You will find good rye bread everywhere around the Baltic Sea, but in Latvia, rye bread is virtually a national symbol, with a thousand stories surrounding it. There are many different types, but I’ve chosen one that packs a huge punch of flavour – Latgalian Rye Bread (Latgaliešu Maize). The starting recipe comes from Stanley Ginsberg, who styles himself “The Rye Baker” – his website is a real baker’s treasure trove, with rye bread recipes from all over Europe. His books sound great also.
Warning: this bread is something of a project. There are multiple steps lasting three days, and it’s fiddly as regards temperature control. There’s a Russian language Youtube video (remember, Latvia has a large Russian-speaking population) which is very similar and reminds you on several occasions that you shouldn’t attempt this if you’re a beginner. The techniques, using various scalds and pre-doughs, are similar to the full Russian recipe for Borodinsky (as opposed to the simplified version I did early on in this blog series). Because of the sheer complexity, I’m not sure that it’s a bread I’m going to be making again and again – but for a treat, it’s fantastic.
The point of the recipe is to encourage lots of fermentation and the creation of various sugars, acids and lactobacilli which impart the amazing depth of flavour. Interestingly, this multi-stage process isn’t the only possible method: other methods start with Bulgarian Yoghurt or kefir and I came across one blog post from an agritourism trip to Latvia which describes a traditional baker who left out much of the complexity but went for five days of fermentation in a bucket!
So here goes, largely paraphrasing Stanley Ginsberg and substituting ingredients when I couldn’t get his exact suggestions. I’ve given the exact times I used: obviously, you can shift them around to suit your own day and anyway, I’m sure the timings are by no means precise.
Day 1, around 9pm – “The scald”
320g dark rye flour
650ml hot water (65℃)
20g malt extract
5g caraway seeds
Preheat oven to 55℃.
Put all the ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer and mix thoroughly.
Cover your bowl and put it into the oven for around 18 hours.
Day 1, around 9pm – “The sponge”
20g rye sourdough starter
50g dark rye flour
30ml water tepid (40℃)
Mix all ingredients in a small bowl or tupperware. It will result in a very thick dough.
Cover and leave to stand at room temperature for around 18 hours.
Day 2, around 1pm
Inspect your two mixtures. They should both be smelling strongly and showing evident signs of fermentation. The scald will have gone very dark, and the sponge will have become, well, spongy in feel.
Lower the oven temperature to 55℃
Add the sponge to the scald mixture in your mixing bowl and combine thoroughly (I did this with a wooden spoon).
Cover the bowl and return to the oven.
Day 2, around 9pm
5g dried yeast
Remove your combined mixture from the oven.
Add the yeast and stir thoroughly.
Leave to ferment overnight at room temperature.
Day 3, around 9am
600g dark rye flour
Add the ingredients to your fermented mixture.
With the dough hook, mix at low speed for 7-10 minutes until thoroughly mixed.
On a floured board (I used light rye flour), form the dough into a rounded oblong and transfer onto a piece of baking paper.
For the full traditional look, use your fingers to make indentations into the loaf. By tradition, each area of Latvia had its own signature: I just went for a few bars on each side.
Brush the loaf with water, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise at room temperature for 60-90 minutes. You will need to brush water over the loaf regularly to stop it drying out – every 15-20 minutes or so.
Final bake and glaze
150 ml water
In plenty of time before your loaf has finished rising, preheat oven to 250℃ fan, with a pizza stone placed inside.
Brush your loaf with water one last time, then transfer it on its baking paper to the pizza stone.
Bake for 45 minutes.
Reduce the temperature to 200℃ fan. Keep baking until the internal temperature is around 95℃ – probably another 20 minutes (admission: I underbaked mine by a few minutes, so you can see from the photo that it’s a bit doughy. It still tasted fabulous).
Brush the glaze over the loaf, return to the oven and bake for another 5 minutes.
It’s time for a trip back to the Middle East to refill the cookie jar with what, according to Wikipedia and others, is the “national cookie of Iraq”: Kleicha (or Kleisha; as usual with Arabic, transliterations vary). Recipes also vary, particularly as to shape and choice of spices, but the most common appear to be a spiral of dough interleaved with a cardamom-infused date paste.
Kleicha turn out to be trickier to make than I expected: most of the recipes I’ve seen produce an incredibly crumbly dough. On my first attempt, the dough was almost impossible to roll and the kleicha came out at an unpleasantly sandy texture. Fortunately, I persevered, because my second attempt was a real success: the flavour combination of date and cardamom being a winner. It only worked, however, by using hugely more water than in my base recipe, from 196flavors.com.
I couldn’t find ready-made date paste, so I made my own. Another pitfall from my first attempt was getting the texture wrong so I couldn’t spread the paste: second time round, it came out perfectly.
The quantities here were supposedly for 40 kleicha – I made 32.
The date paste
½ tsp ground cardamom (or 20 or so cardamom pods)
400g soft dates (choose Medjool or similar in preference to the harder Deglet Nour)
Milk as needed (a few tablespoons)
If the dates aren’t already stoned, take out the stones and discard
If you are starting from cardamom pods, pound them in a pestle and mortar to get the seeds out and get rid of the husks.
Put the dates and cardamom into a food processor and blitz for a minute or two.
Add a little milk and blitz some more: keep doing this until you get a puree the consistency of toothpaste.
15g caster sugar
10g dried yeast
170ml lukewarm water (around 40℃)
700g plain flour
15g nigella seeds
Melt the butter.
Mix sugar, water and yeast and leave until frothy.
In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine flour, salt and nigella seeds and mix evenly.
Add the butter and mix for a few seconds.
Then add the yeast/water mix and mix until you have a smooth dough. You may want to add more water than I’ve shown – the quantity shown here was barely OK.
Leave dough to rest for around an hour.
Putting it all together
1 egg and a bit of milk for a wash
Preheat oven to 180℃ fan.
Cut two sheets of baking paper, around 40cm long.
Divide your dough into four parts.
Form a ball of dough into a rectangle, place it between your two sheets of baking paper and roll it out as thinly as you can manage.
Take a quarter of your date paste and spread it evenly over your rectangle of dough.
Using the baking paper to help you, roll it up along the long end (Swiss roll style) as tightly as you can
Cut your cylinder into 8 pieces (or 10 if you want smaller cookies) and place on a baking sheet
Repeat for the remaining three parts of dough. You’ll end up with two baking sheets’ worth, which you can bake together or one after the other.
Beat the egg with a little milk to make a wash; spread this over your cookies. (I’m labelling this stage as optional because I forgot to do it, resulting in kleicha which weren’t as pretty as they might have been but tasted fine).
Bake until golden and thoroughly cooked – if you break off a bit of cookie and taste it, there should be no hint of raw flour. This took around 20-25 minutes in my oven – yours may differ.
Arepas are thick circular cakes made of cornmeal. They’re ubiquitous in Venezuela and Colombia and have been around in the area for at least 3,000 years. They’re served with myriad fillings, either as part of a main meal or as a snack – they’re a popular street food item.
The final parts of the arepa-making process – making the dough, forming the cakes, frying them and (optionally) finishing them in the oven – are straightforward enough for a non-native home cook. The beginning part – grinding the corn and the “nixtimalisation” process of boiling it up with lime – are best left to the professionals unless you’re really, really dedicated. The resulting ground meal is called masarepa and the most readily available brand in the UK (and, I suspect, elsewhere) is called Harina PAN. It comes in several varieties: I chose the plain white one, although I’ve also bought a packet of the yellow version for experiments yet to come.
I took my recipe for the arepas themselves from a post on healthiersteps.com: as well as your choice of masa, available variations include the addition of dairy products. All of butter, milk or quesito (white soft cheese) show up in recipes.
To go with the arepas, I could have picked dozens of different filling. I ended up, completely arbitrarily, by simplifying a recipe for vegan barbacoa (which is kind of a contradiction in terms, but I get the idea of emulating the smokiness of barbacoa while staying plant-based, and it turned out really delicious). As a side dish, I made an avocado, cherry tomato and crumbled white cheese salad, which I found in a recipe for Colombian arepas which I haven’t replicated here, but which is warmly recommended since it complemented the rest of the dish really well.
The vegan barbacoa filling
250g dried green or brown lentils
Oil for frying (I used sunflower oil)
3 cloves garlic
3 large carrots
2 tbs brown sugar
Salt and black pepper to taste
1½ tsp ground smoked paprika
2 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground cloves
1½ tsp dried oregano
2 dried bay leaves
60g chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (see below)
Juice of one lime
Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce come in cans: I used around a quarter of a 220g can. It’s a strong flavour and you really need to calibrate how spicy you want the dish. Starting with zero knowledge, I think I got lucky: this amount was perfect for the people round the table who like their food spicy but not excessively so, and just about OK (but right on the edge) for those who don’t like their chili much.
Boil lentils in a saucepan in plenty of water until cooked (this took me around 45 minutes). You could, of course, use pre-cooked tinned lentils if you prefer. Drain and set aside.
Chop the onion and garlic very finely. Grate the carrots – if you have a food processor with a grater attachment, use it.
In a heavy pan with a lid, fry the onion and garlic on medium heat until transparent.
Add the carrot and fry for a few more minutes.
Chop the chipotle peppers finely – this isn’t in the original recipe, so I didn’t do it. Let’s just say that biting into a whole chipotle pepper was, er, an intense experience.
Add the lentils and all the remaining ingredients. Mix well and fry for a little longer.
Cover the pan and put onto the lowest heat you have for 40 minutes to an hour. Keep topping up the mixture with a little water to ensure that it doesn’t dry out.
300g masarepa (from Harina PAN or equivalent, see photo)
500 ml warm water
Coconut oil for frying
Mix the masarepa, salt and water and form into a ball of dough. Leave to rest for five minutes or so.
Form the dough into a cylinder and cut into circular cakes, around 2cm thick. I made eight cakes, which were a bit too small; the original recipe was for six.
Heat oil in a skillet and fry your arepas on medium heat until golden brown on both sides – turn each arepa over when it’s completely browned on the first side. The recipe said five minutes a side, but it took me around 15 minutes total.
Optionally, put the arepas in a 180℃ oven for a few minutes to make sure they’re absolutely cooked through. Perhaps because I used a relatively gentle heat, I didn’t need to do this step.
To serve, slice each arepa in half horizontally, fill and replace the lid. But don’t expect anyone to eat them with their hands!