Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Pieczenia Proziaki: Polish Soda Bread

Pieczenia proziaki is Polish bread made with baking soda rather than yeast. As a result, it's really quick and easy to make with just a very light amount of kneading. It's not even worth getting out the electric mixture for this, it's that simple.

Strangely enough, even though my parents immigrated from Poland, they've never made this when I was growing up. They know of it but not the recipe. It took some stealthy research to come up with one; that and some frequent testing. Though there are several ways to present it, I chose to make the round loaf as opposed to the small round flat breads just because the only directions I could find for it were way too vague. Sadly, I don't speak or read Polish. It's something my mom has berated me forever about though I think it's my parents' fault for not teaching me. Gotta love that old-fashioned Catholic guilt.

Alas, that's the joy of being your parent's child, right? 

Like all breads, it requires your touch and judgement to know the correct proportions. Here are the basic measurements of the ingredients, but as you'll see in the directions, you may need more or less of an ingredient to come out to the same result. You know, bread is like that, but don't let it deter you because this is pretty forgiving no matter what you do.

 Pieczenia Proziaki- Makes one 6" loaf

Gather up:
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (I use whole wheat)
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 to 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 tsp honey (or sweetener of your choice: sugar, agave nectar, etc.)
Now, make it:
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees, prepare a kneading surface by dusting with flour, and prepare a baking pan by dusting with flour as well
  • In a large bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. (I just whisk with a fork.)
  • Create a well in the center of the flour and pour in the sour cream starting with 1/2 cup and honey
  • Using a wooden spatula, slowly mix flour into the sour cream. If it looks a little dry, add a little more sour cream.
  • Once the dough is coming together with about 1/3 to 1/4 of dry flour still loose, dump the dough and flour over the kneading surface and begin to knead gently. Use a light hand and move quickly because unlike yeast, the baking soda can cause the gluten in bread to tighten up too fast and make it tough.
  • Knead to achieve a slightly sticky but elastic dough. You don't want it to be leaving bits of dough on the surface because it's so sticky, but you don't want it to be completely dry. You may need to add more sour cream or more flour as you knead or you may already have the perfect consistency without adding either. (I've been known to use nearly a whole tub of sour cream with good results if that makes you feel better.)
  • Shape into a ball gently and place onto the baking pan. Using a sharp knife, make an X into the surface quickly and decisively. Then, dust the surface with more flour.
  • Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden and the crust is firm. It will sound hollow when tapped. My method is to use two towels to flip the loaf upside down in one hand and to tap the bottom. If it sounds hollow, it's done.
  • Let cool on a rack immediately. 
  • Serve with butter and salted radish slices because well, it's Polish.

Here's why it's forgiving. If you use too much sour cream, it's okay because it'll still taste good. The slices will be extremely moist and a bit crumbly so use this as a bread for soup and stew. We still use it to make peanut butter toast regardless. If you had more flour than sour cream, you'll have firmer slices that can be toasted and topped with your favorite spread. First, just experiment the way you like then go from there. Don't try to aim for a firm or soft bread on your first try. Test it out as is.

If you don't want to use sour cream, you can use whole yogurt, greek yogurt, or even one of those Activia yogurt drinks in a pinch (been there, done that.) Buttermilk and kefir works as well. Here's why regular milk won't work. The fermented dairy has the acid that baking soda needs to help make the bread rise. I'm eager to try this with creme fraiche or mascarapone cheese for a sweet bread because, man, that sounds good. I would have to whip or soften them first so they can blend into the flour well.

This loaf is magical. Why? Because it pretty much disappears when I'm not looking, (glares at Guitar Boy.) He has been known to take enormous bites out of the loaf itself leaving me with weird crooked slices for my freaking peanut butter toast in the morning. (Glares again.) I really need to make several and freeze them next time. I bet you this can be easily doubled for a larger loaf. Just bake for a little longer.

Next time, I'm going to try and add some flax seeds or chopped herbs. Smacznego!

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