Russian Black Bread

Russian Black Bread
from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted from Beth Hensperger's
The Bread Bible
Makes 2 large, in charge, rounds or loaves
 
ingredients
2 packages of active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups water
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
4 T unsalted butter
1 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 cups rye flour
3 cups bread flour
1 cup oat bran
2 T caraway seeds
1/2 t fennel seeds
1 T salt
1 T instant espresso powder
1 T minced shallots
1/4 cup cornmeal (optional)
1 T all purpose flour (optional)
1 t caraway seeds (optional)
 
Special stuff: stand mixer (can do all by hand if you've got muscles and energy!), spice grinder (optional), instant-read thermometer (optional)

instructions
1. In a small bowl, combine yeast & sugar with warm water. Stir to dissolve and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. This ensures your yeast is alive :)

2. Heat 2 cups water, molasses, vinegar, butter & chocolate until the butter and chocolate are melted. Set aside, and let cool to warm so it doesn't kill the yeast.

3. Combine whole-wheat, rye, and bread flours in a large bowl. Set aside.

4. In a bowl of a heavy mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 2 cups mixed flours, bran, seeds (can grind prior to adding if desired), salt, espresso, and shallots. At low speed, add yeast and chocolate mixtures. (I added salt after adding yeast because I am paranoid and my baking teacher always said to add salt last).

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 sticky but firm, and you'll probably have leftover flour.

6. Scrape dough off paddle, flour counter well, and knead to make a springy yet dense dough (until it looks sexy, as my teacher says). You may still have flour left over, but maybe not.
 
7. Form into a ball and place in a bowl sprayed with Pam. Turn over to grease top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm area until doubled, about 1 1/2-2hours (I preheat oven to 100 and then turn off, leaving door open to let temp drop some before putting dough in). Meanwhile, combine cornmeal, flour, and remaining seeds if you're topping the bread before baking, and set aside.

8. Deflate dough. Turn out onto lightly floured surface. Divide into 2 equal portion and form into two rounds or loaves. If making loaves, place in a sprayed loaf pan. If rounds (like mine) place seam down on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet (one round per sheet). Sprinkle w/ mixture if using. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise again, until doubled, about 45 min to 1 hour. Slash an X into the top of a round before baking (none needed for loaves); you can see from my pictures that you don't want to slash too deep or it affects the prettiness. Just a small slash.

9. Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes or until internal temperature of 200-210. I baked mine for about 40-45 minutes. (1/2 way through baking, I switched the positions of each sheet too). Remove from sheet and cool completely on a rack.
 
10. Let it cool (if you can resist the urge), and then slop whatever your little heart desires on it.
 
 
p.s. - I'm aware that, if this is your first foray into the wonderul world of bread-baking that this recipe might be a bit intimidating. I've found that making bread definitely takes practice. You can probably tell I need some practice prettying up my bread - rounding and scoring are not my good points - not yet! So, if you're scurred (Southern for scared), drop me a line in the comment box, and I'll find you something more basic to start with. Promise :)

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