I spent the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I have lots of great memories from that summer, including the chocolate cherry bread from Zingerman’s Bakehouse:
Yes, you really can bake a chocolate-based bread. And yes, it’s as good (or better) than your imagination. A chocolate lover’s fantasy come true . . . .
However, at $17 + shipping per loaf, my chances of enjoying this deliciousness anytime soon were very slim, unless . . . I made it myself! I hunted down some likely recipes and sent them to Matthew, requesting the bread as a Christmas present.
Luckily for me, he created a delicious loaf on his first try!
Time: About 1½ hours plus 12 to 20 hours rising
1 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed
1 cup dried tart cherries
1 scant cup big chunks of dark chocolate
1 Tablespoon Cocoa powder
In a large bowl combine both flours, cocoa powder, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice.
When the dough is ready, pour some boiling water over the cherries. (If you can’t find dried tart cherries you may substitute cranberries.) Let the fruit soak for about 15 minutes, drain and then place on towels to dry. You want the interior wet enough so that the fruit won’t draw moisture from the dough, but dry enough on the exterior so they won’t turn your dough into soup. When the fruit is ready, mix it up with the chocolate in a bowl, and have it handy.
Flour a workspace lightly, and then gently turn the dough out onto the board. With wet hands, lightly pat the dough into a rectangle. Stretch the dough to about twice its length, and then spread 1/4 of the chocolate cherry mixture in the center*. Fold one-third of the dough on top, and again, spread 1/4 of the mixture on top. Fold the final third of the dough like a letter, and then turn the dough one-quarter. Follow the same procedure, and then cover the dough. Let it rest for about 15 minutes.
*See recipe here for pictorial guidance on stretching, spreading, and folding:
Folding the chocolate and cherries into the bread ensures that the vast majority of the goodies stay protected from the fierce heat to which you’re going to subject the dough in order to get that lovely, crunchy crust we all adore. The yummy stuff is not as evenly distributed as it would be were it mixed in from the beginning, but uneven distribution is highly preferable to charcoal. Trust me.
Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 -500 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.
It’s important to let bread cool for at least an hour, if not longer, before slicing, because of the heat and moisture from the inside of the loaf. However, this bread is best slightly warm, with the chocolate a bit melty. Solution? Place slice in toaster on very low setting for 20 seconds or so. The goal is not to toast the bread, but to give it that fresh-out-of-the-oven goodness.
Enjoy as-is, or with some butter and perhaps just a touch of honey for sweetness. Perhaps Valentine’s Day will bring another loaf my way!