Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Chocolate and Currant Levain

The recipe comes from an excellent book on bread-baking I recently discovered, How to Make Bread by South-African born and UK-based baker Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. Here are a few of the things I love about this book:
  • It stresses that "accuracy is crucial in bread baking" and encourages the baker to use a precision electronic scale
  • It lists all quantities in metric weights first, followed by American cups and/or ounces, tablespoons, etc. 
  • All recipes are illustrated with clear explanations and gorgeous pictures (some of the pages can be seen online on this blog)
  • All recipes are mixed by hand (stretch-and-fold method) but they are wrist-friendly because the quantities are always on the small side (the downside is that the yield is smaller than what I am used to and I am tempted to just double the amount of ingredients but then the wrist-friendly aspect becomes less obvious. A professional baker would also tell you that because the amounts are small, there is no mass-effect which makes it harder to coax all possible flavors out of the grain. Life is all about compromise, isn't it?)
  • The book explains the basics of bread making, then offers recipes for yeasted breads, sourdoughs, flatbreads, soda breads and pastries (among which pains au chocolat for which the reader is shown how to make his or her own chocolate batons). There is even a gluten-free bread recipe with two variations (I love the fact that it doesn't use any xantham gum or other barbarious sounding binder). Hadjiandreou writes that he learned his trade as a baker in a German-style bakery and he includes a recipe for dark rye bread which he says is one of his all-time favorites. There are also wheat-free breads, including a prune and pepper rye bread that looks marvelous and is definitely on my to-bake list! He also includes an award-winning recipe for a marzipan stollen
  • I find How to Make Bread a great resource for both new and experienced bakers and if I ever teach bread-baking, I would be tempted to use it as a workbook since it covers a lot of ground in a friendly manner and makes home baking look deliciously rewarding (which it is, I can testify to that!). 
Although I have already baked quite a few recipes from the book (including a pretty pink-dotted beetroot sourdough for the Easter dinner bread basket), I am showcasing the chocolate bread since I recently made and froze a new batch in anticipation of our grandkids' arrival on spring break at the end of the week. It is a kid-friendly bread that even adults not blessed (or cursed, depending on the point of view) with a sweet tooth can enjoy, all levain-based and chokeful of good-for-you currants. I used bittersweet chocolate chips as that's all I had on-hand (Hadjiandreou suggests using milk or semisweet which we would probably have found too sweet anyway). This blog entry comes with a warning though: once you have made this bread, you'll likely find yourself compulsorily making it again and again. 
Ingredients: (for two small-loaves)
  • 200 g Zante currants
  • 80 g semisweet chocolate chips
  • 330 g unbleached all-purpose flour (Hadjiandreou says to use "strong or bread flour" which contains a high amount of protein (up to 17%) to trap the carbon dioxide during fermentation and give the bread a good texture. That would be considered too high here in the US but then our flours are quite different. To be on the safe side, if you do live in the UK, your best bet is to follow Hadjiandreou's advice)
  • 8 g salt
  • 20 g cocoa powder
  • 170 g white levain (sourdough starter) at 100% hydration*
  • 250 g warm water
* The starter I used is one that my friend Teresa from Northwest Sourdough kindly sent me when I came back from my trip to France (saving me the tedious task of reactivating my dehydrated levain). Appropriately called Northwest Starter because it was originally cultured near Willapa Bay, Washington, it is wonderfully fragrant and so active that I was able to bake with it after just one feeding. No wonder it was once featured in a TV show (in 2006 during the "What's Cooking?" segment on KNOE TV Channel 8/CBS affiliate). Why, if I had been the one to capture these wild workhorses yeasts, I would probably have tried to get them on Animal Planet! Well done, Teresa, and thank you!

Method (slightly adapted):
  1. Mix the currants and chocolate and set aside
  2. In one small mixing bowl, mix the flour, salt and cocoa powder together. This is the dry mixture
  3. In a larger mixing bowl, mix the sourdough starter and water together until well combined. This is the wet mixture
  4. Add the dry and chocolate-currant mixtures to the wet mixture and mix until incorporated
  5. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes
  6. After 10 minutes, stretch and fold the dough inside the bowl by going twice around the bowl with four stretches and foldings at each 90° turn (8 stretches/foldings in all)
  7. Let rest 10 minutes again. Repeat twice
  8. Complete a fourth stretch and fold cycle and let the dough rest one hour (I actually let it rest closer to three hours before it was fermented enough, probably because my house was colder than the lab where the recipe has been tested)
  9. When the dough has doubled in volume, punch it down to release the air (I didn't really punch it as I am always weary of completely deflating it), lightly flour a clean work surface and transfer the boule of dough to it
  10. Divide the dough into two equal portions and roll each one into a ball
  11. Dust two small proofing baskets with flour (Hadjiandreou uses a long oblong one into which he fits the two balls snugly together but I don't own one like that) and set the boules in them, seam-side up
  12. Let the dough rise until doubled in size (it can take between 3 and 6 hours)
  13. About 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 475°F/240°C with a baking stone on the middle shelf and an empty roasting pan at the bottom. Fill a cup with water and set it aside
  14. When the boules have doubled in volume, tip them out seam-side down on a parchment-lined semolina-dusted rimless half-sheet pan and slide them onto the baking stone. Pour the reserved water into the empty roasting pan and lower the oven temperature to 425°F/220°C
  15. Bake about 30 minutes. To check if the bread is ready, tip it out upside down and tap the bottom. It should sound hollow
  16. Let cool on a wire rack
  17. Enjoy!
The chocolate and currant sourdough bread is going to Susan for Yeastspotting.


  1. Wow, it looks amazing! And thanks for the book advice, I hadn't heard of it.

    1. Thanks, Miriam! The book is truly worth knowing about... There is something about it that is completely different from other bread books. Maybe because the pictures are both gorgeous and realistic: I repeatedly found myself brushing flour off the chocolate bread page only to feel really silly because the flour dusting was actually part of the picture!

  2. The bread looks perfect and the book sounds good too!! Thanks for sharing :)

  3. You have no idea since when I think of making a sourdough bread and chocloate, so keep that assured that I will try, I just missing the chocolate chips, but I buy very soon and make this delicious bread.
    I also hope to see your beet leaf.

    And thanks for sharing this tasty recipe, I do not speak English so well that I have held digicil read the book.
    See you soon :)))

    1. Hello Daniela, I am sure you will love the bread. It makes for a scrumptious Sunday breakfast or for a very nice afternoon or picnic snack. But I am curious: what's digicil? A translation program?

  4. Oh, my..... I arrived at April without buying a single cookbook, and now you tempt me with this one... serious, serious temptation

    chocolate sourdough... never thought it possible, and now I want a slice. Right now.

    I must go take a look at this book on amazon.com and dream about 2013 arriving soon...

  5. Me again.... well, I ordered it. Broke my personal record of 4 months without buying a cookbook, but just could not resist this one...

    1. Sorry for being such a temptress, Sally! I too try to restrain myself when it comes to cookbooks: either I buy them used or I try to get the e-version (a bit cheaper and way easier to shelf!) Sadly they don't make this one for the Kindle yet... Well, at least, if you buy one book this year, I know you won't regret getting this one. I can already picture you making one recipe after the other... Lucky Phil!

    2. Finally made this bread today... WOW! It is amazing!

      as a safety measure, I think I'll slice 3/4 of it and take to the department tomorrow,.... the stuff is dangerous! ;-)

      (I made it as a single large boule, in fact just posted a photo in Facebook if you want to take a look)

  6. MC,
    This bread is beautiful and really delicious, absolutely studded with yummy chocolate chips and currants! Thank you so much for making it (it was a joy to taste)!
    Your scoring is so artful, and the shaping – such a perfect oval – this loaf reminds me of a chocolate Easter Egg. Much gratitude to you for writing about and sharing this book; I can’t wait to discover its other pleasures. Just think of the happiness you are spreading by introducing people to this author’s wonderful work!
    :^) breadsong

  7. We can all learn by going back to the basics.
    Your writings have had me thinking I simply have to have this book. So I've ordered it.

    (Zeb and I sometimes get together, so we can chose something from the pages and bake bread).

    And it's interesting to see your using all purpose flour.
    An Indian lady wants me to create a loaf with maida (all p. flour) for her Indian family to follow easily.
    I wasn't sure it would or could create a sourdough loaf well enough, but you've proved it can produce a delicious one.
    Thank you.

    1. Hello Gill! So glad you ordered the book: it should bring you lots of aaah! and ooh! moments. Here in the US, it is actually recommended to bake artisan bread with all-purpose flour (or at least that is what I have been taught at the San Francisco Baking Institute) since what is called bread flour is too rich in gluten and makes for a dough that is harder to work with. But I think you live in the UK where the flours are different and protein levels are also probably calculated differently too. So an all-purpose flour may not give you satisfactory results. In his book, UK-based Hadjiandreou says to use "strong or bread flour" which contains a high amount of protein (up to 17%) to trap the carbon dioxide during fermentation and give the bread a good texture. That would be considered too high here but then we might be comparing apples and oranges. To be on the safe side, if you do live in the UK, I would think your best bet is to follow Hadjiandreou's advice.
      Please keep me posted as to what you do and the results you get! And say hi! to Zeb for me. You are so lucky to be able to bake together!

  8. I'll say hi to Zeb, with pleasure.

    I am in the UK, yes. The lady who wants me to come up with a recipe for maida flour has immediate family in Delhi. I've already created a 100% chapatti flour (10.5% protein) for her.
    And she would like to teach her family a white flour using what they have in their country(maida I think runs at 5%). They have access to amaranth so I may play around with that.

    By the way, your chocolate bread looks just the same as the bread in Emmanuel's book.

    Am refreshing my starter and will be making 2 loaves for a picnic I'm having with fellow painters on Tuesday. I'll try the spiced cheese and herb one (page 112) and the focaccia I think.
    Will let you know how I get along.

  9. This bread looks so yummy MC and your baking and photo taking are breathtaking as usual. I am glad you like the wild yeasts I sent you!

    1. Thank you, Teresa! Your starter is wild for sure, to the point that I hear it "sing" when it bubbles... Lovely!

  10. I must try a chocolate version for allergy kid..see if she will like it, will have to make hybrid version for her.

    Lovely looking bread MC.

  11. Hi MC, i am visiting you blog regularly and this is my first comment. The bread looks amazing and also your photos are brilliant. Your posts are motivating and inspiring. I will try to reproduce this result - and will share the results. I will use the excellent Valrhona Chocolate which i buy in France and use my most vital San Francisco Sourdough Starter i ever made.
    Regarding your book recommendation - thanks a lot - this will increase my average of buying one bread book per month...Thank you!

    1. Hello, Bernd! So glad you commented. Thank you! Now I discovered your blog and hope to learn a lot about Swiss bread (which I love). I am most grateful for your kind comments and can't wait to hear how the Chocolate and Currant Bread fared on your side of the Atlantic with French chocolate and an American levain...
      Re: bread book purchasing. I know what you mean... When I first started baking seriously a very long time ago, there were very few "real" bread books available and I set myself the goal of buying all the ones that came out (there were two, maybe three). Now it would be impossible...

  12. Beautiful bread, as usual! I haven't bought the book yet, but I will probably cave!
    What kind of cocoa did you use? Thanks again for all the details and pictures, I love it!
    Esther in Ottawa

    1. Hello Esther! Glad to see you again. You probably won't regret splurging for the book. It is a good learning tool and a great source of inspiration. I used chocolate that I had bought in bulk a while ago in a clear container. The label must have fallen off or else it was never actually glued to the container because there is nothing on it now but I seem to remember it was Valrhona...

  13. Well, I just placed my order! I knew I couldn't hold off! Thank you very much for your reply about the cocoa. I am going to make this bread while I wait for the book.
    Thanks again, so much.
    Esther in Ottawa



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