What's Your Sign(ature)?
Do you have a signature dish or baked treat? You know, a cake, cookie or bread which people always ask for when you offer to bake something?
My signature dish, sweet or savory, is chocolate bread. I always have a couple of loaves in the freezer in case of unexpected guests. A loaf of chocolate bread is a part of every Christmas gift that I give to family and friends and is the centerpiece of the tray of treats that I give to the staff at the dog park, veterinary offices and other folks to whom I wish to express my appreciation. This recipe is wonderful, a true chocolate yeast bread, not too sweet, and loaded with semi-sweet chocolate chunks. This bread is great plain or with the spread of your choice. I prefer a bit of peanut butter. Slathered between two pieces of chocolate bread, it's like eating a peanut butter cup sandwich!
I found the recipe in the newspaper many years ago - October 18, 2001, to be exact. I was reading the Pittsburgh Post Gazette online that morning. After skimming the headlines, I turned to the food page and there it was - the recipe for chocolate bread. Mmmmmmm. That sounded tasty and right up my alley - yeast bread and chocolate together in one loaf?? Oh yes!! A match made in heaven! According to the article, the writer had tasted the bread during a meal at Café at the Frick, the restaurant located in the Frick Art and Historical Center in the Point Breeze neighborhood of Pittsburgh, and enjoyed it. When she asked the waiter about the bread, the writer was handed a copy of executive chef Susie Treon's recipe. I immediately printed a copy of the recipe (thus preserving the date that I found it!) and I have been baking chocolate bread ever since.
Are you ready to bake some chocolate bread? Okay, let's do it.
First, proof or activate your yeast by mixing it with a small amount of luke warm water and sugar in the bowl of your mixer. Allow this mixture to sit for about 10 minutes.
Technically, you don't need to do this step if you are using instant yeast as I am here. However, I love the sight and the smell of proofing yeast so I still do it. What does it mean to "proof the yeast"? Yeast can lose its oomph over time. By activating the yeast before adding the rest of the dough ingredients, you are testing it to be sure that it is ready to do its job. If your yeast is good, after about 10 minutes of proofing, it will be very foamy.
While the yeast is proofing, measure out the remaining ingredients and have them ready. Combine the flour, sugar, cocoa and salt in a bowl; keep the chocolate chunks separate for now.
Once the yeast is proofed, add in the additional water and the dry ingredients except the chocolate chunks to the bowl and mix on low speed until just combined. Then add in the chocolate chunks and continue mixing.
Mix the ingredients until a shaggy dough forms. Now it's time to start kneading. Kneading develops the gluten in the dough which is what gives the loaf its structure. When the gluten is properly developed, it traps the gas created by the yeast and forms the little pockets you see in the crumb of the bread. This is what the dough will look like when you are ready to start kneading.
You can knead the dough by hand or with a stand mixer. Kneading by hand, you'll work for about 10 minutes. If you use your stand mixer to knead, as I do, the dough will be ready after about 7 minutes of kneading, using the dough hook on speed setting 2. Here's the same dough after kneading. The gluten has been developed; the dough is smooth and elastic, not craggy or shaggy, and is only slightly tacky to the touch.
Place the kneaded dough in a lightly greased bowl or dough rising bucket, cover it and let it rise until doubled in volume. Depending on the temperature in your kitchen, this could take as long as 90 minutes or as little as 45 minutes. Here's a word on dough rising - you want to let the dough rise to the level specified by the recipe - i.e.- doubled in volume, tripled in volume, etc. The time frame provided in the recipe for reaching the specified volume is only an estimate. If your dough has not doubled in volume within the suggested amount of time, leave it alone and let it rise until it has, in fact, doubled in volume. As you can see from the photos, I use a rising bucket (available online from King Arthur Flour). The rising bucket is marked on the side which makes it easy to see how much your dough has risen and whether it has reached the specified volume.
My kitchen was a little cool the day I made the bread so it took about 2 hours for the dough to rise to the point you see in this photo, which is still shy of double in volume. After another 30 minutes or so, the dough was ready for shaping.
After the dough has risen, it is time to shape the loaves. This recipe makes two medium size round loaves. When you shape the loaf, your goal is to stretch the gluten on the outside of the loaf to make a tight crust. These photos show one of the loaves before and after shaping.
The shaped loaves need to rise, until approximately doubled in volume. This should take about 60 to 90 minutes.
While the shaped loaves are rising, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. At the end of the second rise, you can, if you wish, brush the loaves with an egg wash before putting them in the oven. The egg wash will give the finished loaves a nice shiny crust. Bake the loaves for 10 minutes then turn the oven down to 350 degrees. Continue baking for another 30 minutes or so. Your house will smell all chocolately and wonderful. The bread is done when it reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees, measured with an instant read thermometer. Remove your finished, delicious chocolate breads from the oven and let them cool on a wire rack. I know that it's difficult but you really do need to wait for the breads to cool a bit before you cut them.
There you have it. Freshly baked chocolate bread. My signature dish. Now, where's the peanut butter ...