Black Bread

MAKES: 2 small loaves or 1 large loaf

TIME: 3 hours, largely unattended

This bread features a one-step mixing technique that keeps the process simple, and in return you get a full-flavored, fairly dense, almost-black Russian-style loaf that’s perfect with hearty soups and stews or a wedge of sharp cheddar cheese, some pickles, and a smear of Grainy Mustard. And it tastes like it was a lot more difficult to make than it is. I like to shape the dough into two smaller loaves and keep one in the freezer.

1/2 cup 100 percent bran cereal (not flakes)

2 cups all-purpose or bread flour

1 cup medium rye flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon instant yeast

2 teaspoons salt

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, softened, or 1/4 cup neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, plus more for the pan

1/4 cup molasses

2 tablespoons cider vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice

11/4 cups strong black coffee

Put the cereal in a food processor and let it run for about 10 seconds, until it’s finely ground. Add the flours, cocoa, sugar, yeast, and salt and pulse. Add the butter or oil and the molasses and pulse a few more times. With the machine running, pour the vinegar and most of the coffee through the feed tube. Process for about 30 seconds; then remove the cover. The dough should be a well-defined, barely sticky, easy-to-handle ball. If it’s too dry, add coffee 1 tablespoon at a time and process for 5 or 10 seconds after each addition. If too wet, which is unlikely, add a tablespoon or two of flour and process briefly.

Use a little more butter or oil to grease a large bowl. Shape the dough into a rough ball, place it in the bowl, and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let rise for at least 2 hours, until nearly doubled in bulk. Deflate the ball and shape it once again into a ball; let rest on a lightly floured surface for about 15 minutes, covered. (You can make the dough ahead to this point, cover it well, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight; return it to room temperature before proceeding.)

Using only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands or the work surface, knead the dough a few times and shape the dough into a large oval loaf (or divide it in half and make 2 smaller round loaves). Use the remaining oil or butter to grease a baking sheet. Put the loaf or loaves on the sheet. Cover again and let rest for 1 hour, or until the dough has plumped up again considerably.

Preheat the oven to 325В°F. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes for a large loaf or 40 to 45 minutes for smaller ones, or until the bottom sounds hollow when you tap it (it will fall easily from the loaf pan) or the internal temperature reads about 210В°F. Carefully slide the loaf from the sheet and cool on a wire rack before slicing.

Variations

Pumpernickel-Raisin Bread. You can omit the raisins, of course. Soak 1 cup raisins in enough hot water or coffee to barely cover them. Drain well. In Step 3, knead the raisins into the dough along with a tablespoon of caraway seeds.

Black Bread with Chocolate. Great with a smear of cream cheese or sour cream: Coarsely chop a 4-ounce piece of bittersweet chocolate into chunks. In Step 3, knead the chocolate into the dough.