It’s a good thing I acknowledged and made fragile peace with my own status as an imperfect individual last week, because this week’s cookery was a series of thinly veiled almost-disasters, The sauce mornay I tested for February’s sauce entry was too thin (fix: more cheese!). The battery on my camera pooped out on me just as I was photographing the assembled components for the dish I was testing to go with the mornay (perhaps not a terrible thing after all: see above). I made hummus from scratch using Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe (it was phenomenal) to add to another Ottolenghi recipe: a “mumbo-jumbo,” as he calls it, of fresh crisp salad, hard boiled eggs, and fried eggplant atop a warm toasty pita. The eggplant was brown and soft through the center. Not my fault, true, but still discouraging. It’s a week that has left me feeling more attracted to the idea of eating cheese and crackers for dinner than storming into the kitchen to whip up a grapefruit glaze for some unknowing salmon filets.
Even this recipe I’m about to share left me feeling challenged. To comply with this month’s entirely apropos Twelve Loaves theme of chocolate, I decided I wanted to make a chocolate cherry bread – a rich, moist loaf studded with halved juicy gems and redolent of cocoa, as I’d tried once at a Farmers’ Market in Eugene, Oregon. In text-chatting with my mom, I discovered she’d just made a marvelous chocolate rye bread that sounded like the perfect starting recipe for my February loaf.
I was out of rye flour.
The cherries I bought were less than spectacular (it’s not the season, I know. When will I learn?!).
I didn’t let the loaf rise long enough, or bake long enough, ending up with something a bit doughy in the center and dense (but moist!) besides. Oh, and it’s pretty funny-shaped, isn’t it? I know. And to add insult to injury, I couldn’t even get it together enough to post at my regular morning time.
And yet ten minutes after I’d finished eating my first piece, I found myself back in the kitchen slicing another. And when I got home from a warm, dusty walk with Lucy yesterday morning along a trail that runs just below the grounds of Loyola Marymount University (where other dog owners don’t understand what “all dogs must be leashed” means, apparently), all I wanted was a piece of this bread, toasted, slicked with a layer of cream cheese. And now, I’m thinking it probably won’t spoil my dinner if I saw off a thick slice…
This is not a sweet bread. It is bright with cherries and moist, but barely sweetened with a mere ¼ cup of molasses for that dark, treacle roastiness. The cocoa powder makes it a deep, dark brown and offers a strong flavor, but it doesn’t taste like dark chocolate (somewhat unfairly, I think, since it smells like nothing else!) because it isn’t highly sweetened.
It is, in fact, a good bread for February. It is hearty without being too filling or too rich. It’s a good vehicle for something creamy, to satisfy your need for comfort. It has a perky little reminder of springtime buried inside in little mines of sweetness. If you’re not a fan of the admitted heaviness of the whole wheat flour I’ve used here, you could use more (or even all) bread flour instead. If you don’t like cherries, I suppose you could use blueberries or cranberries or even strawberries, but I do think there is something special about the chocolate and cherry combination that I wouldn’t want to replace.
I think it only fair to tell you that am going to revisit this bread, because I think it deserves some fiddling. I am going to gift it with better cherries. I will try a higher ratio of bread flour to whole wheat, and maybe add some of that rye flour I was missing back in. I might up the sweetness quotient with additional molasses. But in any case, give it a swing through your kitchen and see what you think. Because there’s nothing wrong, when it comes to chocolate, with a little experimentation.
Chocolate Cherry Bread
Makes 1 medium round loaf
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1 cup warm water (just barely above body temperature)
2 cups whole wheat flour (makes a noticeably whole wheat-y loaf)
1 cup bread flour (exchange whole wheat flour and bread flour quantities for a slightly lighter loaf)
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ cup molasses
1 tablespoon soft butter
1 cup halved, pitted cherries
- Combine the yeast, warm water, and the teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl or a glass measuring cup and set aside for 5-10 minutes to activate. The sugar is not completely necessary, but it does help the yeast get to bubbling a bit faster.
- While the yeast wakes up in its spa, whisk the flours with the cocoa powder and the salt in a large bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer) to create a lovely, rich brown dust.
- When the yeast is bubbling and frothy and smells like bread, add the molasses and the softened butter and stir together before tipping into the dry mixture.
- If you are using a stand mixer, insert the paddle attachment and mix for a minute or two just until the dough comes together. If you don’t have a stand mixer, use a wooden spoon and some elbow grease to do the same.
- Once the dough clings together in a shaggy ball, swap out the paddle attachment for the dough hook (or turn the dough out onto a floured board and use your hands). Knead for 6-8 minutes, until the dough becomes shiny and smooth.
- Set your dough aside in an oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap, to rise until doubled. Depending on your flour combinations, your yeast, and the temperature of your house, this could take anywhere from 45-90 minutes.
- When the dough has puffed to double its previous size, punch it down by gently depressing your fist into its center to release collected gases. Let it rest to regain its breath for 5-10 minutes.
- While your dough gasps, halve and pit the cherries, then lightly flour a bread board to prepare for rolling.
- Dump your dough out onto a floured board and roll or pat it into roughly a 9×12 inch rectangle or oval. Spread the cherries in an even layer on top of the dough, then either roll or fold the dough up around the cherries. I folded it, as you can see in the photos above. Once the cherries are folded in, gently knead the dough for a few turns to distribute the fruit through it.
- Shape the dough into a round (or stow it in a greased loaf pan) and let it rise again, covered with plastic wrap, for 1 hour.
- During the last 30 minutes of rising, preheat your oven to 375F. If you will be baking your bread on a pizza stone, bread stone, or cast iron pan, preheat that along with the oven.
- When the oven is preheated and the dough has risen again, gently relocate it to whatever baking surface you’ll be using (i.e. a bread stone or a baking tray). Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the bottom feels hollow when thumped.
- Cool at least ten minutes before slicing, to let the structure solidify a bit and be sure the center is cooked through. Then by all means, slice and eat warm, with or without a good healthy smear of cream cheese.