Not bread alone

I have long been intrigued by the idea of квас (or kvass as it is usually transliterated, although the final consonant is not doubled in Russian), a fermented drink made from rye bread, popular in Russia and other eastern European countries.

Unfortunately it is not generally available in the UK (or at least, I’ve never seen it for sale here) and I didn’t manage to get any on my school trip to Russia in 1991 (which is probably about the time I first learned about it) or any of my subsequent visits to eastern Europe (although they have been confined to Romania and Hungary, neither of which are particular hotbeds of kvass fandom as far as I can make out).

The idea has occurred to me several times over the years to try and make my own, but it is only in the last week that I’ve actually got round to digging out a recipe and having a go.  I’m drinking the results as I write this and I have to say that it is interesting rather than especially pleasant.  I did read somewhere that kvass is an acquired taste and that does appear to be the case.  I can imagine myself growing to quite like it, if I keep on brewing it regularly enough, but on my initial acquaintance I’m not all that enamoured of it.

Of course, since I’ve never tasted kvass before I don’t know if what I’m tasting now is what it is supposed to taste like or just a result of my recipe, ingredients or technique not being up to scratch.

The essential method for brewing kvass (at least according to the recipe I used) is to dry slices of rye bread in the oven (mine ended up slightly toasted, so I possibly had the oven a bit too hot, although it was on the lowest setting), then steep them in not quite boiling water for a few hours, strain, add yeast and sugar, leave in a jug to ferment for a few more hours (I left it overnight) before putting in bottles (with a few raisins – I used sultanas as the nearest alternative I had to hand – optionally lobbed into the bottles, presumably for extra flavour), leaving at room temperature for about 3 days and then refrigerating and drinking before too long.

Kvass is slightly alcoholic, as you would expect from a fermented drink, but the alcohol content is pretty low (usually no more than about 1%, I gather).  I didn’t get round to trying to calculate the alcohol content of this first batch, although I do have a hydrometer which I could have tried to use.

It’s possible that the bread I used contained too much wheat and not enough rye flour, as I had a very limited choice in my local supermarket (essentially two different sorts of mixed wheat/rye loaves and no rye flour for making my own).  I only made a very small batch – about 1 litre, which I put into two bottles (with a little bit left over, which I tried drinking as “flat kvass” straight after the initial fermentation) and I have now just finished the second bottle (I had the first one a couple of days ago, shortly after I’d transferred them to the fridge).

I think I shall probably try at least a few more batches of kvass to see if I can get better results or develop a taste for it.  I think it could be quite a refreshing drink in very hot weather, if we get any this year, and it’s also supposed to be quite healthy.

One of the by-products of the kvass brewing process, at least with the method I followed, was a whole mass of soggy rye bread after the liquid had been strained off.  It occurred to me that this was rather similar to the starting material for a bread pudding (which, again as I make it, begins by soaking (usually slightly stale) remnants of bread in cold water for a bit, before mixing in raisins, spices and sugar and cooking), so I decided to try making it into a bread pudding.  I don’t know if it was due entirely to the extra wetness or whether the fact it was rye bread, but the final bread pudding came out quite soggy despite extra long cooking time.  It was very tasty, and much better than just chucking the bread away, but not the neatest bread pudding I’ve ever made.