Beet kvass is becoming well known amongst the fermented drink offerings now - but I have come to love the darker, more beer like version made from bread. Not only is it an excellent way to use up a stale loaf but it’s a little bit of magic as it ferments and fizzes and tastes like a very rustic cross between cider and beer.
Drink your old bread? YES! Ferment those leftovers and within a week or two that bread will be turned into a fizzy drink similar to beer that is both nutritious and delicious. Depending on how long you ferment it and how much sugar you put it - the wild yeasts aren’t designed to make an alcohol much higher than 1.5-2.8% abv - so this is not a kids drink.
There are many more familiar ways to make use of leftover bread; dried and used for crumbs, made into delicious nostalgic puddings for example. But fermenting it into something else entirely is a very satisfying use of it too. Collect your bread and let it dry, cut it into cubes and dry those out some more. If you need to collect some more, freeze it until you have enough, or if you can’t wait - halve this recipe.
I have delved into fermenting bread scraps into an amino sauce - like a soy sauce - and even better - a paste similar to miso. Any ferment that uses a grain can be applied to bread if you think about it. We are lucky to have a sourdough bakery down the road that sends us the loaves they would otherwise throw out, so we have a lot to play with.
However - after all of the playing around - drying, roasting and then fermenting that bread into a traditional Russian Rye Kvass is what we do with the loaves most of the time now. It tastes like a mixture between cider and beer and is so very easy. This is a very ancient way of enjoying bread and has ties all the way back; the relationship between growing grains and fermenting them for drinks are intertwined throughout history all over the world. But the most recent rendition that we know is in the form of Kvass.
Our relationship with grains and drinks goes way way back; The word Kvass can be traced right back in different forms to Egyptian times well before Russia was on a map - but the most modern and familiar version is we know is Russian with versions of it in all surrounding countries. Roaming carts still get around town filling bottles and thirsts as it goes.
Once known as Russian ‘cola’, real Kvass isn’t just enjoyed for the flavour and fizz but also for the energy and nutritional content. It was thought of as safer than water and as medicinal; something that could kill parasites and bacteria. Under Peter the Great it was the most common drink in every class - and used in cooking as well but it fell away a bit later by high society and as usual everyone followed suit (like many of our home brew low alcohol grain based drinks actually - wine has had a good PR manager!) Kvass then had a bit of a downturn when it had to compete with the western soft drink company coming in but more recently things are turning traditional again - just like we are here. In fact there is a Russian company making it again called Nikola which in Russian sounds like ‘not cola’. They are promoting their Kvass with a campaign touting ‘ anti- cola-nisation’, but of course there is now a brand bottled by Coca-Cola under a different name too. Happily we can make this ourselves and really as with all of these gorgeous drinks as soon as they become industrialised they are no longer the same quality as when they are made by a small producer - maybe that’s you?
The word Kvass literally means ‘leaven’ and is traditionally made with dark Rye bread. I recommend using this to begin with as the flavour carries beautifully and the drink is a gorgeous caramel colour. It also gives a lovely body to your Kvass. After you’ve made your first few successful batches I think go ahead and experiment with a mix of breads. There is a variation below using hot cross buns or raisin toast too of which I often have ends left over at home.
The first time we made a large vat of this was the most public. Alla Wolf-Tasker, our local mentor and food doyenne, had invited a famous Russian chef to our little town of Daylesford. They decided to pair Kvass with one of the dishes and she called to see if I could make it. I said yes even though I’d never really made it for anyone but myself. It occurred to me that it would be very difficult to successfully brew and meet the standards of both a childhood memory (Alla) and a visiting, patriotic chef (the Russian)? Oh well. My amateur approach has always been to say yes and regret it rather than not do it … and regret it. And whilst I didn’t get any rewards other than the satisfaction and memore - I beleive it turned out fine.
RYE KVASS RECIPE
This is the most rustic of beers and so easy to flavour. If you don’t hit the right flavours the first ferment you can go ahead and infuse flavours in the bottle during the second fermentation stage - when you bottle it.
5 litre plus jar, food safe bucket or tub
large stirring spoon or stick
fire/pot/oven for toasting the bread
800 g cubed, dried and roasted dark rye bread (about a loaf)
4 litres of your best water
300 g organic raw sugar
100 g raw honey
100 g malt
handful of raisins (organic, no oil)
one swathe of orange peel
A sprig of mint
If you don’t have malt just use honey - if your honey is too precious, just use sugar. The amount and types of sugar you use is really up to you and you will hit the ‘sweet spot’ of what you like and what makes if fizzy over time. This is how we like it and what goes well with the dark rye bread we have.
Cut the rye bread into cubes, or if already in slices, that’s OK. Leave out to dry.
Spread the bread out onto an oven tray and roast at 180ºC until dried into rusks; burning it in places will give you a caramel flavour. I love to pop them onto the BBQ, smoke them and then burn the edges which gives a gorgeous, dark almost whiskey flavour.
When your bread is ready - pour some of the water into your fermenting container, add the sugars, and stir to dissolve as well as possible.
Add the toasted bread, raisins, orange peel and mint and the rest of the water
Cover with a cloth and sit aside to ferment for around a week
You’ll want to check in and stir this occasionally - literally dunking the bread back under
You want to keep it moving so as not to attract yeasts as the top layer can get mouldy if left to sit alone for too long.
Taste it after 5 days, and if it is souring nicely with a lovely depth, and a hint of effervescence, it’s ready to bottle.
Don’t panic if it’s not ready. There are so many variables to consider here; the temperature in your room, the kind of bread, the sugars you added and so on. I’ve been known to let mine go for several weeks so don’t worry if it needs more time.
When it is ready - strain the solids out, and if you want something clearer then line a strainer with some cheesecloth and strain again.
Bottle your Kvass - and if you feel it needs a boost to get it fizzy (say the flavour is just right but only a very slight hint of effervescence - then add a few raisins and then lid. The extra raisins will add sugar and feed the yeasts to help boost the fizz.
This is the second ferment (2F) so you can also pop in more mint, or other flavours if you like. Things like sour cherries, or coffee beans, vanilla and other spices go really well. I have made a lovely one with a few sticks of rhubarb and a dash of cold (left over) coffee.
Make sure to lid well. To encourage further carbonation sit your bottles out for a further 24 hours before refrigerating. This is one of those ferments that can actually POP! So make sure you are using very thick bottles. Kvass is best served chilled.
One flavour variation:
Hot cross bun or raisin toast kvass
We have always gone camping at Easter. Mornings are for hot cross buns toasted on the fire, and early evenings are for rugging up and sitting by the fire with a glass of this. Maybe you’ll just drink this in the morning instead. I think it might be the only reason I’m happy that Hot Cross buns are in stores so early - make Kvass and store it ready for the long weekend.
You’ll simply replace the rye bread with hot cross buns (or if unavailable, raisin bread), toasted and slightly caramelised here and there as per the recipe above.
Taste after a couple of days. Depending on the strength of the flavours in the bread you may like to add a cinnamon stick, a couple of cloves, a handful of extra raisins and some orange peel, sliced. Then let it ferment further until soured nicely, then bottle.
Refrigeration slows fermentation down but doesn’t stop it.
Use good quality, thick glass bottles, swing top or plastic soda bottles.
As with all fermenting projects like this - keep your work area and hands very clean - even more so your bottles, funnels, bowls and strainers. Sanitised with very hot water but don’t panic too much. Imagine how we made versions of this in the most rudimentary kitchens long ago.
The mush that is left? You can use this too. We have blended it to make a paste and dehydrated that into crackers which was quite lovely.