Bread has a very special status in Ukrainian culture and is served at nearly every meal. The most popular, classic product is palyanitsa — a hearth-baked wheat loaf that was once reserved for festive occasions and was even honored with a special postage stamp in 2013.
In the Ukraine, bread is much more than just a staple food. In the traditional Slavic culture, access to bread was a sign of prosperity, health and good fortune. To have no bread on the table was synonymous with poverty. Among the older generation, especially, respect for bread is so deeply rooted that even leftovers that have gone stale are not thrown away. And many citizens still remember their schooldays in the Soviet Union when their teachers marked the “Day of Bread” with admonishing lectures on the “long road from corn to bread” and “the weary hands of our farmers and bakers.”
And although the situation is far more relaxed nowadays — the respect for bread remains unchanged. Bread has its place in the substantial national cuisine at every time of the day. As an accompaniment to the sliced pork fat salo, with the spicy meat jelly kholodets or eaten with filling soups like borscht and solyanka, a thick slice of fresh bread is always part of the meal. The total annual consumption of bread and other bakery products in Ukraine averages around 100 kilograms per head of the population, with 80% consisting of rustic bread varieties, while the rest is pastry goods.
Honored with a postage stamp
There is no great diversity of bread varieties in the Ukraine. Sandwich and toast loaves or baguettes, for example, are not widely known. Instead, Ukrainian consumers buy palyanitsa (also called polyanitsa or palyanitsya), a round, hearth-baked wheat loaf, nearly every day.
In times gone by, this type of bread enjoyed a high reputation, since wheat flour was considered a luxury and only used on feast days. “To combat hunger” on a regular basis, the bread served was made from rye flour or rye meal.
Nowadays, palyanitsa is by far the most popular bread variety in Ukraine — and honored with a specially issued postage stamp.
Meeting ‘GOST’ standards
The production of authentic palyanitsa is regulated by instructions dating back to the days of the USSR, when government standards were issued to ensure that important staple foods were of standardized, reliable quality throughout the Soviet Union.
Among other things, GOST No. 12793-67 defines that “Ukraina Palyanitsa” loaves must have a weight of 1,750 grams (kg), a diameter of 22 to 23 centimeters, a height of 10 to 14 centimeters, and an acidity of 3.4 to 3.6. The product description “Kirovogradskaya Palyanitsy” applies to loaves that are nearly twice as heavy (1.6 kg) and have a coarser crumb and a thicker crust but are otherwise subject to the same production regulations.
Although the Soviet standards have not been binding for the country since the breakdown of the USSR, many Ukrainian bakeries still use them as a guideline for meeting the high standard consumers expect of their traditionally favorite bread.
The characteristic, distinguishing feature of palyanitsa is the “smiling mouth” — a semi-circular, lateral incision in the bottom third of the loaf. To this day it serves as a reminder that bread is a symbol of good fortune and well-being.
Most palyanitsa is produced industrially, by a continuous process. The basic recipe consists only of flour, salt, yeast and water. To produce 100 kg of bread, around 76 kg of wheat flour (1st grade), 2 kg of yeast cake and 1.3 kg of salt are required.
The most important aspect of palyanitsa production is the sponge-and-dough process; nearly half of the flour is made up into a “sponge” — i.e., a pre-dough to which all the yeast is added. Fermentation times of between 4 and 5 hours and temperatures of around 27° C promote swelling of the flour components, prolong the shelf life, allow the mildly aromatic flavor to form and increase the rising power of the dough. On the other hand, the baking must keep a close watch on acidity development. The acidity of the ripe sponge must not exceed 6.2, otherwise the wheat sponge could quickly turn into wheat sourdough, which would have detrimental effects on the flavor and volume of the loaves.
To produce the main dough, only flour, water and salt solution must be added. After the kneading process, dough rest, portioning and making up, the dough pieces undergo final proofing. Because of the large proportion of fermented sponge, this phase is restricted to a maximum of 40 minutes in the traveling proofers to avoid the risk of weakening the stability of the dough.
Before being placed in the oven, the round loaves are given a lateral, semi-circular incision about 6 millimeters deep, that is intended to look like a wide “U” on the golden-brown crust. The loaves are baked with steam for about 50 minutes at temperatures around 190° C.
Made with local wheat
In Ukraine, only domestic wheat is used because, as a rule, it has good baking properties. The average analytical values from the 2020 crop showed 12.3% protein, a Falling Number of 383 s, a wet gluten content of 27.42% (pursuant to ISO 1) and a sedimentation value of 35 milliliters.
In practice, the Ukrainian mills mix wheat lots of stronger and weaker quality to produce a universal flour with the widest possible range of applications. Fine tuning of the baking performance is achieved with flour improvers. There are two different approaches. Mills with a well-equipped rheological laboratory use mainly specifically chosen single ingredients such as amylases, lipases or xylanases, while others prefer enzyme compounds or enzyme systems. Besides enzymatic agents, these may contain oxidizing agents, emulsifiers or vital wheat gluten.
The following overview gives examples of the flour treatment agents and technical measures that can be used to solve the most common production problems:
Problem: Loaf too flat.
Possible causes: Dough too soft, proof time too long.
Solution: Make firmer doughs, put dough portions in the oven earlier, start baking at a higher temperature. Add Alphamalt Gloxy 5080 WD or Alphamalt TTC. Increase ascorbic acid (ELCO C 100).
Problem: Not enough volume.
Possible causes: Not enough leavening because of inadequate enzyme activity (α-amylases).
Solution: Add enzymes such as amylases (Alphamalt VC 5000, Deltamalt FN-A) or xylanases (Alphamalt HTE).
Problem: Texture too close.
Possible causes: Dough too firm, proof time too short.Solution: Make doughs softer with more water, lengthen proof time. Add Alphamalt HTE or Powerzym 27001.
Problem: Firm crumb, dry and crumbly.
Possible causes: Dough too firm, dough temperature too cool, processing time too short.
Solution: Make dough softer and warm (but not too hot); increase the dough yield appreciably, increase the amount of yeast. Add Deltamalt FN-A or Alphamalt Fresh.
Problem: Incision (shred) too small.
Possible causes: Dough too warm, fermentation time too long, humidity in proofing chamber too high (surface too wet); oven temperature too low at first baking stage.
Solution: Make dough cool and firm; optimize the proofing chamber parameters. Add Alphamalt HTE or Alphamalt HCC 2, Alphamalt Gloxy 5080 WD and Alphamalt EFX Mega.
Sven Mattutat is a product manager with Mühlenchemie. He may be contacted at email@example.com.