Monday, September 05, 2005

Black Russian

Long before Barbara became a Baron, she was a baker. She used to bake more frequently than she does now, and I can’t recall one of her breads or cakes I haven’t enjoyed far more than I should have. (I’ll reserve the story of “The Queen’s Buhkda” for another time.)

One specialty she hadn’t made in many years was her Russian Black Bread – she still has the recipe clipped from some home-maker’s magazine decades in the past. I must have been whining about it, because she baked two loaves yesterday.

It’s a marvelous bread, chewy and flavored with coffee, molasses, and chocolate. It’s a very long recipe, and an even longer process; this is no “quick bread,” not a “machine bread.”

This is hard-labor bread and I'm going to share it with you because it’s wonderful – think of it as Barbara’s Labor Day gift to you. Ingredients:

4 cups rye flour
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups whole-bran cereal
2 teaspoons instant coffee (not freeze-dried)
2 teaspoons onion powder
½ teaspoon fennel seed, crushed
2 packages active dry yeast
¼ cup vinegar
¼ cup dark molasses
1 square (1 ounce) unsweetened chocolate
¼ cup butter
1 teaspoon cornstarch.

That’s the easy stuff. Here’s the process.

Combine flours. In large bowl of electric mixer, stir together thoroughly 2-1/3 cups water and next 8 ingredients. Combine 2-1/2 cups water and next 4 ingredients in saucepan. Put over low heat until very warm (120-130º F; butter and chocolate need not melt). Gradually add to dry ingredients and beat at medium speed of electric mixer, scraping bowl occasionally, 2 minutes. Add ½ cup flour mixture, or enough to make a thick batter.

Beat at high speed, scraping bowl occasionally, 2 minutes. Stir in enough flour mixture to make a soft dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured board. Cover and let rest 15 minutes (you, too), then knead 15 minutes, until smooth and elastic (dough may be sticky.) Put in greased bowl, turning to grease top.

Cover and let rise in warm place 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk. Punch down and turn out onto lightly floured board. Divide in half and shape each half into a ball about 5” in diameter. Put each bal in a greased 8” round layer-cake pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place free from drafts 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk.

Bake in pre-heated 350º F oven 45 minutes, or until done. Blend cornstarch and ½ cup cold water in small saucepan and put over medium heat, stirring until mixture boils, then cook, stirring, 1 minute. When bread is baked, brush cornstarch mixture on top of loaves. Put bread back in oven and bake 2 minutes, or until glaze is set. Cool on wire rack.

“A man may work from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done” – especially when she’s baking this Russian Black Bread. Thank you, Barbara, for the wonderful treat. Too bad the kids aren’t at home any longer. Too, too bad.

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