Cooking, Recipe

Russian Black Bread


I got inspired to make bread (thank you Bustednuckles) and didn’t want to just toss together a quick n’ easy loaf. So… This one. Dark, a touch bitter, complex, chewy, and takes all daggone day to make. 

So worth it. 

Note that this is a very heavy bread dough. I love my stand mixer for recipes like this. If you don’t have one, well, the kneading process is a fantastic upper-body workout on this bread. 

Put in mixing bowl: 

  • 1/2 c. warm water 
  • 2 1/4 tsp yeast (one packet)
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar

While yeast is blooming, get a small saucepan. Heat on stove to just under a boil: 

  • 1 c water
  • 2 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp molasses

Set this aside to cool slightly. Sift together:

  • 2 1/2 c bread flour (if you don’t have bread flour, I highly recommend it for this. If you have active gluten and all purpose flour, add about 1 tbsp gluten)
  • 1 c rye flour
  • 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp instant coffee (or espresso powder, which is finer)

With dough hook on the stand mixer (or wooden spoon if you have babushka level muscles) add in some of the dry mix to the yeast, then add the warm liquid and the rest of the flour as well as: 

  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp caraway seeds (note: I was out, and substituted dill seeds, which work just fine here. Russians have an affinity for dill)
  • 1/4 tsp fennel seeds

Work the dough with the stand mixer for about ten minutes on low to no more than medium speed. You’ll note that the dough goes from a very stiff ball, to loose and relaxed. Don’t add more flour, it’s fine. If you are kneading by hand, you want to work this until the dough becomes elastic – at first, you’ll note it pulls apart easily, almost brittle in that you can pull a chunk off with little resistance. Later as the gluten activates it will stretch more.

Just at the first, very stiff stage. You can see the break where I pulled it off the dough hook – it’s still brittle.

Once the dough is elastic, springing back from the pressure of a fingertip pushed into it, turn the dough out into a greased bowl, flipping it a couple of times to cover the top of the dough as well. You don’t want that to dry out during rising. Cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap, and walk away. This is going to take a while. The dough is heavy enough that a full doubled rise (or beyond, not a bad thing with this bread) may take a couple of hours. It’s a good bread to make while you, say, clean house. 

Once the bread had finished the initial rise, turn it onto a lightly floured board, or a greased table, and punch it down. You’ll see how elastic and smooth it has become during the rise. For the second rise, I transferred mine to a sheet pan, as I wanted a boule. Again, I greased the top of the dough, but didn’t cover it this time. I wandered away for about an hour (maybe more) before coming back and preheating the oven to 350F. After about a half hour, I put the bread in the oven. I slashed the top, although one of the sides was already coming ‘untucked’ from the boule formation.

My boule came untucked and wasn’t perfectly round. It’s farmhouse bread, that’s the way!

Bake in a medium oven (350F) for 40-45 minutes, until bread sounds hollow when rapped on top with knuckles. As you pull it out, unless you like a very firm crust, butter the top and sides with a pastry brush. I like the buttered flavor and a little less aggressive crust, so I always do this. Bread will slice best if allowed to mostly cool, but if you tear it into chunks while it’s still warm I won’t judge.

Slice of bread showing the development of some fluff, but it’s still dense and chewy!

Now me, I could make a meal of this with a schmear of cream cheese, smoked salmon, capers, and a few sprigs of fresh dill. Dear Lord in Heaven has blessed us with bread. The flavors of the chocolate play well with the rye and seeds. You could add more fennel if everyone likes licorice – my family is a split camp on that. It is a hearty, chewy bread. As my First Reader says, bread should bite back, not just squish. 

Spread with a bit o’ butter and it’s going to keep you satisfied all on it’s own. Worth the work, for sure! 

A slice of bread with dinner? Don’t need another starch.

12 thoughts on “Russian Black Bread

  1. I’m staying away from sugar so I’ll let this one go but what does punch down mean? I’m sure it will come up in the saurbrauten recipe.

  2. I have a similar recipe from a 1991 book of bread machine recipes. Mine uses three flours (1 c. Rye, 1 c. Whole wheat, 1.5 c. Unbleached multipurpose flour), but the molasses, cocoa, espresso are all present. I’ll try substituting in dark brown sugar for some of the molasses next time; that looks like a good swap.

    Mine recommends star anise and caraway as savory elements! I’ve considered swapping in dill, but not fennel. That looks good.

      1. Yes, and my first attempt to grind it left something to be desired!

        I’m thinking that a powered coffee grinder might be the right solution. But I don’t have one. The Turkish Mill which I used didn’t reduce the pods to anything close to grains, let alone powder.

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