread dough. Start with the salt, sugar and linseeds, thereafter add the flour. If you want airier bread, use less flour. The dough will be quite soft and you will need to bake in a loaf pan. You don’t need to knead it, just mix thoroughly – this is pretty hard physical work – and lift it into the loaf pan using a large wooden spoon. Those who like to knead can make thick dough and form the loaves by hand. However, the bread will then be denser and heavier.
Now you need to take 4 to 6 tbsp of dough, put it in a plastic bag, then into the refrigerator, so you have leaven for the next time. If you have a wooden bread bowl, just leave a piece of dough in the bottom and completely cover with flour. The wooden bread bowl should be place in a cool place to wait for next time you bake bread.
The rising of the bread is just as important as the fermentation. Divide the dough into loaf pans that have been greased with butter. Smooth the tops with your hands that have been dipped in cold water, and push small holes in the dough with your fingers or make your family mark in the bread with the side of hand, so you can monitor the rising. Cover the loaf pans with a thick towel and place in a warm room to rise. Once the dough has doubled in volume, you can start baking.
Preheat the oven to 250º C. Put a baking sheet with water in the bottom (or use a combi-oven and turn the steam to 1-2). Bake the bread for about 15 minutes (watch the colour of the crust!). A high temperature will result in a crispy crust. Then turn the oven down to 200º C (if you have powerful professional oven, to 175º C) and bake for approximately another 50 minutes. Ten to 15 minutes before they should be finished, you can switch the breads on the top and bottom shelves, so they bake evenly on the top and the bottom.
If, when you take the bread out of the oven, and it turns out that the bottoms are a bit doughy and light in colour, simply put them back in the oven without the pans for 15 minutes. If you wish, you can brush the crust of the freshly baked bread with fresh farmer’s butter. I recommend that you let the bread cool for at least an hour before cutting. Warm bread is doughy! Of course, it is difficult to resist the fragrance of warm, freshly baked bread, but it’s worth it. J
- The fermentation process and taste of the bread is dependent on the quality of the flour. The best flour is stone-ground, whole-grain rye flour bought directly from the farmer. It’s available in marketplaces and stores.
- Do not use refined white flour or sugar – the bread with be tastier and healthier! The taste of sea salt is also milder and does not have the bitter aftertaste typical of ordinary salt.
- You can make the leaven yourself. Put 3 to 4 slices of store-bought rye bread into ½ litre buttermilk or sour milk, and let it ferment in a warm room for about 24 hours. However, you can count on your bread not coming out quite right until about the fourth try, because the leaven becomes more powerful each time, thanks to the multiplying bacteria. If you have had the patience to try four times, you won’t have any problems thereafter. However, it’s easier to start with a leaven that you have gotten from a friend.
- Leaven can be kept alive in the refrigerator for about 2 to 3 weeks. If there is a longer gap in your bread making, put your leaven in the freezer. However, such harsh treatment will weaken it.
- You do not have to knead the bread dough for hours like older cookbooks say. It’s enough to thoroughly mix all the ingredients.
- Bread can also be baked in an ordinary electric oven. Put a bain-marie on the bottom and do not open the door while the bread is baking.
- Avoid yeast, although this accelerates the whole process. If you add yeast, the bread will not have the right taste; it will not keep and will quickly become mouldy. Bread that is leavened only with leaven will keep for at least two weeks at room temperature.
In the olden days, sensible Estonians did not serve their families warm bread, because it could happen that the week’s reserves would be eaten in just one day. Moreover, bread that had dried for a few days was supposed to be healthier. However, it is hard to imagine anything better than a warm piece of bread with butter. And the 24 hours it has taken to make the bread is well worth it. Bon apetit!