Undercover garden and Russian black bread

Well winter has arrived in typical Oklahoma fashion – one day it’s 65 degrees and the next day it is 15. At least it didn’t arrive along with a horrific ice storm! The garden beds are covered, and we are harvesting some greens, beets, green onions, cilantro, parsley, and radishes. This is supplemented by the last of our tomatoes and of course plenty of garlic.

Tunnel cloches or mini hoop houses

Undercover garden beds

With one or two nights in the teens and several in the 20’s the fennel seedlings and young mustard greens are not very happy, even in the tunnels. However, the lettuce, bok choi, and arugula seem unphased. At a holiday gathering a friend mentioned how much he loved arugula and how expensive it was at his grocery. It occurred to me that I could quit my job and make a living growing arugula – it is so ridiculously easy to grow!

With the arrival of cold weather (and some discussion with Matthew in Vladivostok)  I have been motivated to try my hand with Russian black bread. Mike and I bought a loaf of so-called black bread at the Central Market in Dallas last weekend. Although it was a beautiful dark loaf, it was disappointing, taste-wise (too “Americanized” to really be Russian black bread). So I research some recipes on the Internet and read about it in my bread book, and then came up with the recipe that follows. This is a dense, pungent, and slightly sour black bread. It is excellent sliced thin and eaten open-faced with egg salad, smoked salmon spread, etc., and also toasted and buttered. It won’t work so well as a sandwich bread.

  • 1.5 cups sourdough sponge starter*
  • 2 cups rye flour
  • 1 cup bran cereal, crushed/ground in blender
  • 1.5 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1.5 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
  • 3 Tbsp espresso ground coffee
  • 2 Tbsp dried onion powder
  • 1 tsp dry yeast
  • 2 tsp ground fennel seed
  • 2 tsp ground caraway seed
  • 4 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1.5 cups dark beer
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup butter

*There are various ways to make a sourdough starter, but this one is a classic.

  1. Mix all the dry ingredients together.
  2. Warm the beer, water, and vinegar up in the microwave or in a pan until warm (not boiling).
  3. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the sourdough sponge, alternating with the liquid. The dough will be quite sticky.
  4. Spread a good layer of unbleached white flour on a cotton dishtowel and dump the dough onto it. Sprinkle more flour on top of the dough and begin kneading. Knead for about 5 minutes, incorporating as much flour as you can.
  5. Oil a large bowl and place the kneaded dough in it, cover with the dishtowel, and place in a warm place.
  6. After the dough has almost doubled* punch it down and knead again, adding more flour if necessary, and kneading in the 1/4 cup of butter.
  7. Shape into loaves (I made three small round loaves), place on an oiled cookie sheet, and cover once more with the dishtowel. Let rise until almost doubled.
  8. Cook in a 350 degree oven about 40 – 50 minutes. (This is a dense bread, and it won’t sound “hollow” when tapped.)

*The amount of time it will take for your dough to rise depends upon how “active” your sourdough sponge is, and how warm the room is.


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Filed under Cook, Garden

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