Thursday, January 2, 2014

Cooking with Grandpa: Russian Black Bread

As promised, I'm finally getting to the point in my pregnancy where I'm ready to cook/eat again!  And just in time for the new year!  This is the start of a new series I'll be working through (probably over many months) called "Cooking with Grandpa."  This past summer, Michael's dad lent me a couple of very special recipe boxes and asked if I would compile them into a little cookbook.  The first is a huge index card-sized box plum full of recipe cards, magazine clippings, handwritten notes from friends, etc. that belonged to his mother (Michael's grandma).  I admittedly raided this box years ago on a trip to visit Grandpa and rewrote numerous of these treasures (including one of our favorites - these crescent sausage wraps).  It's also how I started a similar box of my own.

The second box was even more precious to my father-in-law, as this was Grandpa's very own recipe box that he started after Grandma passed away.  It contains his most beloved recipes (mostly breads and other baked goods - Eddie men are amazing bakers), handwritten in Grandpa's neat printing and speckled with ingredients from abundant use.  Rick thought it was so neat that his dad took the time to make and use a recipe box of his own.  I've already done a post on Grandpa's buckwheat pancakes which are one of my favorites that he made me, but to officially kick off the series, I could think of no better recipe than this Russian black bread.  Grandpa made big round loaves of this bread every year and froze them (along with a honey wheat bread) and gave us all a loaf at Christmas time.  It's a super heavy, super dense, very flavorful bread made with molasses, rye flour, chocolate, and coffee, to name a few.  It's not a sweet bread, and the flavors I associate most with it are the rye and fennel.  Grandpa taught us to toast it and spread a little cream cheese on top, which I must say, is perfect.  My bread turned out a little lighter in color than Grandpa's, so we wonder if he had tweaked the recipe a bit over the years.  It does taste like his did, though, and to me, that's what counts!  Here's how Mama (using Grandpa's recipe) makes it:

Grandpa's Russian Black Bread

(makes two large round loaves or 24 rolls - I actually made 3 smaller loaves so I had more to share)
- 2 1/2 c. water
- 1/2 c. molasses
- 1/4 c. oil
- 1 oz. unsweetened chocolate
- 1 T. sugar
- 1 T. instant coffee
- 3 t. salt
- 2 t. onion powder
- 1 T. crushed fennel (we ended up crushing our own)
- 2 pkg yeast
- 1 c. ground bran
- 2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
- 4 c. rye flour

Directions: (taken straight from Grandpa's recipe)

1.  Heat first 4 ingredients to 120-130 degrees F.

2.  Blend with all ingredients except rye flour and beat 3 minutes.

we couldn't find crushed fennel, so I crushed my own

3.  Stir in rye flour. 

4.  Knead about 5 minutes, adding AP flour until smooth and elastic (will be sticky).  Yes, I used my mixer with a dough hook.  No, Grandpa would probably not approve, but he would understand - we did knead it a bit my hand, too, but I enlisted Michael to help with that part - this is some seriously dense bread!

Peanut wanted to help pat the dough

5.  Place in well greased bowl, turn greased side up.  Let rise until nearly doubled (45-60 minutes), then divide and place balls in pans or cookie sheet.  Let rise until nearly doubled again (30-45 minutes).

6.  Bake loaves at 375 degrees F. for 45-55 minutes, will sound hollow when tapped.  For 24 rolls, bake at 375 degrees F for 35-40 minutes.

serve toasted or untoasted with a little cream cheese
it makes for one hearty breakfast!

Luckily, after taste-testing, we deemed it worthy of gifting to the family.  Admittedly, it wasn't perfect, but considering I haven't been cooking at all the past few months, I was pretty happy with it.  And the family Christmas was a lot of fun.  We even got a pretty good picture with all 10 adults and 4 kids looking at the camera!  Annalyn really enjoyed hitting the camera button then running back to her little seat while the timer counted down.

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