russian black bread loaf on cutting board

I have been trying to write a bucket list for years, ever since that one movie came out and everyone else was doing it (I’m a follower sometimes. Truth.). But, to be honest, my list is rather paltry. I never know what I want to do past “Go to Greece” (which I feel like everyone wants to do anyway, so it doesn’t feel personal enough to be on my bucket list and therefore is sometimes left out, too).

Here’s what I have so far:

1. Write a book.
2. Go to Greece Go somewhere that’s cool but no one else thinks is trendy enough to go to.
3. Bake pumpernickel bread.

I thought I finally could cross off my third wish on the list when I baked this Russian Black Bread this past weekend — and, in a way, I could. The bread does taste strikingly similar to my beloved pumpernickel, and the ingredients — rye flour, molasses, cocoa powder — seem to fit the bill. But it just wasn’t quite the same. So I’m on the fence as to whether or not I’ve actually “baked pumpernickel bread.”

1. Write a book.
2. Go to Greece Go somewhere that’s cool but no one else thinks is trendy enough to go to.
3. Bake pumpernickel bread. Bake Russian Black Bread.

There. That’s better. Check.

russian black bread

I can’t say I’m disappointed in my slightly off-track endeavor — this bread renders a flavor so rich and dense that it is, dare I say, better than pumpernickel. I only say this because I’ve eaten pumpernickel so often that this bread offers a new dynamic of flavors: A refreshing change. It’s a bread worthy of putting on a bucket list and crossing off as soon as possible. There there, Pumpernickel, I still love you. In fact:

1. Write a book.
2. Go to Greece Go somewhere that’s cool but no one else thinks is trendy enough to go to.
3. Bake Russian Black Bread.
4. Bake pumpernickel bread.

slices of russian black bread

I may finish this list after all.

Russian Black Bread
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Yields: 1 round or sandwich loaf

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
pinch of sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup water
2 tbsp molasses
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 oz unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups rye flour (Deb suggests medium, but I used dark rye because I already had it, and didn’t think anything was lacking)
1 1/2 unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup bran
1 tbsp caraway seeds
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tbsp salt
1/2 tbsp instant espresso powder
1/2 tbsp minced shallots or red onion

In a small bowl, whisk together yeast, sugar and warm water. Let sit about 10 minutes until foamy.

Heat cup of water, molasses, vinegar, butter and chocolate in a small saucepan until the butter and chocolate are melted. Set aside.

Whisk together whole wheat, rye and all-purpose flours in a separate large bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine 2 cups flours, bran, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, salt, espresso and shallots (or red onion). Mixing on low speed, add yeast and chocolate mixtures. Mix at medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.

At low speed, add 1/2 cup remaining flours at a time, using a spatula to scrape excess flour from the sides of the bowl. Add just enough flour until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. Switch to dough hook and knead about 5-8 minutes on medium speed — adding 1 tsp all-purpose flour at a time if needed for dough to pull away from the sides of the bowl — until smooth and elastic (or knead by hand on floured countertop for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic).

Shape dough into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl, turning once to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1-2 hours.

Turn out risen dough onto a lightly floured surface. Shape into round or sandwich loaf and place either on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet (for round) or in a lightly greased loaf pan (for sandwich loaf). Cover lightly and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Slash an X in the top of the round before baking (this is not needed for the sandwich loaf).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake bread until deeply browned and 200-210 degrees when an instant-read thermometer is inserted in the bottom center, about 45 to 50 minutes. Allow bread to cool completely on cooling rack before slicing.