Sunday, February 15, 2015

Homemade, Traditional Rye Bread Kvass

Bread kvass has been a traditional drink in Eastern Europe for centuries.  The drink became popular in the XVI century but was around long before then; some say it has its roots in  IXth century Russia. Peasants and aristocrats alike drank this fermented beverage or made a soup with kvass as its base. Traditional kvass is made from dark rye bread, natural sourdough cultures and honey to sweeten. The word "kvass" comes from the Russian word for "leaven".

Just like many traditional drinks, commercial, high production versions are out there... unfortunately, when some former Soviet countries gained their freedom, Coca-cola and Pepsi entered the markets and made their own faux-kvass.   But, traditional kvass (or "gira"- with a hard "g"- in Lithuania) is still a popular drink in Eastern Europe and is making a comeback in many countries.
For more information on kvass, I recommend this website, written by a native Lithuanian :)

Here is my version of this bubbly, rich traditional drink:

1, 1 lb loaf dark/black rye bread (any loaf will do, but they traditionally used sourdough)
about one gallon filtered, non-chlorinated water
1/2 c organic sugar
4 T raw honey
1 T sourdough starter
mint sprigs, lemon slices, berries, or apples (optional- to taste)
1 raisin per bottle

I used black forest rye bread.  Dry it out until it is very crispy.
  • Slice bread into 1/2" slices (traditional kvass is made from stale bread) and dry out in the oven. I put my slices in a 350F oven for about 30 minutes, until the bread breaks like a cracker.
  • When the bread is finished, bring the water to a boil.  Remove from heat.
  • Break up the bread with your hand and drop the pieces into the hot water. Let it steep, covered, for at least 4 hours to overnight (I let mine sit for 9 hours).
  • When done steeping, strain off the rye water into a fermenting crock or large glass container. Discard the soggy bread (squeeze bread gently in a cheesecloth to get as much of the liquid as possible).
  • To your rye water, add the sweeteners, fruit (if used) and sourdough starter (it does not have to be rye). Stir until combined and leave in a warm place, covered with cloth, for about 12 hours.
  • Check for bubbles after 12 hours and scoop off any foam that rises.  Wait another 12-24 hours before bottling. (if more foam rises, just scoop off before bottling)
  • You can add a raisin per bottle to help check the carbonation before drinking.  Place bottles in cold storage for 3 days to one month. 
Break the bread before adding it to very hot water.
Strain the soggy bread in cheese cloth after at least 4 hours.
The sourdough starter is beginning to consume the sugars!
Enjoy this beverage chilled, with a meal.  The natural probiotics it contains help with digestion, and the drink provides high levels of vitamin B.  It is also said to help with detox and accelerated healing.
Enjoy your traditional kvass!

Although the kvass seems a bit cloudy, the yeast will eventually drop out.  I made 5-16oz bottles from one loaf of bread!

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