As noted in Wikipedia, the Republic of Lithuania (Lithuanian: Lietuvos Respublika), is a country in Northern Europe – one of the three Baltic states, it is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, to the east of Sweden and Denmark. It is bordered by Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east and south, Poland to the south, and Kaliningrad Oblast (a Russian exclave) to the southwest. Lithuania has an estimated population of 2.9 million people as of 2015, and its capital and largest city is Vilnius. Lithuanians are a Baltic people – the official language, Lithuanian (along with Latvian), are the only two living languages in the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family.
For centuries, the southeastern shores of the Baltic Sea were inhabited by various Baltic tribes. In the 1230s, the Lithuanian lands were united by Mindaugas, the King of Lithuania, and the first unified Lithuanian state, the Kingdom of Lithuania, was created on 6 July 1253. During the 14th century, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the largest country in Europe; present-day Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, and parts of Poland and Russia were the territories of the Grand Duchy. With the Lublin Union of 1569, Lithuania and Poland formed a voluntary two-state union, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth lasted more than two centuries, until neighboring countries systematically dismantled it from 1772–95, with the Russian Empire annexing most of Lithuania’s territory.
As World War I neared its end, Lithuania’s Act of Independence was signed on 16 February 1918, declaring the establishment of a sovereign State of Lithuania. Starting in 1940, Lithuania was occupied first by the Soviet Union and then by Nazi Germany. As World War II neared its end in 1944 and the Germans retreated, the Soviet Union reoccupied Lithuania. On 11 March 1990, a year before formal break-up of the Soviet Union, Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to declare itself independent, resulting in the restoration of an independent State of Lithuania.
Lithuanian cuisine features the products suited to the cool and moist northern climate of Lithuania: barley, potatoes, rye, beets, greens, berries, and mushrooms are locally grown, and dairy products are one of its specialties. Since it shares its climate and agricultural practices with Northern Europe, Lithuanian cuisine has some similarities to Scandinavian cuisine. Nevertheless, it has its own distinguishing features, which were formed by a variety of influences during the country’s long and difficult history.
Because of their common heritage, Lithuanians, Poles, and Ashkenazi Jews share many dishes and beverages. In Lithuanian (and old-school Eastern European Jewish) cuisine, dark rye bread is king, served at every meal. This recipe is relentlessly authentic, and will make a rye bread worthy of your next homemade deli sandwich, Citizens! I have tweaked this recipe to include some ground caraway and coriander seed to flavor the bread – skip these and you have the truly classic Lithuanian version of the recipe!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
Ruginė Duona: Lithuanian Dark Rye
5 TBS rye flour
water, at room temperature
Preparation time: 3 days
In a half-liter glass jar, mix the rye flour and some room temperature water and keep it in a warm place. The consistency has to be like sour cream. Mix every 12 hours and keep it like that for three days. It will have a nice yeasty aroma and it will start to bubble. If it is not bubbling, you may add some yeast. Don’t get discouraged – just have patience.
After three days, you may either start the process of bread making, or put the starter in the refrigerator. If you refrigerate it, when you take it out you need to “restart” it again by adding a few tablespoons of flour and some water and then keeping it at room temperature (the warmer the better) for 12 hours.
While it is in the refrigerator the starter needs to breathe. A good idea is to punch some holes in the metal lid that goes with the jar in which you have mixed your raugas (starter).
This is the raugas in the morning after three days. The bubbles are a great indicator of how the bread will look and that the starter is working.
Rye Bread (Ruginė Duona) Base
2 kg (about 5 lbs.) stone ground rye flour
1 to 2 cups all purpose flour
2g (ground) coriander seeds
2g (ground) caraway seeds
5 TBS sugar
3 TBS honey
4 tsp salt
Preparation time: 30 hours
Step 1: Pour the raugas into a bowl and add 2 TBS of rye flour. Add some lukewarm water and mix. You can use a metal or glass bowl for that since a good raugas may “climb out” of your half-liter jar. This will be the base of your bread.
Start on a Friday morning, before work, and bake it Saturday at about 2 p.m. Also, on Friday evening you must be able to mix the dough and you will need about 20 minutes for that.
Step 2: After your base has rested on the counter for 12 hours, take a very large bowl (would not suggest using plastic) and into it add 2 cups of rye flour.
Boil about 3 cups of water and pour over the flour and caraway seeds. Mix well using a whisk or wooden spoon. Mix it quickly and well, so there are no dry spots. Let it cool to room temperature. You can keep on mixing it to cool faster.
Step 3: Once this mixture from Step 2 is at room temperature, add your base and mix well. Add another two to three cups of rye flour. You will have to use wet hands at the end to make the top nice and even.
Step 4: Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel. A rolling pin can be laid over the bowl to keep the tea towel from falling into the dough. Leave this mixture to rest overnight for 12 hours in the kitchen in a warm place with no drafts.
Step 5: IMPORTANT! At this point, before you do anything else, add to a half-liter glass container 2 – 3 TBS of this risen dough! Add 2 – 3 TBS rye flour and some lukewarm water. Mix and let sit in a warm place. This is how to produce the most important ingredient, the raugas/starter for the next time.
After the new starter has had a chance to sit for 12 hours in a warm place, place it in the refrigerator. It can stay there for a long time (up to half a year). The next time you are ready to bake bread, take the starter from the fridge, add 2 TBS of rye flour and some lukewarm water. Mix and keep it on the counter for 12 hours. It should have the consistency of sour cream. This is usually the first step that should be done a day before you plan to bake.
Step 6: In another small bowl mix 5 TBS sugar, 3 TBS honey, the ground caraway and coriander and 4 tsp of salt. Add some hot water to help with mixing it. When the mixture is not hot anymore, pour it into the bowl with the risen dough.
Step 7: Add another 3 cups of rye flour and 1 cup of regular all purpose white flour. Mix it all very well. If it gets too hard to mix with a wooden spoon, ask someone to help you, or wet your hands and mix with your hands. This flour is extremely sticky.
TIP: before putting your hands into the dough, get the baking pan ready. You will need a 9″ by 12″ pan lined with parchment paper.
Mixed all of the ingredients well; wet your hands and place the dough into parchment lined baking pan. Keep wetting your hands and make the top nice and even. You may rub some oil on top of the dough to prevent it from drying – it also gives the crust a glossy look.
Let bread dough rise for another four hours. In the winter or in an air-conditioned place, it might have to be left to rise overnight.
Step 8: Bake for the first 10 minutes at 400° F, then turn down the oven temperature to 350°. Bake time will vary with loaf size — usually 55 minutes to an hour. After 45 to 50 minutes, check the bread with a toothpick and also knock on the bottom of the loaf after lifting it from the pan with the parchment paper just slightly. If the sound is nice and clear, it is ready.
Step 9: SKANAUS – ENJOY!