Sunday, July 08, 2012

Russian Black Bread

It's been about three months since I've posted on this blog, and several of you were nice enough to check in with me to ask if I was feeling all right. In my defense, I went on a 3-week trip to Russia, Estonia, and Finland in May and June. Then I went on a road trip to South Dakota (Mount Rushmore! Herds of buffalo! The Corn Palace!) for a week. But I've been back for a while, and I figured I'd better post something before my excuses started to molder.
Because I ate so much good black bread in Russia and the other nearby countries, I wanted to try my hand at making some. I assumed that the black color would come from pumpernickel flour. But, at least in this recipe, from Smitten Kitchen, it comes from molasses, chocolate, and espresso powder. I have no idea how authentic this bread is. Smitten says her husband is Russian, and her mother-in-law is a good Russian cook, but this recipe is from The Bread Bible, by Beth Hunsberger. How can there be two cookbooks called The Bread Bible? Doesn't the name of the cookbook get copyrighted? I'm going to research that one day, but not today.
Authentic or not, Russian or not, this recipe makes a fine bread. It's not hard to make, but it does have the drawback of calling for about 32 ingredients. I exaggerate, of course, but not by much. And, unless you bake a lot of bread, there are ingredients you're not likely to have on hand. White and whole wheat flour, yes, but rye flour? Bran? Espresso powder? Maybe not. I actually had everything in my pantry or freezer except for shallots. My advice is not to omit the shallots--although I don't recall eating any bread in Russia that had that onion-y taste, I liked it a lot. By the way, although you could taste the shallots, the chocolate and espresso weren't obvious flavors in the finished product, although I think they added some depth.
Hmmm. It looks a little nasty, doesn't it? I mixed it using the flat beater, and then switched to the dough hook, but it's a heavy dough, and it required a little hand kneading. (This is one of those breads that could be made pretty easily without a stand mixer, and it would be good exercise for your upper arms, for sure!
The recipe makes two good-sized loaves. I made one in a loaf pan, and the other into a boule.
What did I do with these two loaves? They were the solid base for a Russian dinner party. I cut the loaf in thin slices and used them as the base for some Russian appetizers: spread thickly with unsalted butter and sprinkled with caviar, onions, and hard-boiled eggs (yum); spread thickly with cream cheese and chives and topped with smoked salmon (yum); and topped with pickled herring (blech). We had shots of vodka straight from the freezer, of course. Hа здоровье!!
The other loaf went along with dinner: chicken shashliki with traditional tomato sauce, beet salad with yogurt and dill dressing, and butter-steamed potatoes (also known as molodaya kartoshka v masle). For dessert, I made strawberries Romanoff (not truly Russian, but a good dessert anyway.) I also want to try Estonian black bread and Finnish black bread. But maybe I'll wait a bit for those. Hopefully it won't be another three months.