Black Bread

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If there’s anything Lithuanians love more than beer and basketball, it’s our bread.  Unlike good beer and good basketball, this dense, sour, dark rye loaf is quite difficult to find in the States, and undeniably, black bread is the food we miss most when we leave.  It is the staple of staples: it accompanies cold cuts and soups, it’s rubbed with fresh garlic and fried (ohmygod), or topped with fresh farmer’s cheese and honey for a light breakfast (again, ohmygod).

I’ve attempted to recreate it before, without much success.  There’s more to it than just using a buttload of dark rye flour and hoping for the best…  Much more.  And honestly, I’m not “there” yet–a true Lithuanian loaf requires a sourdough starter.  (Gourmantine’s method is what I’m trying next.) But, for a batch of two loaves that you can make in half a day, this is pretty close, and it’s delicious anyhow.

So, how did we get here? Deb from Smitten Kitchen flying in with her black bread superhero cape.  I’d had many a disappointment when attempting to make black bread before, and was hesitant to try anything else, but Deb is what one might eloquently call a BAMF, so naturally, her stamp of approval was the nudge I needed to give this another go.  I’m so glad I did.

We start with a full cast and crew.  I know–it’s a ton of stuff.  But magic ain’t easy.

Really, though, the shopping is the most annoying part of all this.  Otherwise, we mix this, melt that, mix that…

And just like that, the messiest part of this is over.

3-4 DVRed episodes of Parks and Recreation later…  BAM.  Bread has risen.

Deflate that sucker, make two loaves, wait again.  Then bake, all the while wondering what Tom Haverford’s nickname for black bread would be.

My guesses are: Downtown Vilnius Brown, Rye Rye Loafsterz, Basketball Tummy Fuel, or Baltic Baller Bread.

Black Bread
(recipe from Smitten Kitchen

1 1/2 tablespoons (2 packages) active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
1/2 cup warm water (105-115 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 or dark rye flour
3 cups bread flour
1 cup bran
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds (I skipped this my second time around)
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 tablespoon minced shallots (I skipped this my second time around, too)

Stir together the yeast, sugar and warm water in a small bowl until yeast and sugar are dissolved, then let it sit until foamy (about 10 minutes).

Meanwhile, heat up 2 cups of water with the molasses, vinegar, butter and chocolate until the mixture is warm and the chocolate and butter melt, then set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the rye and bread flours.

In yet another large bowl, combine two cups of the mixed rye and bread flours with the bran, caraway and fennel (if using) seeds, salt, espresso and shallot (if using).  You can do this in a stand mixer, though I just used a wooden spoon.  Add the yeast and chocolate mixtures and mix until smooth and well incorporated, about 3 minutes or so.  Then, add the remaining mixed flours, half a cup at a time, until you have a sticky but firm dough (you may or may not need to use all of the flour).  At some point it will become too firm to continue using the spoon–just turn everything out on a floured surface and knead to make a springy, dense dough.

Form the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl–turn to coat.  Cover with plastic and let the dough rise in a warm area until doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Gently deflate dough, divide into two and gently form two loaves, coating with additional flour as necessary to keep from sticking.  Place loaves, seam side down, on a parchment-covered baking sheet.  With a sharp knife, make three parallel slashes, about 1/2-inch deep, on the top of each loaf.  Cover loosely with plastic and let rise until about doubled, about 45 minutes to one hour.

Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45 to 60 minutes or until loaves are well-browned, or register an internal temperature of 200 to 210 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Baking time in your oven may vary–it’s taken me up to 1 hour and 15 minutes, roughly.  Remove from baking sheet to cool completely on a rack.

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    • Danguole says

      Oooh, I’m glad you got away for a bit! I love everything about the Northwest. Let me know how it goes if you make this!