While all my recipes to date have been for relatively ‘lean’ breads, sourdough makes wonderful enriched breads, and this is the first of a number of sweet treats I have in mind for the blog
(check out my soft cinnamon swirls). I developed and refined this recipe over a number of months, having initially thought of it as a way of satisfying my kids’ demands for chocolate spread around last Christmas (courtesy of a 3 day binge on the stuff in their grandparents’, the repository of evil).
We try as much as possible to avoid using sugar in the house, both for health and ethical reasons. When I need to add sweetness to a recipe, honey is my default option. The difficulty with adding honey or any other sugar to a sourdough is that it encourages your microbes to produce acetic acid (vinegar), and my first few attempts at this bread had a vaguely unpleasant sweet and sour vibe going on. There are several features of this recipe which allow the sugary sweetness of the honey to predominate. The large volume of the preferment encourages a rapid rise and fermentation, thus minimising acid production. The use of dairy products rather than water introduces lactose (dairy sugar) to the dough. Lactose is not metabolised by most sourdough microbes, and so it ‘survives’ in the finished product, although it is only around one sixth as sweet as most other sugars, so its contribution is relatively minor.
The major sweetening factor here comes from chunks of honey toffee. As you may know, honey is an amazingly effective antimicrobial; yeast and bacteria cannot grow in honey due to its high osmotic pressure. So if we have a way of keeping the honey in discrete ‘nests’ within the dough it will not be broken down to form sour, acidic molecules. To achieve this we prepare the honey as follows- this can be made days in advance.
makes enough for four small loaves
150g Organic Honey
30ml Single Cream
A pinch of salt
Mix the ingredients in a saucepan over a medium heat. The mixture will froth vigorously once it reaches boiling point. Reduce heat slightly and stir every 30 seconds until the toffee has developed a deep brown colour and the bubbling is noticeably reduced. Remove from the heat and stir in a small knob of butter.
This stuff is REALLY REALLY HOT- don’t lick the spoon!!!!
Pour your toffee onto a sheet of baking paper or other flat non-stick surface, allow to cool and then place in the fridge for at least half an hour. This will keep for weeks once it is covered.
I would love to be much more precise about the cooking time, but that would necessitate me buying a sugar thermometer, and I’ve gotten away without one so far (and I’m a bit tight).
As for the dough itself, it is important not to add all the ingredients at the beginning of the mix, as both the fat in the cream and the cocoa inhibit gluten development, and will result in a very weak, crumbly loaf if introduced too early. It will still be delicious, but just isn’t what I’m trying to achieve here.
The cocoa powder is a major feature of this bread, you’re using a lot of it so don’t scrimp here; I use Cadbury Bourneville, there is a huge difference in flavour between a quality product such as this and a supermarket own brand cocoa.
Sourdough Ingredients & Method:
Create a preferment by combining:
- 63g starter (100% hydration, fed 12 hours earlier)
- 188g strong white flour
- 164ml milk
Cover the mixture and allow to ferment for 6-8 hours until roughly trebled in size; you want to try to use this when it is very active and before it begins to smell acidic, your fermentation time will depend on the ambient temperature in your kitchen.
Ingredients for the final dough:
- 300g strong white flour
- 275ml milk
- 7g salt
- 50g Green & Blacks Organic Cocoa Powder
- 35g cream
- 80g chopped lightly roasted hazelnuts
- 65g honey toffee (half of the finished product from the formula above, broken into small chunks)
1. Mix the flour and milk, allow to autolyse for 30 minutes.
2. Add the salt and mix to incorporate.
3. Ideally using a kitchen lender with a dough hook, knead the preferment into this dough for around 3 minutes. You could do this by hand, but it gets quite sticky and does need to be well kneaded to get the soft ‘shreddy’ texture we want in the bread.
4. Add the cocoa powder and cream, knead for around another 2 minutes until well mixed.
5. Mix in the hazelnuts until reasonably well distributed, then add the toffee and knead as briefly as possible until they disperse throughout the dough.
- For the final two ingredients, try to keep the kneading time to a minimum; the hazelnuts will do their best to break up your hard-earned gluten strands, while the toffee will begin to melt if you over-work it.
6. Immediately turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and form into a ball. Divide (or not) the dough to suit your greased loaf tin(s). I make two small loaves from this mixture using 1-pound tins. Shape the dough and place it in the tin.
7. Allow to proof. Again, we don’t want to leave the dough for so long that it becomes overtly sour. I find again that 6-8 hours is sufficient, by which time the dough should have at least doubled in size. It does need to be well risen- we don’t want too much oven spring, as this would split the crust and dry the bread more than we would like.
8. Preheat your oven to 175C (350F). ‘Dock’ the dough- rather than scoring it with a blade, use a toothpick or carving fork to pierce the top of the loaf several times. Place in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes for two small loaves, or 40-45 minutes for a single larger loaf. Turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool before slicing and devouRING BECAUSE IT’S SO GOOD!!!
*Note: You will find that some of the toffee leaks from the bread during baking- don’t worry about this, it’s only a small amount, but you do need to turn the bread out while it’s still warm, otherwise it will be glued to the tin.
I’m really proud of this bread; our kids love it, and as with all sourdough, it’s a far healthier option than any similar unfermented product. You will get at least 12 good slices out of each small loaf, meaning there is around 3g of sugar in each portion. To put it in context, that’s about one third of the sugar you would find in a bowl of chocolate cereal for the same hit of chocolate at breafast. It freezes well when sliced and bagged, and it makes an amazing base for bread and butter pudding.
It might seem like a lot of work, but it really is worth it, so please try it and let me know what you think.