In the years of being immersed in another culture I have learned to substitute most of the foods I missed about my native land with local versions of one kind of another. Some products I learned to replicate quite successfully. Take kefir for example. I am now making a very nice creamy version of kefir at home without breaking a sweat. Farmer cheese, certain bread types, pickled/fermented goods, even bread kvass — of of this is doable and even comes quite close to the original in both form and flavor. Some things I learned to do without, namely blood sausages, good quality liverwurst, some types of organ meats, fresh anchovies, some fruit varieties… These missing parts are almost not noticeable anymore.
Still, once in a while I get a strange nostalgic craving for foods of my childhood. These could be most unexpected things, and, naturally, those are the kinds that can’t be purchased anywhere in the 500 mile radius. Sometimes, I envy folks who live in New York — their ex-USSR community is so large, you can find most anything at local stores at most reasonable price, as if almost you never left the country. I live in a small town in the South, Russian population of one (me), so when the cravings hit, I have to improvise.
Since I’ve been on a serious bread-baking binge in the past several months, I obtained a few copies of soviet commercial bread baking manuals, some of which are based on the state-mandated baking regulations dubbed ГОСТ (GOST – State Standard) in former USSR. You see, to ensure everything is done exactly right everywhere in the country, USSR developed a series of standards, mandatory guidelines to follow. This was a good thing, because you could get the same types of your favorite foodstuffs in every corner of the country, which was a big deal.
Now that USSR is a thing of the past and only old-school food production plants follow old standards, and even those are “streamlined” (cheapened, reduced, simplified) to suit the demands of the day, there are tons of new varieties of bread produced there, and many of them are not the good kind. Yep, the famous dense and nutritious Russian loaves are being slowly but surely replaced by spongy, bland, over-bloated, speed-ripened “westernized” versions. But folks want the good stuff, so they are going back to basics: armed with bread baking machines and GOST books, they are baking bread at home, trying hard to reproduce the good stuff. Just like in this country we are seeing the revival of old-school wild yeast bread starter based, rustic, slow-risen loaves; and the number of GOST based bread recipes had mushroomed in the past few years on the Internet.
But I digress. My recent bread craving was this sugar sprinkled heart shaped bun, which used to cost 12 kopeck everywhere when I was a kid. It was a slightly sweet, highly rich yeast bun which was divine all by itself, alongside a cup of milk or kefir, or sliced in half and layered with good ham or bologna and cheese. We brown-bagged those sugar bun sandwiches for as long as I can remember. We loved them! And this is what I found myself craving last week. I found the recipe for it in one of my GOST books and quickly went to work.
The buns turned out exactly as I remembered them — fragrant, soft but not spongy, slightly sweet and lightly crusty from sugar on top. I made the buns slightly smaller than the original version to accommodate my kid’s stomach size. We managed to keep the buns for several days, and they didn’t get any worse with time. I imagine, they would hold even longer if only we let them.
12-Kopeck Soviet Sugar Bun
Makes 9 large buns or 12 medium size buns
Listed below are final ingredient quantities. There are two ways to go about making these buns — with and without preferment. If you decide to go with preferment (I didn’t), measure the quantities for preferment taken out of the final amounts.
- 500 g (4 cups) bread flour
- 5 g (1/2 tbsp) instant dry yeast
- 5 g (1 tsp) salt
- 110 g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
- 70 g (6 tbsp) butter, melted
- 50 ml lukewarm water
- 150 ml lukewarm milk
- 1 egg
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp or so melted butter
- 1 egg yolk
- 2-3 tbsp sugar for sprinkling
(don’t forget, if you decide to make preferment, deduct from the final quantities above)
- 225 g (1-3/4 cup) bread flour
- 2.5 g (half of the quantity above) instant dry yeast
- 108 ml milk + water mix from above list
- To make preferment, mix water and milk from the first list, and then measure out 108 g of the mix, add flour and yeast, mix very well, cover and let proof for 3 to 3-1/2 hrs. The preferment should puff up and then start falling flat, that’s how you know it’s ready.
- If you are skipping the preferment, sprinkle yeast on top of the water+milk mix with a bit of sugar and let sit for 20 minutes, until foamy. Then proceed with the rest of the dough.
- To make final dough, add all of the remaining ingredients from the final list. Knead on medium speed for at least 5-6 minutes, or 8-10 minutes by hand. Soft, smooth, highly elastic dough is a must.
- Transfer the dough into a greased bowl and turn to coat in grease. Cover with plastic and ferment for 1-1/2 hrs if used preferment, and for 3 to 3-1/2 hrs if skipped preferment.
- Divide the dough into 9 or 12 equal parts. It will help tremendously if you take your time and actually weigh the final quantity of the dough and then divide it using the scale, to ensure even dough distribution.
- Shape divided dough pieces into balls, cover with plastic and let bench rest for 10 minutes to relax.
- For each piece of dough, grease it lightly with finishing butter on all sides, roll it out into a small circle — about 6″ in diameter. Roll the circle up into a scroll. Grab the ends of the scroll and pinch them together, forming essentially a tear-shaped loop.
- Turning the loop on its side, slash it open with a sharp knife and spread out, forming a heart (see photos). Place the heart shaped bun onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough pieces.
- Cover the buns with plastic and let them proof for another 40-60 minutes.
- Whisk the egg yolk with 1 tsp water. Spread the egg-wash over the hearts and sprinkle small quantity of sugar on top.
- Bake in the oven preheated to 400F for about 16-20 minutes. Buns should be nicely golden, but not overly browned. Cool on rack and enjoy.