Russian Black Bread

Its been raining breads here at BC and before I forget, I had better share two new finds. Chilli oil from Pico and a much planned and awaited bread recipe – for the Black Russian Bread.

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First things first – a couple of weeks back, Pico Cafe invited me to go over for the launch of their facebook app - Club Pico (An interesting concept that entails consumers receiving points for every single interaction. The points can be redeemed against monetary benefits (I am guessing the outlet offerings) at the stores).

Never having been to any of the Pico joints, I was frankly, more curious about the chain itself and decided to give it a shot. Of their various offerings, I find Pico Express most interesting as a concept. Conceived as a”store crafted for the busy urban citizen” this is an interesting space to be in. Perfectly fitting for Mumbaites on the move, interested in picking up wholesome, healthy but interesting gourmet meals/snacks for a busy workday, this one I can absolutely imagine being a regular at if I were still on the 9 to whatever bandwagon, travelling everyday to work.  The event was at the Kurla Phoenix Mall outlet in Mumbai and while the Facebook app was introduced, we were provided with some yummies and even more fun, a little foodie game. Now I am not one for games or for that matter any kind of competition, but this one worked out just fine. We were presented with a dish, guessed at the ingredients and then the winner (your truly, yay!) walked away with a lovely bag of goodies. The dish was a sun dried tomato ravioli and the goodie bag glee fully received! Filled to the brim with chocolates, chilli jam (beautifully tangy and delicious but could do with more heat), oatmeal cookies (of the crisp and crunchy variety and filled with raisins – tasty though I prefer mine a bit chewy), and a beautiful chilli oil that has absolutely brilliant flavour, a lovely red hue and is rich with the caramelised flavour and subtle heat of roasted red chillies.

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As you can probably tell, I totally loved the oil and we gorged on this with beautiful homemade french bread, fresh out of the oven.  Just the prospect of dipping warm bread in this heavenly oil is enough to make me run to the flour shelf to make another crusty-crunchy outside and cottony soft inside loaf…but like the saint that I am, here I am plodding away at my laptop!!

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And while on breads, how can one not be curious about one that involves the mind boggling combination of chocolate, coffee, rye flour, shallots (that I swapped for onion and garlic), apple cider vinegar, mollasses (that I swapped out for date syrup), caraway and fennel! How is a girl supposed to sleep at night with cookbooks that have recipes like that?

After much planning, encouraged by the very delicious and successful french bread recipe from the same book, I got down to tackling this monster of a recipe only to be heart-broken when the dough didn’t rise. At all!! That’s NEVER happened to me before and I did enough soul-searching to arrive at a few reasons. But can you imagine my grief? After going through the roller coaster of shock, denial, anger and much foot stomping, I finally decided to sprinkle in more yeast and re-knead the dough. Which worked!! The changeling.. but I am not complaining. The resulting bread was delicious if dense. I am guessing with the amount of rye in it, the bread would be dense anyway but my ministrations wouldn’t have helped the texture much either. Anywho, the flavour itself is ridiculously good and hot, and slathered with butter this is one sexy bread, made for mature palettes. The long list of ingredients results in an unusual flavour that can’t quite be described but definitely deserves to be savoured. Often.

 

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Russian Black Bread

Serves: Two large loaves

Adapted from Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible
Ingredients
  • 1½ tablespoons active dry yeast
  • Pinch of sugar
  • ½ cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
  • 2 cups water
  • ½ cup molasses (i used date syrup)
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 3o grams unsweetened chocolate (you could use 3 T cocoa and 1 T butter but I actually used regular dark chocolate)
  • 1 and ½ cup whole-wheat flour
  • 3 cups rye flour
  • 3 cups unbleached, all-purpose or bread flour
  • 2 tablespoons caraway seeds (shahi jeera)
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
  • half an onion, grated, 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • ¼ cup cornmeal (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour (optional)
Directions
  1. Combine yeast, sugar and warm water in a bowl. Stir to dissolve and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
  2. Heat two cups water, molasses, vinegar, butter and chocolate in the microwave until the butter and chocolate are melted. Stir and set aside.
  3. Mix whole-wheat, rye and white flours in a large bowl. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, combine two cups mixed flours, bran, seeds, salt, espresso, onion and garlic. Mix in yeast and chocolate mixtures. Beat on low with a hand beater until smooth and then beat at medium speed for a further three minutes.
  5. Add half cup of remaining mixed flours at a time, mixing until dough clears sides of bowl and begins to form into a dough.
  6. Transfer to a well floured counter, and knead to make a springy yet dense dough. Keep adding flour as desired to avoid the dough getting to sticky but 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 until doubled, about 1½ to 2 hours.
  8. Combine cornmeal, flour and remaining caraway seeds, if using, and set aside.
  9. Gently deflate dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into two portions, form each into two round loaves or pan loaves. Pan loaves should be placed in a loaf pan sprayed with nonstick spray, while round loaves can be placed seam down on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.
  10. 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.
  11. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until loaves are well-browned, and sound hollow when tapped on the underside. Remove from baking sheet to cool completely on a rack before slicing.

 

Enjoy with a healthy pat of butter!

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