Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Russian Black Bread

This past summer, I was exempt from household duties as I studied for the bar exam. Since my return to the land of the living, my mother has been giving both my brother and I random chores to complete while she is at work. This usually involves vacuuming and swiffering up all of the dog hair (she sheds a lot). Normally, she leaves little hints around the house to inform us as to her demands. Sometimes we get e-mails (she started CCing us both because I conned my brother into doing my vacuuming). Other times, we get hilarious reminders. One morning, I walked into the kitchen and out of the corner of my eye I saw the swiffer leaning in the corner with a note taped to it. I immediately thought of those swiffer commercials where the old brooms and mops pop up out of nowhere. Honestly, it kind of freaked me out.

I woke up this morning to a bowl of overripe bananas and softening butter sitting on the kitchen table. Today's chore? Replenish her supply of banana chocolate chip muffins. My brother decided this would be a great time to request Russian Black Bread. He studied abroad in Moscow as an undergraduate, and claimed that it was really good. I decided to indulge him because I was already dirty and the oven was on. Plus, I was able to give him a sorely needed lesson in proper use of measuring utensils.

The verdict? This has got to be one of the weirdest breads I have ever made. It has so many different ingredients, smells kind of funny as a dough, and is really dense and easy to handle and shape. It has a distinct rye taste, and I can't quite pin down the aftertaste. My brother says the taste is there, but it is usually much more dense. That could probably be fixed with a much shorter proofing phase. Eat the bread cold, with butter. It is also great for dunking in soups.

Ingredients (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 (I used maple syrup because I didn't have any)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (If you only have salted, add only a teaspoon of salt)
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 wheat bran (you could use oat bran, or alternatively pulse some rolled oats in a food processor)
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds (Yeah, I left these out. I think I'm allergic)
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder (Substitute: 1 cup of cool coffee for 1 cup of water above)
1 tablespoon minced shallots

1. Combine yeast , sugar and warm water in a small bowl.

2. In a separate bowl, combine whole wheat, rye and all purpose flour. Mix well.

3. In a saucepan, heat two cups of water, molasses, butter and chocolate until melted. Set aside to cool a bit. Do not add when it is too hot, or you will kill your yeast.

4. In a mixing bowl, combined two cups of the mixed flours, bram caraway seeds, fennel, salt, espresso and shallots. At low speed, mix in yeast and chocolate mixtures.

5. Slowly add half a cup of the flour mixture at a time until dough starts to come together and pull away from the sides. It will likely clump up on your paddle. You probably won't use all of the flour.

6. Knead on a floured surface until springy and dense. I suggest doing this step by hand even if you use a mixer. This dough is dense and so easy to knead that there is no reason to put your mixer at risk with this kind of work.

7. Form into a ball, cover and let double for an hour to two hours.

8. Divide, shape, and proof until doubled -- 45 minutes. Cut slashes in loaves.

9. Bake at 350F for 45-50 minutes or until temperature is between 200F and 210F.

10. Let cool for an hour and then eat.

My slashes post-baking.


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