bread, the long way around

I love efficiency. Most of the time. You won’t meet many 20something women better at packing a light suitcase than me. I get unreasonably annoyed when the El doesn’t arrive on time- it can seriously ruin my day. If you are cooking with me and you’re too slow with your onion chopping, I will probably take the knife out of your hands and do it myself. I am sorry in advance. I didn’t say I was proud of this particular quirk.

When I bake bread, though, I am somehow able to squelch the efficiency impulse, and take the long way around. It must be  because bread baking is an inherently slow process, but something about it brings out my need to ditch the streamlining and just putz around sometimes. I love that I can listen to an album all the way through while I gather the ingredients, mix, and knead; that I can watch an entire movie while the dough proofs.

This is the ultimate long-way-around bread. It has fifteen ingredients and I have been known to go to three different grocery stores in one day to gather all those ingredients. But the end result is worth the trouble, pilgrim, because at the end of this long way around you’ll have two big, dense loaves of the most flavorful bread you’ve ever eaten.

I got completely hooked on dark, dense pumpernickle during my semester in Denmark. I ate my weight in rugbrod — a chewy, deep brown  loaf made with a fermented starter — during those months. In the nearly three years since I returned to the States, I’ve finally resigned myself to the fact that I can’t recreate rugbrod in my own kitchen (I have been unable to find the right course grind of rye flour and I’m pretty bad at sourdough starters). Happily, this black bread shares a fair piece of its genome with that Danish cousin.

Black Bread

adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 packages (1 1/2 T ) active dry yeast

pinch of sugar

1/2 c warm water

2 c water

1/4 c molasses

1/4 c apple cider vinegar

4 T butter

1 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 c whole wheat flour

3 c rye flour

3 c all purpose flour

1 c bran

1 1/2 T caraway seeds

1 T salt

1 T instant espresso powder

1 T minced shallots

1/8 c cornmeal

2 t flour

Stir the yeast and sugar into the 1/2 c warm water until it is dissolved. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Heat the 2 c water, molasses, vinegar, butter, and chocolate until the butter and chocolate are melted. Set aside to cool to lukewarm. Combine the flours in a large bowl. Combine 2 c mixed flours, bran, caraway seeds, salt, espresso, and shallots. Add yeast and chocolate mixtures. Mix until smooth, either with a wooden spoon or a stand mixer. Add 1/2 c of the mixed flours at a time until the dough comes together and clears the sides of the bowl while you mix. It should be quite sticky but firm. Flour your kneading surface well, turn out the dough, and knead for 8-10 minutes until elastic. Add sprinkles of flour as needed. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until double, about 1 1/2 hours. When done rising, deflate the dough and turn out onto a floured surface. Divide into two portions and shape into rounds. Place the rounds, seam side down, on a large baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Mix the cornmeal and the 2 t flour and sprinkle over the loaves. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until double again, about 45 minutes. Just before baking, use a sharp serrated knife to cut an X into the tops of the loaves. Bake at 350 for 40- 5o minutes or until the loaves are nicely browned and sound hollow when tapped. Cool completely on a rack. Keeps well in the freezer, wrapped in foil.

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