6-Chiornyi Khleb (Black Bread)



Recipe:Russian Black Bread

1 cup rye flour

1 cup flat beer

2 packages active dry yeast

2 cups flat beer                                          1 TB butter

2 TB honey                                                1 TB instant coffee

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate                  2 ½ cups rye flour

1 ½ cups bran flakes                                  1 ½ TSP salt

2 TSP crushed coriander                             2 ½ cups unbleached white flour

Cornmeal                                                   1 TSP cornstarch and ¼ cup plus 1 TB water

Five days before bread-making, prepare starter mix of 1 cup rye flour and 1 cup beer. Stir well, let stand at room temp for 5 days stirring once a day.

On bread making day, mix 4 TBS beer with the yeast dissolve and let stand for 5 minutes to soften. Meanwhile heat better, honey, coffee and chocolate together in small saucepan, just until chocolate melts. Set aside to cool.

Stir starter into softened yeast, then add the remaining beer, chocolate mixture, rye flour, bran flakes, salt and coriander. Beat well. Gradually beat in 2 ½ cups white flour mixing well to form a slightly stick dough. Turn dough on a floured surface kneading until smooth and elastic. Shape into ball and place in a deep greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in bulk about 1 ½ hours.

Punch down dough divide into two round free form loaves. Place on baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Preheat oven to 400° bake loaves for 10 minutes then reduce heat to 350° bake for 50 minutes or until loaves are brown and produce a hollow sound when tapped. Make glaze of cornstarch dissolve in 1 TBS water and add to ¼ cup water, bring to a boil stir constantly, boil for 1 minute until thickened. Brush baked loaves with cornstarch and bake for 3-4 minutes until glaze has set. Cool on rack.

Research on origins of dish:

            During my research I found it very difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of Russian black bread. A few different websites told me that the importance of bread in Russia could be led back to the days of the blockade of Leningrad. Black Bread is a term meaning “rye bread” essentially, which links to the slightly darker color of rye in comparison to wheat.  It has lots of fiber and nutrients in it and has become a Russian staple food. Black breads can be sweeter or more savory depending on the type of spices used. Cardamom, coriander and caraway are among the spices used to make the bread hearty, while chocolate, coffee and honey are added for sweetness.

            According to my research there is much ritual and tradition surrounding bread in Russian like the “khlyeb-sol” (bread-salt) traditionwhich signifies wealth (bread) and protection (salt) for newly married couples. The bread signifies wealth because there is Russian belief that as long as you have bread you have food, and life is wealth. And salt signifies protection for many ways but one link is that salt protects food from spoiling and will be able to protect your marriage from spoiling as well. During the Soviet years, black bread was much harder to come by, small pastry and bread shops were closed down to make way for large bread factories which focused on quantity not quality. Also, black bread lost some footing in the Russian culture when an influx of French breads and viennoiserie reached the area. This fad didn’t last long, as the Russians found this type of bread too light and insubstantial.

My experience:

            Preparing the dish was a very messy affair. I don’t make bread very often, but kneading the dough was a fun experience. The black bread had a strong flavor from the rye and coriander, but I somehow expected it to be a sweeter dish because of the chocolate, honey and coffee. I did have to substitute instant coffee grounds for prepared coffee, which may have muted the flavor. I also had a really hard time finding unsweetened chocolate, so I used semi-sweet chocolate chips and guessed on what an ounce would be.

            I do think that I cooked my bread a little too long, although I followed the recipe specifications the bottoms were overdone and the bread was very hard to cut. Although it was hard bread it had a good flavor and my roommates seemed to like it as well. Next time around I will take the bread out of the oven a little earlier before I glaze it. (Since the setting of the glaze added about 10 more minutes to my bake time.) This dish reminded me a little of rye bread and a little of bran muffins. I think it would be lovely either with butter and jam, or with a thick hearty stew. I was also a little surprised that my bread was only a  medium brown color, as it is supposed to be “black” bread.

Reading Recommendation:

            In Ivan Bunin’s Dark Avenues collection inside the story “Dark Avenues” we are shown the character Nadezhda, she is the perfect example of black bread. Bunin describes her as dressed in black and red which complements the dark colors of the rye bread. She is also show to be a sustaining and self reliant character as she is a single woman, head of household and entrepreneur. She has some spice to her when she scolds Nikolai for having left her years ago, and tells him she has not forgiven him. This action is like the coriander in the Black Bread, a subtle but effective punch to the story and the emotions of Nikolai. Also much like Russian Black Bread, one is drawn to believe that Nadezhda is much harder on the outside than within.