Remember Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s lovely chocolate currant bread in How to Make Bread? Maybe because of the cold snap that hit most of the country, including our state, and maybe because there are few things more comforting than the aroma and taste of chocolate when the outside world freezes up, I had a sudden craving for that bread when we came back from our Thanksgiving family visits. However I knew there was no way I could make it until I got my levain (starter) going again and since said levain had been quartered in the fridge for a couple of weeks, I also knew it was going to require some tender loving care over the course of a few days before it got back to its usual ebullient and efficient self…
Meanwhile, what could I do? Mix a poolish, let it ferment overnight and use that instead of levain? Sure, and I would have done just that if, on the plane ride home, I hadn’t read the Kindle version of Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François’ appealing new book, The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and bookmarked a double chocolate bread which seemed rather similar to Hadjiandreou’s (minus the currants) but required neither levain nor poolish. It did require a long cold fermentation though. Impatience and curiosity had a go at each other within my head for a few seconds and curiosity won. I decided to give the Artisan-in-Five recipe a try.
The result is spectacularly tasty, even if a bit less complex than the levain version. The crumb is both soft and ever so slightly crunchy and the dark chocolate flavor is to die for. I attribute the almost imperceptible crunch to the sugar I used: with the drop in temperature, the hummingbirds had been feeding like crazy and most of our regular sugar had gone into making nectar for them. I didn’t feel like driving to the store just for sugar, so I settled for evaporated cane juice sugar which we had in stock. It doesn’t seem to melt in quite the same way but I actually love the crunch.
Despite the fact that I only used half the amount of sugar indicated in the original recipe, the bread eats like chocolate cake (with less fat) and is so easy to make that even a beginner should have good results.
One thing to keep in mind if you decide to try your hand at it though: do not treat time indications as gospel truths. I am sure that all the recipes in the book have been thoroughly tested and re-tested but they haven’t been tested in my kitchen in the winter, using the flour available to me. If I had followed the recipe to a tee, I doubt I would be as satisfied as I am with the result. So instead of going by the book, trust your eyes and hands. To give you an example, the dough sat on the counter for close to twenty-four hours after mixing before it had risen enough to be put in the fridge (instead of the two hours indicated in the recipe) and, on Baking Day, the shaped loaves proofed for two hours (instead of forty minutes) before they were ready to bake. Depending on where you live and a myriad of other factors, you may have a different experience. If you have the patience to jot down flour brand, dates, times and temperatures and if you make the recipe over and over (which you may well do if you get hooked), you will learn more about the interplay of these factors. In the words of Adam Gopnik (in Bread and Women, a piece he wrote recently for The New Yorker and which, sadly, isn’t available online in its full-text version), “Bread dough isn’t like dinner food, which usually rests inert under the knife and waits for you to do something to it: bread dough sits there, respiring and rising, thinking things over.” In my experience, the more a baker knows about the way dough thinks, the easier it becomes for her to humor it and get good results.
Jeff and Zoë kindly gave me permission to blog the recipe providing I used my own words. Please note that I adapted both the ingredients (using less sugar and a different salt) and the method. For the original recipe, I refer you to the book and, for more info regarding the “Artisan in Five” method, to the Breadin5 website and corresponding YouTube videos, including this one.
Ingredients: (for three 300g-loaves)
(The formulas were created using BreadStorm)
(The dough is made a few days ahead of the actual baking day)
- On Day 1, I mixed the liquid ingredients in a large bowl (using water at 100°F), then added yeast and sugar
- I added in the remaining dry ingredients (flour, salt and cocoa) and mixed well, using a dough whisk. Even though the whisk helped a lot, at the end I had to use my hands and since my wrist is not strong enough yet to hold the bowl firmly for long, the cocoa powder wasn’t perfectly blended in, which really doesn’t matter. A case can actually be made for the white swirls, don’t you think? Next time, I might just stop blending in the cocoa a bit sooner…
- I covered the bowl loosely (the dough needs some oxygen at this stage) and let rest at room temperature (which was 65°F on that day). According to the book, the dough will rise and collapse within about two hours but I suppose it depends on the season and how warm your house is. In my case, after two hours it was going nowhere fast. In fact, it took almost 24 hours to rise
- Once it had more than doubled and looked like it could do no more, I put it in the fridge, tightly covered this time
- The authors suggest using the dough within a five-day period: accordingly I used two-thirds of it on Day 3 and will use the rest by Day 5. Following their instructions, I dusted the surface of the dough with flour. Then I scooped out 600 g of dough which I divided in two. I loosely shaped two boules which I let rest at room temperature on a floured countertop, covered with a plastic sheet
- After thirty minutes I shaped one piece of dough as a bâtard and the other one as a boule and I sent them to rise on a board covered with flour-dusted parchment paper. I placed the board inside a large sealed plastic bag, put a space heater in the little laundry room (which doubles as my bakery) so that the room temp rose to about 73°F and I waited. The loaves took over two hours to proof (rise). (You know they are ready to bake when they jiggle as you gently shake the board.) At a lower room temperature, the process might have been even longer
- Meanwhile I had preheated the oven (equipped with a baking stone) at 350°F. Before sliding the loaves onto the baking stone, I brushed them with a bit of melted butter and sprinkled them with pearl sugar
- I baked the loaves for 50 minutes (a good way to know when they are baked through is to take them out, hold them upside down and knock on the bottom with your knuckles. If they give a hollow sound, they are done. If not, bake a while longer)
- I let them cool overnight on a rack before slicing one of them open.