Monday, August 24, 2009

BBB – Russian Black Bread

I’m not sure how I came up with the idea of making black bread when it was my turn to host the month’s Bread Baking Babes session, but I’m happy that I did – this is a strange bread indeed, but good, you should really try it!

First I have to say that I’m not sure if I’ve ever eaten “genuine” Russian black bread. According to my husband and some other sources, the real thing can be used to drive nails into wood. It was not my wish to take it to that extreme, and most of the recipes I have looked at seem to be of the same opinion.

When I searched the internet for recipes I found quite a few of which some claimed to have its origin in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus, Finland and Åland Islands as well as Russia. Many of the recipes included coffee and/or old bread or bread crumbs, all of them included rye but not necessarily rye alone. One recipe (Ruth Hensperger’s) even included chocolate.

It was this last recipe that caught my attention, and I soon had ordered the book The Bread Bible which featured the bread. Thanks to Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups I didn’t have to wait for the book to be delivered, she scanned the recipe and sent it along with a couple of others. Which meant I that I was forced to CHOOSE and make DECISIONS. I don’t know about you, but I always get the feeling that I end up with the inferior choices, so I had to test bake.

Which I’m glad that I did, it’s not often that I bake similar things very close in time, but when I do, I always seem to learn something.

So first I baked Ruth Hensperger’s Black Bread from The Bread Bible. Lots of ingredients, including chocolate and instant espresso powder, but quite a quick bake, using only commercial yeast it was ready in an afternoon. Everybody liked it, it had a lot of taste and sweetness, but after a while I found it a little ingratiating, too eager to please so to speak, and it lacked that depth that bread made with sourdough and/or long fermentation time has.

The next bread I tried was Black Bread from Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes by Jeffrey Hamelman. With no chocolate in sight, no spices and no sweetener, but ordinary ground coffee, old bread, and sourdough, this bread was quite the opposite to Hensperger’s – rough and almost acrid.

To make a long story short, I finally made a combination of the two recipes and was quite pleased with the result. It has the spices and some of the sweetness, but also a little bite and a sour note.

Black Bread – intermediate style


Medium rye flour 300 g (10,6 oz)


350 ml (1,5 cup)

Active sourdough culture* 2 Tbsp


Old bread**, toasted 100 g/3,5 oz
Coffee, ground 15 g/0,5 oz
Vegetable, neutral oil 25 g/0,9 oz


60 ml/1/4 cup
Caraway seeds 2 tsp
Fennel seeds 1 tsp
Minced schallots 1 Tbsp
Water, hot 400 ml/1 2/3 cup


Medium rye flour 300 g/10,6 oz
High gluten bread flour 400 g/14,1 oz


20 g/0,7 oz (appr. 1 Tbsp)



15 g/0,5 oz
Instant dry: 1,5 tsp (0,17 oz)


All of the above


All of the above

* If you don’t have any active starter at hand, I think you can cheat by using a small amount (say 5 g fresh or 0,5 tsp instant dry yeast) instead.

** I used rye sourdough bread, but I guess any old unsweetened bread will do, or any old bread in general.


Mix the ingredients to the sourdough, cover the container with plastic and leave for 12–14 hours at room temperature.


Toast the old bread in a toaster or in the oven. The bread should be browned, but absolutely not blackened. Dice the bread or just tear it in pieces and put it in a bowl. Add the rest of the soaker ingredients except the water. Heat the water to near boiling and pour over the soaker ingredients. Cover and leave for the same duration as the sourdough.

Final dough

Mix the two flours in a separate bowl.

If using fresh yeast: Take a small amount of the soaker liquid and dissolve the yeast in it.

Add the yeast mixture OR the instant dry yeast, soaker, sourdough and salt to a mixing bowl.

Add half of the flour mixture and work the dough by hand or in machine. Continue to add about 100 ml or ½ cup of the flour mixture at a time and work until the flour is completely absorbed before you add the next round. The dough shall be firm but still quite sticky. You might not use all the flour, or you might need to add more flour, all depending on the flour used.

Place the dough in an oiled container, cover with plastic and leave for 2–3 hours or until doubled in size.

Shaping and proofing

Drizzle some rye flour on the table top and place the dough on top. If the dough is very sticky, pour just enough rye flour on top of it to make it possible to handle.

Divide the dough in two and shape the parts into oblong loaves. (I placed them on parchment paper to make it possible to just slide the loaves into the oven.) Stretch the surface using both hands to get a tight loaf. Use more rye if the dough is too sticky to handle.

Cover with a tea towel and leave for 60 minutes. Don’t over-proof! (Fire up the oven after 30 minutes to have it ready.)


Place an empty metal container in the bottom of the oven. Put in your baking stone or an empty baking sheet. Heat the oven to 225 °C/435 °F.

Put 3–4 ice cubes in the metal container.

Move the loaves to the hot stone or sheet. Bake for 10 minutes.

Open the oven door to vent out some moist. At the same time, lower the temp. to 200 °C/400 °F. Bake another 30-40 minutes or until they sound hollow when tapped underneath, or when the inner temperature has reached appr. 97 °C/207 °F.

Let the loaves cool down before you slice them. Eat with butter and maybe some sharp cheese, or why not cured salmon.

Would you like to be a Buddy and bake with us? Please post about it before or on September 7 and let me know so that I can include you in the Buddy round-up! (Thanks, Jamie for reminding me to include this part!!)

And of course – please check out how the other Babes handled this spectacular (some would say weird) bread – you’ll find the complete list of Babes in the right sidebar. Have fun!

This one also goes to Bread Baking Day #23, this month hosted by Nick at Iamafoodblog.


Jamie said...

I actually love this kind of bread especially smeared with cream cheese! But I'm a bit lost - what is the date limit on this BBB challenge?

görel said...

My blogging is rusty indeed, how could I forget? Thanks for letting me know, Jamie! September 7 it is -- I have updated the post.

Natashya said...

We loved this bread! Thanks so much for introducing us to it. I love your step by step photos.

Lien said...

Maybe I did make the real thing, you could hammer some nails in with it! It's just our rye flour here that made it impossible I'm afraid to bake this. Thanks for the challenge!
btw Beautiful pictures!

natalia said...

Dear Gorel this bread sounds fantastic !!Do you think a 'normal' sourdough would be OK ?

Baking Soda said...

I love your picture "mosaic" You'll have to teach me howto.
I really like coming home to such a challenge, it did work out for me thanks to some cheating the rye flour into rising. WOnderful challenge Görel.

Cookie baker Lynn said...

Thanks for coming up with such a fun recipe, Görel. I've never made a bread even close to this. Despite initial skepticism, everyone loved it!

görel said...

Natalia - I'm not sure what you mean by "normal" sourdough, but I'm sure it's perfectly OK!

Karen - I use Photoscape for making the collages, it's free and you can do a lot of things with it.

Lien, maybe I should send you some Swedish rye flour to try out? I'm happy that there were some people who liked it though!

Gretchen Noelle said...

I really, really love this bread! I want to try your "other" versions now too from the books. Great choice! I LOVED IT! Just getting the last of my post ready!

görel said...

Gretchen, I'm so glad you liked it! And that you actually had someplace to bake it!

Murasaki Shikibu said...

Love your photography. It really makes me want to eat this bread....even...more! ;)

karin said...

I did not like this bread, to much "limpa" for me, but taste everything is a good motto in life!
Please send me a badge!
blogpost at and email is

Madam Chow said...

I loved this bread, and I am very intrigued by your stand mixer - could we see more of it? Great recipe, by the way!

Madam Chow said...

Gorel - couldn't find an email address for you, but here is the link to my bread:

Marjoke said...

Your recipe just worked out great and I love this dense and dark bread!

No real problems with the rye this time and a new experience of using old bread for new. Thanks for this great recipe

Engineer Baker said...

What a wonderful choice - so unique! Mine will post tomorrow @

Astrid said...

Oh this bread seems really interesting. Can't wait to come back from holidays to bake this one. Won't make it to the deadline tho...
As we will come back tomorrow night and I need some time to do this bread.

Thanks for the recipe again!

Sara said...

Lovely bread, it is always fun to experiment and come up with your own recipe. Though with bread it is sooo time consuming to do that. Great job! Thanks for joining us for this month's BBD!

Rosemary & Garlic said...

Gorel, we really enjoyed this bread!

natalia said...

Ciao Gorel ! I'm baking it right now !!! I hope I'll be in time !! (I meant wheat sourdough as a pose to rye ! Thank you !)

natalia said...

Ciao Gorel ! I finally made it ! I love it , I can't stop eating it !!! Thank you for the very special choice !

jane of many trades said...

gorel-great choice in breads, i enjoyed making it and testing out my organic grape starter. my post is up and i will email it to you too. thanks again!

Familjen Klockljung said...

Hi thank you for visiting my I will tell my husband about your blog. He loves to bake.

Astrid said...

Now I finally managed to bake your bread and had some slices with for breakfast.
I love it!
Great Bread.The second loaf is siting in my freezer waiting to be eaten a little later. :)

Thanks for the recipe I loved baking it!

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elra said...

Gorel, thank you! This recipe was really good. I definitely make this again.