This no-knead sourdough loaf is modeled after the dark, sweet, grainy rye breads I became accustomed to encountering in sandwich shops when I lived in southern California. They usually called it squaw bread (I wonder if they still do…) and it makes an excellent foundation for the veggie-loaded sandwiches they do so well down there.
Let’s take a moment to talk about molasses, and how it comes to be. When fresh sugar cane is harvested, it is pressed to yield a juice with about 15% sugar by weight. This cane juice is evaporated, and as water is lost, the solution passes its saturation point and sugars start to crystallize. The syrup is spun in a centrifuge to separate the crystals, which undergo further refinement on their way to becoming white sugar. The dark syrup that remains is molasses, and its darkness is a reflection of the complex products of the sugar cane’s plant biochemistry. Among the “impurities” fractionated into molasses from refined sugar are a significant amount of B vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium, magnesium, copper, potassium and selenium.
Different grades of molasses can be produced in sequential steps of evaporation/extraction. The first batches yield lighter, sweeter syrups. As more sugars are crystallized out, the molasses becomes more dark, bitter and concentrated. Blackstrap molasses is the last stop; after 3 rounds of evaporation, it becomes economically inefficient to extract any more sugar. Blackstrap molasses is the most robustly flavored, lowest in sugar and richest in micronutrients. I love the deeply bittersweet taste, and the bonus nutrition it can bring to baked goods.
My dark bread is made with a blend of rye and wheat flours. I add 1/4 cup per loaf each of molasses and honey, and for even more bitter darkness, I replace half of the water with brewed coffee.
I was compelled to make this bake happen because my household has been suffering nostalgic cravings for San Diego’s legendary Board and Brew – their Veggie Deluxe sandwich was always the absolute veggiest. I’m pleased to report that the bread made my sandwich taste quite authentic, although I still need to prefect my secret orange sauce (anybody out there have theories to share??)
Outside of sandwiches, this bread is also excellent served warm with butter at dinnertime, steakhouse style. You’ll enjoy it toasted at breakfast, and it makes a pretty cool french toast too!
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Combine the sourdough starter, molasses, honey, coffee, and water in a large bowl or lidded container. Add the flours and salt, and mix until it forms a thick, sticky dough. Cover the container loosely with its lid, plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, and allow it to rise at room temperature for approximately 12-24 hours (depending on ambient temperature and culture vigor), until roughly doubled in size.
When you’re ready to bake, prepare a surface for working with the dough by lightly dusting it with all-purpose or whole-wheat flour. Preheat oven to 400 If you have a baking stone, place it on the middle rack. Even though the next steps take some time, start the preheat now anyway; give the oven plenty of time to get the stone really hot.
To shape the dough, begin by evenly dividing the dough into two halves. Pick up each piece, dust the dough with a handful of all-purpose flour and use your hands to shape it into a ball, creating gentle surface tension by stretching each of the four sides of the dough down to the bottom of the ball (the “gluten coat” technique). Shape the dough-ball by patting the dough into an approximately 1.5″ thick rectangle, folding/pressing one edge to the center, rolling the rest of the way, tucking under each of the two ends, and pinching the seam.
Place the shaped loaves on a piece of floured parchment paper placed on a large cutting board (or pizza peel, or other sturdy, rimless platter). If you won’t be using a baking stone, place the parchment onto a large sheet pan instead. Brush the loaves lightly with water, and sprinkle with oats. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and rise in a warm place for about 30-45 minutes, until the loaves have begun to plump.
Use a sharp knife to score the proofed bread, slicing into each loaf with 2-3 shallow cuts (approximately 0.5″ deptat a 45 degree angle. Open the oven and carefully slide the loaves along with their parchment liner onto the baking stone (or transfer the sheet pan). Bake the loaves for about 40-50 minutes until they are deeply browned; doneness can be tested by knocking the loaves bottoms to listen for a hollow sound, or measuring an internal temperature of at least 190 Let the loaves cool on a wire rack, and wait until they are fully cool before slicing or storing in any kind of container; paper bags recommended for storage.