adventures in bread-making: bittersweet chocolate, fruit & nut sourdough

Oh my... this bread is... well, amazingly delicious. The chewy sourdough meets bittersweet chocolate, with hints of sweet caramelised raisins, cranberries and the crunch of macadamia nuts. I was trying to re-create a lovely chocolate and sour cherry sourdough that brasserie used to bake and sell at Marickville markets a few years ago. With the help Yoke Mardewi's Wild Sourdough and my newly established starter I was able to come up with this...

2/3 cups sourdough starter (I used wheat with 50% hydration, but rye or spelt would work too)
2 cups organic, unbleached white wheat flour (plus more if dough is too wet)
3 cups organic, unbleached wholemeal spelt flour
1/3 cup good quality cocoa
2 tablespoons malt barley or molasses
1 3/4 cups filtered water
2 cups dried fruit like cranberries, sultanas and cherries
3/4 cups nuts, lightly roasted (I used macadamias, but almonds or pistachios would work well)
150g dark bittersweet chocolate (I used half 70% cocoa and half 85% cocoa)

Stir all ingredients except chocolate, nuts & fruit in a large non-metallic bowl for a few minute until well combined. let dough rest for 20 minutes. next knead the dough for 5 minutes either using a dough hook/bread-maker or with your fingertips lightly oiled on an oiled bench top - throwing the dough up in the air and slapping it down on the bench - the dough will feel a little sticky, soft and elastic when sufficiently kneaded. Cover dough with a bowl on the bench and let rest for a further 30 minutes. Next add more water or flour depending on whether the dough feels too wet or dry. I ended up adding an extra 1/2-1 cup of wheat flour to mine and kneaded it in well. Next allow the dough to rise in a fairly warmish place (20-25'c) - place dough in a large glass or ceramic bowl and cover with a damp cloth or plastic film - for about 4 to 5 hours or until doubled in size. 

Tip dough out onto a floured bench and using your fingertips spread into a rectangle shape - press in nuts, chocolate and dried fruit and knead/fold dough back onto itself a few times to incorporate the fillings. Divide dough into 3 and shape into long thin loaves (you might need a bit of extra flour for shaping). Finally let your logs rise, covered at room temperature (20-25'c) for 2 hours. Preheat oven to 235'c (455'F). Bake logs for 10 minutes with a cake pan filled with water on the rack above to create steam/mist. Remove water pan and reduce temperature to 210'c and bake for a further 25 minutes. You will know the loaves are done when they are dark brown in colour and knocking the underneath-size makes a hollow sound. Let cool for an extra 10 minutes in the hot oven if you are unsure. Finally let the loaves cool before cutting... if you can help it! 

This is not a "sweet bread" really, because it doesn't have any sugar added in, aside from the hint of malt and the dried fruit - which suits me fine (I'm not a great sweet tooth). Though I imagine it would taste beautiful with a drizzle of honey! My parents savoured it with slices of creamy french cheese - but I really like it unadorned, lightly toasted so the chocolate begins to melt, and yeah, maybe with a smear of semi-salted butter, because I am a butter fiend. Living in France does that to you.

Sourdough bread making is a long process... but an intensely satisfying one. You could let the first rise happen overnight and allow for the much shorter final rise in the morning before baking. For me its the process that brings the most joy; the growing of bubbly fermented starter, the folding and knead of ingredients, the (im)patient waiting for rising, the smells of baking... and my body seems a lot happier digestion wise with the results. Something about lacto-fermentation and partial break down of gluten perhaps. Anyway, all this to say if you are scared of making your own sourdough you really needn't be - this book by Western Australian Yoke Mardewi is a wonderful introduction, and the Wild Yeast blog is my favourite for finding recipes and helpful tips...