Indiana doesn't believe in moderation. Either you're a hardcore conservative or a hardcore liberal. Either you're a Hoosier or an outsider (or, in the words of a local paper, you come from a "wholesome" Indiana town with strong values or you snuck in from a rude, superficial state where women wear bronzer and designer jeans). And the worst dichotomy of all: either it's blazing hot or freezing.
"Fall? What 'fall?'" Indiana's local representative of Mother Nature asks. "Spring? Don't make me laugh."
Last Saturday we had a high of 98°. By Monday morning, we were down to 67°. Now we're back in the 70s, but only because it's going to rain. This happens every year, so I'm more or less used to it ("No it doesn't," Sweetie protests. "This weather is unusual. It will be better next year." Uh huh. We've just had "unusual weather" every year since 2006.) Since I take most of my behavioral cues from the environment, every year when the chilly weather returns I feel the overwhelming urge to do one thing: bake. For the past couple of weeks my trusty plastic sweets box has been filled with this:
Or any number of other things. Double chocolate cookies. Fudge brownies. Maple-oat scones. Incidentally, I've gained a couple of pounds lately, and I have no idea why.
A few days ago I got it into my head that I wanted donuts. But I didn't really want donuts. Not fried Krispy Kreme things. Not sugar-topped cake things. I just wanted some pastry shaped like a donut, with the yeasty texture of a donut, but not the greasy feeling or sugar-crashing aftereffects. In short, I had no idea what I wanted.
So I looked at recipes. I found a recipe for "chocolate doughnut cupcakes" on The Cupcake Project with the caveat: "they...tasted more like pretzels or chocolate bread than doughnuts." To Stef this was a bad thing. To me, it was just what I was looking for. I went to the original recipe on Coconut & Lime because Stef's reprint got cut off. Then I transferred it to my own site so the amount conversion I programmed would pump out the halved ingredients for me. I hate having to do it in my head; I always forget halfway and end up using the full amount of something.
Sweet, chocolately, unremarkable. Just what I was going for. The sugar and chocolate are just strong enough that you know they're there. I'm thinking the only difference between "sweet bread" and "doughnuts" are the frosting and other toppings. I left off the toppings, which means I can freeze the lot and top with whatever I feel like later:
Breakfast today: chocolate bread with Tofutti cream cheese and English Breakfast tea. Substantial? No. Delightful? Of course.
As I was trying the finished rolls yesterday, it occurred to me that here was something familiar about the muted cocoa flavor. Pumpernickel. I think that was what I was after all along. So even though I had already baked that day, I dove into another recipe that popped up at the top of the search results for "pumpernickel": black bread from The Smitten Kitchen. Once again I made some modifications and stuck it into my recipe box site for handy-dandy conversion to a single loaf. I left some things out because I am not as adventurous as Deb. No shallots or fennel seeds for me. No espresso powder, either, because I hate coffee. I was pushing it enough already with caraway, chocolate and apple cider vinegar.
I must show my age here when I say: O.M.G. It smells like rye, but is hearty and slightly sweet, as pumpernickel should be. It would have been even better if I actually used molasses. I'm not even sure if I can call it "pumpernickel" or "black bread" without molasses, but plain old sugar was good enough.
My one issue: it didn't rise much. The texture is soft and spot-on, but I like a little more fluff. With all of the roughage in there, the yeast must have had a tough time reacting with the proteins to effectively trap the carbon dioxide bubbles that make bread rise. A tablespoon of wheat gluten would have helped, but gluten is expensive. Next time I'll make my machine do the work and incubate the dough instead of kneading by hand and leaving it out at room temperature. Alternatively, I could shape round artisan-like loaves so I can say it looks like that on purpose; the only reason it looks so sad and flat is because I expect a big sandwich loaf to come out of the pan.