Chocolate Sourdough is a fragrant loaf with great flavour, subtle in sweetness, bold with cocoa, a soft and springy crumb and crispy outside crust. It is not a bread you easily find at your local bakery, all the more reasons, then, to learn how to make this fantastic sourdough bread at home!
About Chocolate Sourdough Bread
The first time I saw chocolate sourdough bread was at Brick House Bread Bakery in London (sadly now closed). I went there to buy one of their famous sourdough breads and noticed a brown loaf on the shelves. Of course, I had to buy one to taste at home. I loved it, but I never found it again in any other bakery. I never thought that one day I would learn how to make one just as delicious at home!
When I say “chocolate bread” I don’t mean some kind of cake or dessert, in the way we call banana bread what is essential a cake with bananas or a fruit loaf cake is sweet bread! In this recipe, we are not whipping ingredients together with baking powder. We are not using sugars and fats. We are in the bread territory, which comes with yeast or starter, keading, and a lot of patience!
My chocolate bread is made using the recipe and technique of sourdough bread – a slow-fermented bread made with a strong, active sourdough culture of wild yeast, aka “sourdough starter”. For this recipe, you will need just 5 ingredients: white bread flour, cocoa powder, water, salt and sourdough starter. The bread dough is mixed and kneaded over the course of one day and, usually, baked the next day. It is a real labour of love, but totally worth the time and effort!
Note: to make rye starter you need 50g rye flour and 50g cold water. See recipe at the bottom of this post.
Sourdough bread is naturally sour, because of the combination of lactic and acetic acids created as the dough rises and ferments. How sour, that depends on your starter and flour combinations you choose to use. When you make chocolate sourdough bread, you will have a bread that is a touch sweet, a touch sour, slightly savoury but not too salty.
This is a bread loaf that is enjoyed at its best for a sweet breakfast or midday snack: a buttered toast with marmalade, for example, or a PB&J sandwich.
All the flavours of this chocolate sourdough bread are well balanced: the sour starter, the earthy flour, the deep bitterness of cocoa powder, and the salt. And so, this bread works really well with savoury toppings too. A slice of chocolate sourdough bread with creamy fresh cheese like ricotta or brie with grilled peaches or figs, and rocket (arugula) would be absolutely delicious!
During the lockdown period, I finally learnt how to make a sourdough starter from scratch (and keep it alive). Over many weeks of trial and error, I learnt how to make a beautiful, fragrant, bubbly on the inside, crispy on the outside and delicious sourdough bread.
Once I achieved the perfect loaf, I knew the time had come to finally tackle chocolate sourdough bread! I have now made this bread twice, both times with excellent and tasty results! For the first loaf of chocolate bread I used dark cocoa powder – an intensely dark, very aromatic cocoa – and hazelnuts. The second time, I used regular cocoa powder for baking, which has a lighter colour and smooth flavour.
When I make sourdough bread, I like to use Manitoba flour type 00, a flour produced from a variety of Canadian wheat which is rich in protein. You can use a different type of strong white bread flour or all-purpose flour. I wouldn’t substitute white bread flour with rye, spelt, wholemeal or other flours (unless you are a sourdough expert and know how to adjust the doses accordingly) as it will completely change the results.
Chocolate sourdough bread add-ins
Once you’ve mastered this recipe, you can play around with the ingredients. For example, adding dried fruits, nuts or seeds at the ‘second fold’ stage of your bread making process. Juicy cherries or plump raisins, hazelnuts and walnuts, candied orange peel and cranberries, chocolate chips or coarsely chopped chocolate will turn this sourdough from plain loaf to a scrumptious bread with sweet surprises inside!
- 100g rye starter
- 350 ml filtered water
- 450g strong white bread flour
- 50g cocoa powder
- 10g salt
- 20 ml water
- white bread flour or wholemeal flour, for dusting
Put the starter and the water into a large bowl and begin to break up the starter into smaller parts by squeezing it through your hands. Now add the flour and cocoa powder, then, using your hand, gently bring everything together until just combined, which should take only a couple of minutes.
Scrape the dough off your hand into the bowl, then take the dough out of the bowl and place it on a floured work surface, making sure you scrape all the dough out with a scraper. Keep the bowl to one side, as you will need it later.
Push the dough into the work surface with the heel of your hand and knead for about 5 minutes. This helps to gently develop the gluten in your dough and strengthen it. You can use a stand mixer with dough hook attachment for this kneading stage.
Scrape the dough back into the bowl and leave to rest for 40 minutes. Add the salt and 20 ml of water to the dough and gently bring the salt into the dough, mixing it through evenly. Leave to rest for 20 minutes, then give your dough a fold using the “stretch and fold” technique. After folding, leave it to rest for 30 minutes, then give the dough four more folds, resting for 30 minutes each time. Cover the bowl with cling film, a tea towel or a shower cap in between folds. After the final fold, leave the dough for one hour.
For the pre-shape, pop the dough onto a floured counter, then flip it again so the both sides are lightly covered with flour. Using a dough scraper or both hands, pull the dough ball toward you. At the same time, move your hands to the right so that the ball rotates about a quarter turn. Repeat pulling and rotating the dough to stretch and tighten its surface until you have a smooth dough and a nice round shape. Cover with a clean tea towel and leave to rest for 30 minutes.
Take your banneton or proving basket and lightly sprinkle it with flour. Pop the loaf, bottom side up, into the lined proving basket and pinch the dough in the centre along the seam. Place in the fridge for about 8-12 hours, or overnight, so that the fermentation carries on slowly.
Next day, take the dough out of the fridge and leave it for 1 hour before baking.
Preheat your oven to its hottest temperature, 230°C – 250°C fan. Once it’s ready, pop a Dutch oven or cast-iron casserole (such as Le Creuset) into the oven to heat up. Carefully take it out of the oven and gently place the dough ball inside, top side down. Using a sharp knife or a razor blade, cut two or three slashes in the top. Spray the dough with water prior to putting the lid on.
Bake for 35 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for a further 25 minutes. Take the Dutch oven out and very carefully remove the loaf, then pop the loaf back into the oven, directly on the oven shelf, and bake for a further 5 minutes.
Once baked, place on a wire rack to cool down completely, waiting for 1-2 hours before slicing it. This bread loaf will keep for several days, stored in an airtight container.
Rye Sourdough Starter
- 50g inactive sourdough starter
- 50g rye flour
- 50 ml water
Put the flour, water and starter into a glass jar and cover with the lid. Leave at room temperature for 8-14 hours, or overnight if you are planning to make the sourdough in the morning.