I’ve been busy. Before I got busy, I made Macedonian black bread, and it was fantastic. Behold its dark, dense beauty.
Macedonia has only existed as a separate country since 1991, and it has an interesting and ongoing dispute with Greece about the use of its name.
A Macedonian blogger writes here about its bread culture (“we love bread so much, we have denigrating jokes about nations that don’t eat bread in such large amounts as we do”) and presents a very different recipe.
This is a rich loaf featuring potato, chocolate, molasses, coffee… and I have been able to discover very little about its provenance. I used this recipe by Minka Cooks, who got it from a cookbook.
A similar loaf is described as Macedonian here, but it’s also pretty similar to a number of recipes described as Russian black bread (like these ones). If anyone has futher knowledge, I’d be grateful for it.
Taste test: Rich, dark and complex. It’s sweet, but not a sweet bread. The potatoes make it moist and it has a tang from the caraway and the rye.
Recipe notes: I substituted cornmeal for semolina because I read somewhere that you could. It turns out that this is not the same thing at all: semolina is made from durum wheat rather than corn. If you’re in the UK, use polenta flour, because that actually is cornmeal in disguise. (The reason I didn’t do this was because I could only find polenta in an enormous artisanal-styled cotton sack in Waitrose and it cost ££.)
If I were making this again, I’d halve the sweet ingredients. I also slashed it too deep, as you can see.
This recipe makes two loaves. It’s a Saturday morning loaf: lots of steps, but immensely satisfying.
2 medium potatoes, peeled and quartered
85g dark chocolate
2 tbsp vegetable oil
¼ cup dark molasses (or black treacle), plus an extra tbsp to glaze
3½ tbsp honey
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
½ cup coffee
2 tsp caraway seeds
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp active dry yeast (or 3 packages instant yeast)
½ cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 cup cornmeal (or polenta flour)
2 cups rye flour
2 cups wholemeal flour
2 cups strong white flour
Bake some black magic
1. Boil the potatoes, then drain and mash, saving 1 cup of the cooking water.
2. Melt the chocolate and stir in the oil.
3. Take 1 cup of the mash (you’ll have some spare – you don’t need this), the cup of potato water and mix with the chocolate in a large bowl. Add the molasses, honey, caraway seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, coffee, and salt, and mix thoroughly.
4. If you’re using active dry yeast, activate it with the warm water and tsp of sugar. Set aside for 10 mins until it’s frothy.
5. Wait til the potato mixture has cooled to hand-hot, then add the yeast. Add the flours: cornmeal, rye, wholemeal, and white. Mix well into a lumpy dough.
6. Let the dough rest for 15 mins.
7. Knead the dough for 5 mins. Minka’s recipe suggests you add white flour to prevent it sticking – I only did this a little as I like bread moist and don’t mind sticky doughs.
8. Form the dough into a ball, and leave in a bowl, covered, until it has doubled, 1-1½ hours.
9. Knead the dough a few times to get rid of any large air pockets, then leave it to rise until doubled again, about 40 mins.
10. Form the dough into two round loaves and place on greased baking sheets. Cover again and let them rise until almost doubled, about 30 mins.
11. Brush gently with a glaze made out of 1 tbsp molasses and 1 tbsp water. Cut a shallow slash in the tops of the loaves.
12. Preheat the oven to 180 C, and bake for 45 mins.