Black bread

Black bread

By
From
Finding Fire
Makes
1 x 500 g loaf

Last year I was invited to Tallinn to speak at Sauce, a conference uniting chefs and restaurants of the Baltic countries with those from around the world. It was my first time in Estonia but it reminded me of Australia, in that it has developed a cuisine adapted from other countries, in particular Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Russia. We were made welcome by humble generosity and simple food made with locally sourced ingredients. The stand-out for me was the deliciously dark and flavoursome bread known as leib, which plays an important role in Estonian culture. While there are many countries with a tradition of black bread, Estonian black bread is something truly unique, with secret recipes that vary from family to family. While the inclusion of rye produces a denser crumb, the combination of treacle, cocoa and coffee results in richly toasted, dark and flavoursome bread.

For the mother (makes 300 g/10 ½ oz)

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
600ml filtered water
600g strong wholemeal (whole-wheat) bread flour

Method

  1. 1. In a clean container, combine 100 ml (31/2 floz) of the water and 100 g (31/2 oz) of the flour.
  2. 2. Leave in a cool place for 3 days until the mixture shows signs of life, producing bubbles on the surface.
  3. 3. Combine 100 g (31/2 oz) of the mother with 100 ml (31/2 floz) of the water and 100 g (31/2 oz) of the flour (this is known as feeding). Discard the remaining mother.
  4. 4. Leave for 1 day, then repeat the feeding. Feed the mother every 12 hours until it is strong enough to bake bread. To test this, place a spoon of the mother into a container of water. If it sinks, continue to feed the mother twice per day. When the mother holds together and floats, it is ready.
  5. 5. The mother will continue to develop over time, so be sure to retain 100 g (31/2 oz) after each use for future baking. If you need more, simply increase the amount of flour and water when feeding.

For the black bread

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
100g mother (see above)
200ml warm filtered water
100g rye flour
350g wholemeal (whole-wheat) flour, plus extra for dusting
30g linseeds (flax seeds)
60g sunflower seeds
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
20g treacle
15g soft brown sugar
20g dutch (unsweetened) cocoa powder
1 tablespoon coffee beans, finely ground
2 teaspoons salt
280ml filtered water

Method

  1. 1. Combine the mother and the warm water in a large bowl. Add both flours and combine to form a rough dough. Cover and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
  2. 2. In a small pan, combine the seeds and toast over a medium heat for 4–5 minutes to release their essential oils.
  3. 3. In a small saucepan over a medium-low heat, combine the treacle, brown sugar, cocoa, coffee, salt and water. Stir constantly until just combined and the sugar is melted, then add the seeds. Allow to cool to room temperature.
  4. 4. Add the treacle mixture to the dough and combine. The treacle mixture will cause the dough to break apart a little, but continue working it to form a sticky dough.
  5. 5. Place the dough in a clean bowl, cover with a clean tea towel (dish towel) and leave to rise for 1 hour. Wet your hands and, working in the bowl, stretch and fold the dough over itself, tucking the folds underneath. (This will help to strengthen the gluten in the flour.) Leave the dough to rest for 30 minutes.
  6. 6. Carefully turn the dough out on to a floured surface, and gently shape and tuck the dough under to form a round.
  7. 7. Generously dust the inside of a large, round proving basket with rye flour. Put the dough into it, placing the smooth side down. Cover with a tea towel to prevent a skin forming on the top.
  8. 8. Leave to prove for 4 hours until the dough has doubled in size.
  9. 9. Light your wood-fired oven or, if using a Dutch oven, prepare your embers. Allow to burn until the fire dies down, resulting in gentle embers. You are aiming to bring the wood-fired oven to a temperature of 250°C (480°F) on the base.
  10. 10. Gently turn the bread out on to a floured baking tray and, with a sharp knife, score the top of the loaf with even incisions. Slide the bread into the oven, closing the door to the oven immediately.
  11. 11. Bake for 25 minutes, after which time you should either open the door slightly or rake the embers to reduce the temperature slightly. Continue baking the bread for a further 20 minutes. To test if the bread is done, tap it on its base – it should sound hollow. Carefully remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before slicing.

ALTERNATIVE METHOD

  • Bake the bread in a Dutch oven over a fire, or in a conventional oven preheated to 250°C (480°F).

NOTE

  • Prepare the mother 6 days in advance. Unless you are planning to make bread daily, feed the mother once after use and store in a clean container in the refrigerator until required. When needed, remove from the refrigerator and feed twice prior to use until it is active and bubbling.
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