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Recipe: Russian Black Bread (Chornyi Khleb)

1 cup dark rye flour   

1 cup flat beer

2 packages active dry yeast

2 cups flat beer

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon instant coffee

1 oz. unsweetened chocolate

2½ cups dark rye flour

1½ cups bran flakes

1½ tablespoons salt

2 teaspoons crushed coriander seed

2½ to 3½ cups unbleached white flour

 Cornmeal to dust baking pans

For Glaze: (optional) 

1 teaspoon cornstarch

¼ cup water (approx.)

  • Five days before baking, make a starter by mixing 1 cup of the dark rye flour with 1 cup of flat beer. Stir completely. Let this mixture sit at room temperature for 5 days, stirring once a day.
  • On the day the bread is to be prepared, heat the remaining flat beer to 90º – 105º F and stir in the yeast to dissolve.  Let the yeast sit for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Melt the chocolate, honey, butter, and coffee together in a small saucepan and set aside to slightly cool.
  • Combine the yeast mixture with the starter and the melted chocolate mixture. Stir well.
  • Add the remaining rye flour, bran flakes, coriander and salt. Mix well.
  • Gradually mix in 2½ cups of the white flour.
  • Continue adding small handfuls of white flour until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl.
  • Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for several minutes, if the dough sticks to your hands, add tiny handfuls of flour.
  • Place dough in a large lightly greased bowl and let rise for 1 – 2 hours in a warm place.
  • Punch the risen dough down, divide in half, and hand shape two loaves.
  • Place the two loaves on baking sheets that are lightly dusted with cornmeal and let them rise for 30 minutes or until roughly doubled in size.
  • Preheat the oven for 400º F.  Bake the loaves at 400º F for 10 minutes, and then reduce the heat to 350º F for another 50 minutes.
  • When they are done, the loaves should sound hollow when they are tapped on.
  • To make the glaze, combine the cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water. Combine the dissolved cornstarch with the remaining water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until thickened.
  • Brush the glaze over the baked loaves and return to the oven for 3-5 minutes until the glaze is set. 

Rye is well suited to grow in cooler climates and is a popular grain in northern Europe and the Baltic States and was a staple for peasants throughout Europe during the middle ages.  “Black bread” generally refers to breads made with rye flour.  This recipe produces dense hearty loaves that keep well. If a lighter loaf is preferred, simply replace some of the rye flour with an equal amount of white or wheat flour. To me, this type of bread goes well with cool weather, it’s very hearty.  Some foods that would pair well with black bread are Beef Stroganoff (if you prefer an all Russian meal), or any soups, Potato, Cabbage, and Ham, or Beef and Barley, or Lentil soup would all be quite good.  If you are unfamiliar with Russian literature, I would recommend starting with the short stories by Nikolai Gogol, whose tales are sure to warm your heart in the coming winter months.