Thursday, August 14, 2008

This Is Not A Beef Pancake Pie; Brew Your Own Kvass: Bread Beer

I was going to post Nothing Beets Borscht's recipe for Beef Pancake Pie (blinchaty pirog), but the blessed recipe is 6 pages long. Six. pages. long.
Suffice to say, you make 6 big crepes, a beef/rice/hard-boiled-egg mixture, and a mushroom/cream cheese mixture. Put down one crepe, butter it, put on beef mixture. Stack on another crepe, butter it, and put on some mushroom mixture. Repeat until you have one crepe left, and use that as the top. Put the thing in the oven to bake, until it's all hot and delicious, and slice like a layer cake.

There's also a Georgian sweet preparation -- blinchaty pirog s eezyoomom ee oryekhamy -- with a filling of walnuts, raisins, sugar, and honey. Quoth Miss Blanksteen: "It tastes like baklava, although it is entirely different."

So, since I'm not keen on typing 6 pages tonight, how's about we attack kvass, the essential ingredient in okroshka, the cold beer soup we looked at yesterday.
Bread Beer

Kvass is a nonalcoholic bread beer. It is made from leftover bread crumbs and stored in barrels kept in the cellar. In the Soviet Union, it is sold on the streets out of big tanks. A lady sits next to her tank and washes glasses as she serves people the kvass. One learns to forget hygiene as the lady hands you a grubby-looking glass filled with ice-cold kvass. It has a slightly sweet mint taste, and the natuarl carbonation from the yeast. I love the stuff.

Kvass is used not only as a beverage. It formst the base of an excellent soup, okroshka [page 72], and it is use for cooking boujenina [page 67], a braised fresh ham.

The following is Gorky's grandmother's advice on kvass making:
If you want good kvass, then you must insult it, make it angry. Kvass can't stand sweet things so throw in a few raisins, or some sugar -- a small teaspoon to a bucket will do.
-- Gorky, My Childhood

1 pound black bread, dark rye, or pumpernickel (For heaven's sake, don't make the bread; buy an old junky loaf!)
16 cups water
2 packets dry yeast or 1 ounce compressed yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves or 1 tablesppon dried mint
2 tablespoons raisins

A sieve and a piece of cheesecloth
Bottles -- about 3 of the 1-quart size

Bake the bread at 200° F. until it is dried out; slice it first to speed up the process. Then chop it coarsely and put it into a huge bowl or pot.

Bring the 16 cups of water to a boil (that's 4 quarts), and pour it over the bread. Mash it around with a spoon to make sure that all the bread is getting soaked.

Cover loosely with a towel and leave in a warm, draft-free place for at least 8 hours.

When the 8 hours are up, take out another large bowl or some type of vessel. Set a sieve over it. First pan the liquid, if any, off the top of the bread. Then start spooning the wet bread into the sieve, squish it thoroughly with the back of a spoon so that all the juice -- or a lot of the juice -- drips through. Do only a little bit of bread pulp at a time, so you get as much juice as possible. The squeezed-out bread will still be wet and mushy. Don't worry about it, there's a limit to how long you can squeeze the stuff: just throw it away.

When you have extracted all the bread juice you can, sprinkle the yeast over 1/4 cup lukewarm water, add 1/2 teaspoon of the sugar, mix, and then set in a warm, draft-free spot to foam and froth for 10 minutes.

When the yeast has doubled in bulk, mix the yeast into the bread juice. Add the chopped or crumbled mint. Cover the pot or bowl with a towel, and set in a warm, draft-free place for at least 8 hours.

When your 8 hours or so are up, line a sieve with a piece of cheesecloth. Strain the bread juice again, into a big bowl or pot. Using a funnel, pour the strained juice into bottles, filling each one two-thirds full. Divide the raisins amongst the bottles, and drop them in. to get the kvass good and angry.

Cover with a piece of plastic wrap or a towel, and let sit in a cool place, but not a refrigerator. A wine cellar will do, or the basement of a house. It should sit for 3 to 5 days, until the raisins have floated to the top of the bottle, and the sediment has sunk to the bottom.

Pour the clear golden liquid into other clean bottles, taking care to leave the sediment behind. (The raisins don't have to be left behind -- it's up to you, although I've never found a raisin in a glass of kvass).

Keep the kvass refrigerated for at least 2 days, until all the sediment has sunk to the bottom.

To serve: Pour the cold kvass through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a pitcher.

You know, I think if I knew of a high school student who was making her own beer in her spare time? I'd be somewhat obligated to report it. That being said, this sounds much more appetizing that the stuff we used to do with grapes and sugar during Talented and Gifted camp at the University of Oregon...

Don't believe Miss Blanksteen when she says kvass is "non-alcoholic." It's low in alcohol, but it does, in fact, have alcohol. As long as you're okay with that, you're fine going forward.

One thing that stands out in this 1970s cookbook is that it takes the time to interpret and define standard measurements. So, "16 cups" is also listed at "4 quarts." Odd that they don't just say "1 gallon," but hey. In case you didn't know it before, 16 cups = 8 pints = 4 quarts = 1 gallon. Handy-dandy conversion, just for you.

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