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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow's Great Breads Rise Again

Shopping in Moscow today, it is hard to understand why Russians are so proud of their bread. It seems that the only kinds of bread for sale are plain white loaves and stodgy black ones.

But in dilapidated premises on Ulitsa Sretenka, a small bakery is trying to bring back the great tradition of Russian baking. Known during the Soviet era as Bread Factory No. 14, the bakery has a long and illustrious history. Before the revolution, it belonged to Ivan Filippov, Russia's master baker.

Filippov's rolls, loaves and buns were sold in 37 stores across Russia. Legends developed about Filippov and his enormous repertoire of bread recipes. Poets sang his praises.

In "Moscow and the Muscovites", Vladimir Gilyarovsky tells of how the great Filippov turned a near political disaster into a culinary victory.

It began when Moscow's all-powerful imperial governor general, who always ate one of Filippov's buns with his tea, picked up a warm bun and found a cockroach in it. Filippov was summoned and asked to explain.

Sizing up the situation he said, "Well, I think. . . . . it's a raisin". and he took a bite of the cockroach-flavored bun.

The governor was still skeptical, so Filippov rushed back to his bakery and baked a whole batch of buns, filled with raisins rather than cockroaches. The recipe was a hit both with the governor and with Moscow.

Filippov went bankrupt in 1905. After the revolution, his bakeries were nationalized and put to other uses.

The bakery on Ulitsa Sretenka continued baking bread and gradually shifted from high quality baking to mass produced Soviet-style buns. Until the mid-1960s, it was the official bread bakery for the Kremlin.

As Russia's economy foundered, the demand for fine bread also fell. Lack of materials and low demand meant fewer and fewer fine breads were being made.

But a year ago, the bakery decided to return to its heritage. Vasily Pogulyayev, the bakery's director, said the decision was mostly commercial.

"We thought we could charge more if we sold something special. We wanted to make it our trademark", he said.

Reviving the traditions of bread baking has not been easy. For starters, nobody knew the recipes.

Galina Poznyak, head of the bakery's recipe laboratory, was sent to the Russian Library of Food in suburban Moscow, where she unearthed an old book with 350 recipes for bread.

She went to her laboratory and started testing them. In many cases, the ingredients, especially flour, had changed and it was not possible to reproduce the old recipes. But after much trial and error, the bakery began baking some of Filippov's favorite breads.

Today, once again, the bakery is baking the famous cockroach-raisin roll. Now called the Boyarsky, it is baked with raisins and has squares cut into the crust. The bakery also makes the Karavai, the big bread cake traditionally served with salt at weddings. It bakes the Kalach, a delicate white roll shaped like a tiny purse, and the Tulonsky bread, the Russian version of a French bread roll.

When the bakery was privatized earlier this year, its workers chose the name Russky Karavai, after the bread. The bakery has three shops and hopes to get foreign investment to be able to open a chain of tea shops throughout Moscow.

The bakery is still struggling to make ends meet, but its workers have an obvious sense of pride. The shop in front of the bakery is always filled with customers, waiting for the next fresh batch of bread from the old oven, just as it was a century ago when it was run by Ivan Filippov.