Seattle’s Dacha Diner is my new favorite place. The Eastern European and Jewish cuisine there is completely delicious and very well-priced; the funny-shaped room is airy and full of light, but homey, too; and the people who run it are incredibly nice. They’re so nice, in fact, that they not only gave us all the gift of their easy recipe for what might be the world’s best latkes, they also sent this veritable dissertation on how to make their truly excellent bread.
I am a fearful, only semi-competent baker, so I will not be attempting to make this demanding Borodinsky at home (especially not when I can just eat it at Dacha). Still, I loved reading the recipe — co-owner Joe Heffernan allows one to vicariously experience the relationship a high-level baker develops with their work, the sort of mutual respect and understanding a person can reach with dough: “Turn the breads out of the pans onto cooling racks. If all has gone according to plan, they should leave the pans without argument.” The possibility of the loaves turning argumentative does not assuage my baking anxiety! (For what it’s worth, my Dacha Diner latkes came out great.)
“Here’s a recipe for my black bread from Dacha. I hope it’s not too wordsome. I recognize that some of the gram measurements are very small — a consequence of scaling down a large recipe. Most home cooks don’t have a small enough scale for that stuff, but you can buy one online (or at a head shop!). I adapted as best I could to volumes for the spices and yeast; everything else must be weighed, no exceptions!” — Joe Heffernan, Dacha Diner
Dacha Diner’s “Borodinsky” Black Bread
This bread should have a subtle spiced character, a thin but chewy crust, and a tenderness to it while still tasting strongly of rye. It’s my take on a classic Russian bread called Borodinsky, but made with a lower percentage of rye so that it’s a bit more decadent and fun to eat.
As a dough, it is a wet and sticky mess to work with — there is no way around that, but you’ll find it more forgiving when you get to know it. It’s wet enough to demand a stand mixer; kneading by hand would be trouble. If you don’t have a mixer, you can try this formula with Chad Robertson’s technique for folding wet doughs from “Tartine Bread” or “Tartine Book No. 3.”
Yield: 3 loaves
Active time: 40 minutes
Total time: 30 hours or more
Apple cider vinegar: 84g
Sunflower oil (canola or olive will do fine): 84g
Dark molasses 15g
Dark rye flour: 336g
Bread flour: 924g
Cocoa powder: 18g
Brown sugar: 15g
Espresso powder (substituting one packet of instant coffee could work): 2g
Coriander seed: 1.5g (½ teaspoon)
Caraway: 1.5g (½ teaspoon)
Fennel seed: 1.5g (½ teaspoon)
Active dry yeast: 4.2g (1¼ teaspoon)
Weigh out all your ingredients before mixing anything. Once you grind the coriander, caraway and fennel seed in a spice grinder, you can assemble the dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer.
The oil, water and vinegar can also be combined with each other at this stage, but I like to keep the molasses in its own small bowl.
Use a wooden spoon to make a well at the bottom of the the dry ingredients, then pour in the wet ingredients.
Mix the wet and dry ingredients by scooping down along the sides of the mixing bowl with the wooden spoon. Making sure that the ingredients are roughly combined at this stage will keep you from finding unmixed flour at the bottom of the bowl after mixing.
Scrape any dough off your wooden spoon and mix on medium speed for seven minutes, using the dough hook attachment. Check the bottom of the mixer bowl to make sure all the dry ingredients have been fully incorporated and mix longer if necessary.
After mixing, allow the dough to rise (covered in a bucket or in the mixer bowl) for 5-8 hours. This is bulk fermentation and you can adapt the recipe to suit your needs. Want a more fermented bread with a glossy crumb? Lower the yeast and let it rise overnight. Working on a deadline? Double the yeast and shape it after three hours.
After bulk fermentation, you need to shape the breads and load them into greased loaf pans. I use a cast iron loaf pan that is roughly 5 by 10 inches, but you could use any loaf pan. You may want to adjust the weight of your dough portion to suit your pan.
Weighing and shaping can be tricky, but I have found that as long as this bread gets an overnight to sit in the fridge after shaping, it is fairly tolerant of being poorly handled at this stage.
My method is to place a bowl half full of flour on a scale and have a second bowl of water to wet my hands with. Keeping your hands nice and wet will allow you to pinch off chunks and pieces of the dough without too much sticking to your hands. You want your three dough pieces to weigh 800 grams; you will have some extra. Weigh out your dough pieces one by one into the bowl of flour and then set them on a counter. You shouldn’t need to flour the counter much more, but go ahead if you need to. This recipe should yield 3 doughs in the 800-850 gram range, but you can scale up or down as necessary.
Once you have your rough piece of dough, shape it into a round ball with as taut a skin as possible. YouTube might be your friend here (see 2:35-2:54), as the process is harder to describe than it is to do. Turn the dough so the sticky side is facing down, then gather the edges together with floured hands or a dough scraper. Allowing one side of the dough to stick to the counter, push and pull on the other sides of the dough to build tension and form a nice round ball. Let this ball rest for a few minutes and then flip it over to do a final shaping. Press it out lightly to the shape of a piece of paper, fold the long sides toward each other and tuck the short ends under into the seam. Then load the shaped dough into the loaf pans. Cover the loaf pans with plastic wrap and put them in the fridge overnight.
The dough is forgiving at this stage and can last a few days in the fridge if it hasn’t had too much yeast. If the yeast is too active and the dough rises over, you can get away with pulling it out of the pan, reshaping it, and starting the rest period over again.
To bake, preheat an oven to 450°F. If you have a pizza stone or other slabs of masonry mass lying around, use them to keep the oven nice and hot when you load your breads. The dough can be baked directly out of the fridge, but proofing for an hour or more will lead to a more tender and open crumb.
Spray the surface of the doughs with water and load them into the oven. A few spritzes of water right into the oven won’t hurt. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce temperature to 400°F and bake for 40 more minutes or until an instant-read thermometer registers above 207°F. Turn the breads out of the pans onto cooling racks. If all has gone according to plan, they should leave the pans without argument. The breads should have a dark brown top and a lighter brown on the sides that will darken as they cool. Let the bread cool completely before slicing!!! This is true for all bread, but especially ryes.