We were invited over to Phoebe and Nancy’s for dinner, last night. Phoebe was making a soup they had eaten in Poland that they really liked – Żurek. a soup made with a fermented rye starter – Zakwas Żytni. (Do not ask me to even try to pronounce any of this.)

We were the guinea pigs. Anyone who knows me knows I’m first in line to try a new food, so we were there with the proverbial bells on! And since we were having a soup with rye, I asked if I could bring a loaf of rye bread.

I must admit I had never heard of fermented grain soups. Evidently, they are quite common in the west Slavic countries – where my culinary knowledge is pretty bleak.

In doing a little research after the fact, I found that hardly anyone in Poland makes their own Zakwas Żytni, anymore… it’s available in just about any grocery store. But… since there are not a lot of Polish grocery stores in Beaverton, Oregon, Phoebe made her own.

And I must say I am quite glad she did! The soup was excellent! Slightly sweet and sour, it was rich and flavorful – lots of root vegetables, kielbasa, bacon, and the crowning touch – a medium-cooked egg on top.

Stunning and delicious!

Also doing a bit of research after the fact, I found that there are variations in different regions of the country – and from home to home. Kinda like pasta sauce in Italy or tacos in Mexico. The constants are the Zakwas Żytni, sausage, and the boiled egg.

The fermented rye needs at least five days to develop, so plan accordingly!

Żurek – a Polish Rye Soup

adapted from The Polish Housewife

For the Zakwas:

  • 5 tablespoons rye flour
  • 3 cups water
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 bay leaves

For the Soup:

  • 4 slices bacon, diced
  • 1 pound Polish sausage
  • 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large carrot, sliced
  • 1 large parsnip, sliced
  • 1/2 celery root, peeled and diced
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 4 large potatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 teaspoon marjoram
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoon horseradish
  • 2 tablespoons cream
  • hard-boiled eggs

To make the Zakwas:

Add the flour to a qt mason jar.

Add the water, garlic, and bay leaves.

Mix thoroughly, as it sits, it will separate with the flour sinking to the bottom

Cover the jar with a paper towel or kitchen towel and secure with a ring or rubber band.

Let sit for five days, giving it a stir daily to mix.

To make the soup:

Brown the bacon and sausage in a soup pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion, carrot, parsnip and celery root.

Add broth and bay leaf and garlic, simmer for 40 minutes.

Add the potatoes and marjoram, cook until the potatoes are tender.

Add 2 cups of the zakwas (strained or flour mixed in, your choice) – add all of it if you want a more sour soup.

Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Add horseradish and cream.

Return to a boil and remove from heat.

Serve by garnishing with hard-boiled egg half.


Recipes in our family are suggestions – or concepts, or a base idea to get the creative juices flowing and use up things that are already in the house. Rarely is something followed word-for word. Phoebe took the recipe and switched it around a bit to suit her needs. The above is a mere approximation.

Same hold true for the bread, below.

I saw a recipe for a Guinness Rye Bread and went to the site. The person making the bread more or less winged it – her oven doesn’t work right, she left part of the dough out too long… more comedy routine than recipe. I went to the recipe site she was using. It had more structure, but I liked the first approach, better. Besides, the original site was using an Italian bread pan to make long rounded loaves – definitely not what I was looking for. I blended the two, added my own spin, and ended up with a hybrid. The recipe did not specify type of white flour, so I used bread flour. I had to play with the dough a lot in the making…

Guinness Rye Bread

adapted from Wild Yeast and One Perfect Bite (neither blog has been updated in years…)

Sponge Ingredients:

  • 195 g flour
  • 140 g coarsely-ground whole rye flour
  • 4.7 g (1.5 t.) instant yeast
  • 45 g water
  • 1 bottle Guinness Stout

Final Dough Ingredients:

  • 195 g flour
  • 11 g salt
  • All of the sponge

Make the starter:

1) Combine beer and water in a large bowl. Add yeast and stir until completely dissolved.

2) Add flours and mix until a thick batter forms. Cover and let rest at room temperature for about two hours. Refrigerate over night. (Since I used bread flour and my starter was rather thick.)

The Bread:

3) Add remaining flour and salt. Mix with machine for about 10 minutes. This is the tricky part – the recipe stated it as a sticky dough. Mine wasn’t. I added a bit too much water and then had to add a bit more flour. After a good 10 minutes of mixing at medium speed, I had a dough that cleaned the sides of the bowl and was juuuuust attached to the bottom.

4) Place in a lightly oiled bowl and let rest for an hour.

5) Turn dough onto work surface shape into a ball and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

6) Reshape ball and place on flour-dusted parchment paper on peel or rimless cookie sheet. Let rise until double in size, about 1 to 2 hours.

7) Preheat oven lined with baking stones to 450°F. Place empty pan/container on rack below baking stones for water when ready to bake.

8) Slash loaves with a razor blade.

9) Slide loaves or pans into oven. Add water to bottom pan.

10) Reduce heat to 425° after 5 minutes. Bake for another 30 minutes or until bottom of loaves sound hollow when tapped. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

I wasn’t expecting to blog about this, so I didn’t take any pictures of the whole loaf or the process. But I did get a couple of the part we brought home…



It came out pretty good and was a great accompaniment to a really great soup!



It had a nice, chewy crust and a really delicate crumb. I’ll probably never be able to replicate it, but… I’m used to that.