Black Bread

Item No. 03 of my 2016 Cooking Challenge

More catching up on my cooking project! This was indeed a good week for catching up, as the rye bread was second among a few items I had the time to prepare. Rye bread, especially this recipe ends up being way heavier and richer-tasting in comparison to something like the baguette I made for week one. It’s still fairly dreary and wintery out in the Pacific Northwest, so this made for a perfect dinner companion.

Black Bread

Breadmaking is a skill that pays off dividends. I decided to lead off this project with two bread recipes so close together because I figured it would be helpful to become readily familiar with how subtle changes in ingredient ratios and the inclusion of certain spices could lead to variations in taste.

Thing I Learned #1– Black bread has its historical roots in the Middle Ages, and Germans, Scandinavians, and Russians all take the credit with originating various forms of black bread. The most famous of international variations is probably German pumpernickel. Russia also highly values its relationship with the rye. During the Soviet Era, propaganda posters promoted the bread as a symbol of health and prosperity. They were pretty correct about the health aspect, as black bread is very nutrient rich. They were a little less correct about the prosperity thing, as I’ll expand on in just a little bit.

I primarily followed a recipe I found on 101 Cookbooks, but I also cross referenced it against one I found on Food.com. Both were very similar and called for almost the same ingredients.

The bread that resulted from this project promised to be dark, assertive, and hearty, and I can tell from the ingredients list that it was slated to have a sophisticated flavor with things like espresso ground and molasses contributing to the darkness. I also understood why this was such a wintery recipe. It wasn’t just because this was such a dense and hearty bread (although it truly was) but also because preparation time took near four hours. Most of that was waiting for the dough to rise, and with how heavy this dough was, that took quite a while.

Of all the many items that went into this bread, the shining star was rye flour, and for that I went with Bob’s Red Mill. Rye is a pretty interesting ingredient in its own right.

 

Thing I Learned #2– While rye is biologically related to traditional bread and fermentation grains like wheat and barely, it is a bit more grass-like in it’s natural appearance. Many farmers originally considered it a weed. While it probably has the most complex taste out of the three, it was initially considered “poverty grain.” This impression was only further reinforced by the fact that rye was a potent crop that could grow healthy even in dry conditions, making it easier for poorer farmers to harvest.

This recipe featured many of the same steps I found in my baguette making project, all the usual things you’d find in most directions for making bread. Get the yeast going and mix the right ratio of flours and what not. The “road less traveled” taken by the black bread happened to come in the form of its more interesting ingredients list. Check out this sophisticated entourage.

Ingredients

2 1/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast
1 1/3 cups of warm water
1 teaspoon of sugar (brown or cane)
2 tablespoons of cocoa powder
2 tablespoons of finely ground espresso beans
1/4 cup of molasses
3 teaspoons of caraway seeds
3 tablespoons of butter, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons of fine grain sea salt
2 carrots
1 1/3 cup of rye flour
3 1/4 cup of bread flour
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of buttermilk (may use regular milk)

Tools

1 Mixing Bowl
1 Baking Tray
Measuring Cup
Measuring Spoons
Wooden Spoon
Serrated Knife

1) Wake Up, Yeast!

 

Much like we began the baguette recipe, begin by activating the yeast in pretty warm water. Give it a good stir and wait about ten minutes to get foamy. Don’t worry, the ten minutes will go by pretty quickly, you’ll have a lot to do.

2) Grate up some carrots

There was one way in which my recipe diverged from tradition a little bit… it included carrots to add some color. Or so the recipe said. If you add other colors to black, I believe it still turns out black.

This is a pretty straightforward part of the process, but it can take a little while.

3) Make the Magic Sauce

Ah, this is the fun part. Really. If you like mixing a bunch of ingredients and putting on the heat, this is exactly what we’re going to be doing next.

In a saucepan you’ll want to toss in the butter, the sea salt, the espresso grounds, the carraway seeds, the cocoa powder, and the molasses. Yup, that’s like, half of everything. Turn the heat up to medium and stir until it all kind of blends together in a rich, dark brown goo. It should have a rich syrupy texture.

4) Flour Power

Now, just like old times, mix the flour and the yeast-water together and stir away.

Full transparency here, I messed up on this step. I didn’t properly read the instructions and didn’t use enough bread flour. What I wrote up top was correct, so do as I say, not as I did. In the end the bread still turned out fine, but it didn’t quite rise the way it was supposed to. My bread, which was already supposed to be dense, came out even more dense than planned. That’s why this project is a pretty good learning experience, though.

Now add in the grated carrots and stir.

Then add in the magic-everything-concoction and stir.

Stir until it’s all blended together as an evenly consistent, bumpy textured, dark brown colored dough.

5) Great Balls of Dough

 

So this is the part where patience becomes a virtue. Coat your hands with oil, then roll the dough into one big ball. Coat a bowl with oil and place the ball there, with the seam towards the bottom. Now wait for it… wait for it… ehh… go put on some Netflix, cause it’ll be a while. Cover it up with a tea cloth and come back in an hour or two.

6) Great Balls of Dough 2.0

I hope you found a good show on Netflix, because you’ve got time for a few more episodes! You’ll want to punch the dough ball. The original recipe said to flatten it out with your fist, but really, punching it is way more fun. Now reshape it into a round oblong, and cover it up again. Another hour of rising, another episode of 30 Rock or whatever.

7) Slice and Shower

At this point, I applaud your patience. You’re almost ready to throw this sucker in the oven. Almost. You’ll want to score the top of your loaf with a serrated knife again. This time, an X shape is recommended, like in those cartoon drawings of hot cross buns. Now you’ll give the dough a fun finish. Pour a bit of buttermilk over it just to coat the top surface. Then sprinkle some remaining caraway seeds.

By the end of the prep, caraway will be one of the most assertive flavors in a bread full of tastes. Just you wait.

Thing I Learned #3 – Caraway is a versatile spice that lends itself well to both sweet and savory, just ask any number of biryani dishes or rice pudding. It’s a very important spice in a lot of South Asian and Eastern European dishes especially. It’s a fennel plant and its a close relative of anise.

Finally, dust it up with one last poof of bread flour.

8) Make or Bake

 

Throw it in the oven at 425º. Set a timer for 20 minutes. When it goes off, lower the temperature to 350º and wait another 20 or 25 minutes. Finally, the end is in sight!

You’ll know you’re ready when…

The smell of your house makes you extremely hungry, and the bread has risen to look like you’d expect it to.

Serving this Sucker

Alright, due to the flour mishap that I mentioned earlier, the bread failed to rise like I wanted it to. It still smelled right, its flavor was delicious, and its texture allowed it to work as a nice side bread, but it stayed totally flat and was just a little more dense than I would have liked. In all honesty, the thing kind of looked like a gigantic cookie. A giant molasses cookie, at that.

Misleading appearances aside, the bread still tasted fantastic. I ate a first loaf simply, with melted butter and a glass of water. It was indeed flavorful enough that it could hold its own as a rich appetizer, snack, or party starter.

I also managed to pair up more of this bread with some seared tilapia and a wedge salad Deanna later prepared. Something about dark rye and fish just seems to go well together. It must be the whole Nordic thing.

In fact, that’s another direction I’d love to go with this. Either spreading a light cream cheese or creme fraiche, then topping with arugula and smoked salmon. That seems properly Norwegian to me. Or leave out the arugula and instead season with lemon and dill. That’d be good too.

I also read somewhere that this sort of bread makes for a good fondue.

This bread has so much flavor on its own, though, it’s probably best to be conservative with what you end up pairing it with. I’d go with tastes that accent its flavor rather than ones that dominate it.

In The Future

I will most definitely try this again, and in the future, I’d hope to get that flour ratio right. Also, if one were to make this in a bread pan, it could form a great rye loaf which could then lend itself to awesome sandwiches. Ham and swiss or ham and sauerkraut is so much better on a rye.

And why stop there? If you use a traditional recipe to make white bread dough and then use this recipe to make rye dough, you can take two halves and easily make a marbled rye. Just blend them enough to get the marbled texture but not so much that they lose their own distinction. Bake and you’ve got a great deli invention. Or make it into sliced bread form and you’ve got the perfect floor and ceiling for a proper rueben sandwich.

I’m looking forward to more breadmaking. The results were imperfect this time around, but they were enough to let me know what to look forward to in future meals!

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