It is ridiculous to think that on a site where I have shared twenty-nine bread recipes that I have yet to tell you about my favorite bread. Way to hold out Deb, right? I mean what were the other breads, just teasers? Well, yes.
I’m not sorry, though, because my favorite bread contains perplexing things like chocolate, bran, molasses, shallots and fennel seeds, things that any sane person would know are completely insane to intentionally put in the same place. It has seventeen ingredients, which also goes far to explain why I don’t make it more often. (Remember, I’m the person who ran out of cinnamon making cinnamon rolls; do you actually think I can be counted on to have seventeen things at once?) Put all of that together and you’ll see why I know this bread is a hard sell.
But when I do make it, I kick myself because it’s so ridiculously delicious, shame on me. It would be worth it if it had 34 ingredients and took all day, but the bread itself is relatively simple and the outcome is deadly. Along with that Big Crumb Coffee Cake and Soft Pretzels, I demonstrated this bread at The Pioneer Woman’s Lodge to a small group this past weekend, which means that you’re really owed this recipe.
I’m talking about my beloved recipe for Russian Black Bread, a pumpernickel bread for people who think that standard pumpernickel with its paltry seven ingredients is just not trying hard enough. Before someone pointed me to this one, I’d been floundering around, looking for a black bread good enough to impress the Russkies in Alex’s family, but it wasn’t until I saw this ingredient list that I knew I’d found The One. I mean, you don’t put caraway, cider vinegar, espresso powder and butter together in the same place — intentionally — unless you’re utterly confident that it could be no other way.
Trust me, it could be no other way.
Russian Black Bread
Adapted from Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible
If you’d like to be like the Russkies, you’d slather this with butter, top it with caviar, throw it back with some ice cold vodka and then head to work on a Monday morning. If you suspect you’re made of equally-charming but perhaps slightly less robust things, you might toast it with some butter and eat it with your scrambled eggs, or use it to make a pastrami sandwich that would make Katz’s seethe with jealousy.
I actually have mentioned this bread before on the site, but only in passing. I included it in an article I wrote for NPR on Zakuski more than two years ago, but I think it’s overdue to come back home here.
Makes 2 loaves
2 packages (1 1/2 tablespoons) active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
2 cups water
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
3 cups medium rye flour
3 cups unbleached, all-purpose or bread flour
1 cup bran
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1/4 cup cornmeal (optional)
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour (optional)
1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)
Special equipment: Spice grinder (optional), instant-read thermometer
1. In a small bowl, combine yeast and sugar with warm water. Stir to dissolve and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
2. Heat two cups water, molasses, vinegar, butter and chocolate until the butter and chocolate are melted. Set aside and let cool to lukewarm warm.
3. Combine whole-wheat, rye and white flours in a large bowl. Set aside.
4. In bowl of a heavy mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine two cups mixed flours, bran, 2 tablespoons caraway seeds, fennel seeds, salt, espresso and shallots. At low speed, add yeast and chocolate mixtures. Mix until smooth and beat at medium speed for three minutes. (If you don’t like whole seeds in your bread, grinding them in a spice grinder, coffee grinder or mortar and pestle allows their flavor to come through without the texture. I always make my black bread this way.)
[Note: This, or any bread, can also be made by hand, simply mixing the ingredients in a large bowl with a wooden spoon and kneading the dough on a counter until springy and smooth.]
5. At low speed, add half cup of remaining mixed flours at a time, until dough clears sides of bowl and begins to work its way up paddle. It will be very sticky but firm.
6. Scrape dough off paddle, flour counter well, and knead to make a springy yet dense dough. You might not use all of the flour mixture.
7. Form into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Turn once to grease top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm area until doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Combine cornmeal, flour and remaining caraway seeds, if using, and set aside.
8. Gently deflate dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into two portions and form into two rounds or loaves. Loaves should be placed in a loaf pan sprayed with nonstick spray, while rounds should be placed seam down on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle loaves with cornmeal mixture, if using. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled and puffy, about 45 minutes to one hour. Slash an X into the top of a round before baking it; no such slashing is needed for bread in a loaf pan.
9. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until loaves are well-browned, or register an internal temperature of 200 to 210°F on an instant-read thermometer. Baking time in your oven may vary — check in on the bread when it is 2/3 to 3/4 of the way through the baking time to make sure it has not super-speedily baked. Remove from baking sheet to cool completely on a rack.