Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Chocolate Rye Bread

While I'm a big fan of rye bread simply as is, the addition of cocoa powder here adds a richness and a complexity to the flavor that make for an almost hedonistically satisfying bread that goes well with pretty much any topping, whether sweet & creamy, sharp & cheesy, spicy, nutty, or whatever else!

The first time I made this bread, I failed to document it in pictures because, after what seemed like ages of attempting to knead the dough, I was utterly convinced the bread would be a failure.

Now, I am no expert baker, but I have had fairly good luck when it comes to baking bread. I love bread more than pretty much any other food, and so I am quite willing to knead for as long as it takes, to let the dough rise for hours and hours, and to make whatever other sacrifices are necessary for the loaf to emerge perfect and crusty from the oven.

But this dough was different. No matter how long I kneaded, no matter whether I added more flour, more water, more anything, it just wouldn't behave. Usually, I knead until the dough starts to fight back a bit - when I push it down, it bounces back up, as if it were alive. Once I reach this point I know things are going well, and I'll knead for a few minutes before setting the dough aside to rise.

But this bread would not fight back. It was completely malleable and obedient to my every move. If I stretched it out, it would stay stretched. If I folded it down, it would just sit there - no rise, no bounce, no nothing - a disaster! I kneaded and kneaded and kneaded, hoping the dough would show some signs of change, but eventually I had to admit to myself that it was pointless. Distressedly, I left the dough in a covered bowl to rise, hoping that maybe if I let it rise for a realllllllly long time, some sort of miracle would happen and it would start to look and act more like it should.

5 hours later, the dough had barely risen. Okay, maybe it had risen a little, but I'm still not sure if that was just my wishful thinking or not. I was without hope for this bread, but I soldiered on anyway (no point in wasting good flour), and punched the dough down, shaped it, gave it a second rise, and put it in the oven to bake.

Well, a few minutes into the baking, and the room started to fill with this delicious, incredible chocolatey aroma. I no longer cared if the bread was flat as a doorstop or hard as a rock - I just wanted to taste it, wrecking teeth if necessary! Somehow I did manage to restrain myself long enough to let the bread bake and cool, and then I cut myself off a small (but dense) sample.

Needless to say, it was delicious. Though the chocolate smell was nearly overwhelming while the bread was baking, when I tasted it the chocolate was much more subtle, complementing the slightly sour rye very nice. Furthermore, though the bread was dense, it was also surprisingly soft and chewy, and extremely satisfying.

I later discovered that rye flour is in fact very different from wheat flour, and if you make a bread with 100% rye flour, as I did, the dough is not going to act like normal wheat flour dough at all. It all has to do with the amount of gluten in the different types of flour and these things called pentosans, and what it boils down to is that you shouldn't worry because while the dough may act strange, the bread will be good, and that's really all that matters, isn't it?

So without further ado... the recipe for Chocolate Rye Bread!

You will need:
About 200 g rye flour
About 50 g cocoa powder (more if you want the bread to be more chocolatey, less if you want it to be less so)
One large spoonful of honey
One small spoonful of salt
As much water as necessary
Sourdough starter*

*Though I just used sourdough starter because I have it on hand and don't like to spend pointless money on yeast, it turns out that sourdough starter is actually very important for making breads with rye flour. The higher the percentage of rye flour to total flour, the more important the starter is. Again, it comes down to the flour chemistry. Those nasty pentosans gobble up all the water and so the gluten can't bond with it to make long chains, the way it should. The acidity of the starter can counteract this by interfering with the pentosans, allowing the gluten to the water first. If you don't have your own starter, you can make a quick one the night before by mixing some rye or whole wheat flour with some water and adding water and flour to it every few hours or so. For instructions on how to make your own starter, see here.

Sift the flour together with the cocoa powder. Make the flour into a sort of fountain, and add the salt and honey around the edges of the fountain. Mix the starter into the center, adding more flour from just around the center, until the flour has absorbed all the starter. Then add in the water, a bit at a time, again starting in the center, and working in more flour from outside until all the ingredients are well mixed.

The dough will be very goopy, but do not let this deter you! Turn it out onto a well-floured surface and, with the help of a dough-scraper (one of the best kitchen tools in existence), knead the dough for about 10 minutes.

Once you've kneaded for awhile, fold the dough into thirds horizontally by folding in the right and left sides, and then also vertically by folding in the top and bottom. Turn the dough over so the folded part is on the bottom and shape it into a ball. Place the ball into a floured bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and leave in a warm non-drafty place for at least a couple hours, possibly more.

After the two hours are up, take a baking sheet and cover it with parchment paper. Spread a bit of flour or cornmeal onto the paper, and place the dough onto the paper. Punch the dough down and then, with the help of your dough scraper again, divide the dough into as many portions as you want loaves. Shape each loaf according to your wishes, and cover them all with a floured towel. Let sit for another hour.

After about half the hour is up, preheat your oven to 425º F / 220º C. Once the rest of the hour has passed, uncover the loaves, and score the tops with the help of a very sharp object, such as a razor blade. This will help keep any air from getting trapped and forming large, unsightly bubbles while the bread is baking.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and let bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 375º F / 190º C, and let bake 25-30 minutes more.

Turn off the oven, move the baking sheet to a cooling rack, and let the bread cool as long as you can stand it!


Sarah said...

Hi! I've been looking fo a sourdough rye like this for a while... how much starter did you put in?? I'd love to try making this!

Zoe said...

Hi Sarah,

You should definitely try this bread! I love it, and it smells soooo good while it's baking =) As far as the starter, I think I put in about 1/2 a cup when I first made this. Lately, I've been putting more starter in my breads to give them a more sour flavor, but for this one you probably don't want the sourdough flavor to be too overwhelming, so 1/2 a cup should be fine.

Hope you like the bread! A similar bread that I really like is chestnut rye bread, which uses equal parts rye flour and chestnut flour. The chestnut flour adds a bit of sweetness, which complements the rye really well.