If Valentine's Day conjures only one image, it is surely that of chocolate. And what better accompaniment to chocolate than tart dried cherries! (Ok, maybe a nice zinfandel, too).
Although many bread purists argue - and not without merit - that adding anything to bread other than the basic ingredients that compose it - flour, water, salt and leavening - is a sacrilege, the fact is that some of our favorite breads have flavorings, whether cheese or walnuts, spicy peppers, or nuts and seeds that result in a delightful eating experience.
So if we are to be heretics let us at least enjoy it!
This Valentine's creation, Chocolate Cherry Bread, is a favorite of mine as a tasty, offbeat loaf. Offbeat because it's more like a dessert than a bread, and in fact, it's sometimes referred to as a dessert bread. What's clear to me, at any rate, is that this isn't something you'd toast and have to accompany eggs and bacon at breakfast. But lightly toasted after dinner, with a nice glass of wine and perhaps some cheese to accompany, yes, this definitely works.
Here is the recipe I used to create three small - about 1 lb each - boules of chocolate cherry bread:
Two brief notes: 1) The salt percentage may seem low, and in fact is. However, it's my feeling that what should dominate this bread is sweetness, and thus I've reduced the salt content from its more normal level of 2%. Feel free to step it up if you wish. 2) The percentage of yeast is definitely higher than typical. This is, in part, to counter the acidic effects of the cocoa powder which will significantly retard the functioning of yeast - much as does the addition of cinnamon. The higher level of yeast - along with the addition of levain which is more tolerant of acidity - is one way to guarantee that your loaves proof properly.
Begin by preparing the levain 12 -14 hours in advance of mixing the final dough. I use a levain that is 100% hydration, so equal weights flour and water.
The next morning when my levain was fully ripened I prepared and weighed the ingredients. I use Callebaut chocolate, a nice and reasonably priced Belgium chocolate. It comes in this box as batons, which are used to create pain au chocolat, or chocolate croissants. A portion of the chocolate batons was melted in a doubleboiler. To create the chocolate chunks I took the batons (thin, rectangular strips of chocolate about 4 in long and 1/4 in wide) and chopped them into roughly quarter-inch pieces.
To create the final dough, the levain was combined with water to disperse it, and to this was added the sugar to dissolve it partially. To this mixture was combined the flour, instant dry yeast (IDY) and salt. Mix time on speed 1 was about three minutes. After that, the dough was mixed on speed 2 for about two minutes. Then, with a little gluten development showing, the mixer was put back on speed 1 for about three minutes while the cocoa powder, chocolate and butter were added. Finally, the dough was mixed again on speed two for about two minutes - until moderate gluten development is noted.
The dough is fermented for 1 1/2 hours, with a fold at 45 minutes to increase its strength. Here is the dough after its fold and just before dividing. Honestly, doesn't that look good enough to eat just as it is!
Once the primary fermentation is completed the dough is divided into three equal pieces and gently rounded into boules.
The shaped boules were placed on a wooden peel on parchment paper, and then covered with plastic wrap and allowed to proof for about one and a quarter hours.
They were prepared for baking by lightly sprinkling the tops with flour and slashing each loaf.
The boules were baked in a 450 degree F oven with steam for 30 minutes, and then the oven was turned off, the door cracked, and the loaves allowed to sit for another 5 minutes on the baking stone.
Here's what came out of the oven:
Pretty tasting looking! And here is what the Chocolate Cherry bread looks like sliced:
A lovely gift for someone special this Valentine's Day. Or, hey, just for yourself!
Happy Valentine's Day!