No-knead black bread
Sometimes I can get so fixated on a recipe that I find it hard to step away when, even after repeated testing and retesting, what I’m looking for continues to elude me. I’m glad that I persisted here, where more reasonable people would long since have given up, as I have finally created the dark, treacly bread I had hitherto only imagined and obsessed over.
I love this bread with smoked salmon, smoked trout, any smoked fish. And this is indeed how I suggest you serve it as a first course, if one is wanted.
- 500ml/18fl oz Irish stout, such as Guinness, opened in advance if possible
- 1 large free-range egg, at room temperature, separated
- 30g/1oz dark muscovado sugar
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp black treacle
- 300g/10½oz dark rye flour
- 300g/10½oz strong white bread flour
- 25g/1oz cocoa
- 1 tsp activated charcoal (optional)
- 4 tsp nigella seeds, plus 1 tsp for sprinkling
- 4 tsp caraway seeds
- 4 tsp fennel seeds
- ¼ tsp (1g, but it’s hard to get it to register on the scales) fast-action dried yeast
- 1¼ tsp fine sea salt
- vegetable oil, for greasing
Pour the stout into a large measuring jug to come up to 400ml/14fl oz; you will need to wait for the frothing to subside. If you think about it ahead of time, it might be wise to open the bottle a bit earlier. Don’t drink the remaining 100ml/3½fl oz yet, as you may need some of it shortly. When the beer’s calmed down enough to be measured clearly, add the egg white (reserving the yolk in a little covered bowl in the fridge for the egg wash the next day), followed by the sugar, the oil, and then the treacle. Stir or whisk gently to mix, as it may fizz up a bit.
Mix the flours, cocoa, activated charcoal (if using), seeds, yeast and salt in a large bowl.
Give your jug of dark liquid another stir, then pour a third into the bowl and mix. Repeat until all the liquid is used up. You may still need to use more liquid, so slowly stir in as much of the remaining stout as you need to form a sticky mixture. It won’t look very dark: until it’s baked, it has the buff colour of cookie dough, unless you’re adding activated charcoal, in which case it will be cowpat brown. Cover with cling film (or a shower cap) and leave it in the kitchen for 16–20 hours, until it has increased in volume, has a slightly spongy texture and is bubbly on top.
Grease a sturdy 2lb/900g loaf tin and line the base with baking parchment. Scrape the bread dough into the tin, smoothing it very gently out to the edges and on top. Drape a clean tea towel over the tin and leave for 2 hours. It will rise a little, but not much. Towards the end of this time preheat the oven to 220C/200C Fan/Gas 7.
Add a teaspoon of cold water to the reserved egg yolk and mix with a little whisk or a fork, then dab a pastry brush into the yellow goo and lightly paint the surface of the bread. I can’t honestly say you use much of this yolk; if, like me, you find waste difficult, then keep it to add to a couple of eggs for scrambling.
Sprinkle the teaspoon of nigella seeds on top and put the tin into the oven, immediately turning the heat down to 200C/180C Fan/Gas 6. Bake for 40 minutes, then (wearing oven gloves, and perhaps giving a nudge around the edges with a small palette knife) slip it out of its tin. It will feel almost cooked, but it is a dense, weighty loaf: don’t expect white-bread lightness; even when fully cooked, this loaf feels as heavy as a brick. Give the loaf a knock underneath: it probably won’t sound hollow, but register the sound.
Put the loaf, out of its tin, back into the oven directly on the shelf for 10–15 minutes, by which time it will feel firm, but still with a bit of give at the sides and, when you knock it underneath, it will sound, if not exactly hollow, then hollower than it did before. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before even thinking of cutting into it.
Serve slices topped with smoked salmon and dill.
You need to get started on this bread the day before you want to eat it: this is not because it is elaborate in any way to make, but just because it needs an overnight rise.
To keep the loaf fresh for as long as possible, as soon as it is completely cool, store in a bread bin. The next best method is to wrap it in a tea towel.
Should you be making this bread for vegan company, replace the egg white with 1 teaspoon of vegan egg-replacer powder mixed in along with the other dry ingredients, and instead of the egg yolk wash, glaze the loaf with 1 teaspoon of maple syrup stirred into 2 teaspoons of almond milk, although you won’t get the high shine of the egg wash.
Any leftover bread can be blitzed in the processor into fabulous black breadcrumbs. I keep them in the freezer to use whenever I want to add an aniseed crunch. They are particularly good sprinkled over a tomato salad.