The Chocolate Cherry Bread Monster

Those of you who know me reasonably well know that I have bread issues. That is, for many years, bread just wouldn’t work for me. It would come out of the oven okay and would quickly turn into a hard lump. Every single time. In an effort to remove myself from the blame for this, I pointed to an erratic gas oven (I made great bread at cooking school, and I grew up making bread two or three times a week with my Grandmother – I knew how to do it), and headed off to the store to buy bread, having given up on the kneading and the punching and the proofing and the wasting of ingredients.

Something else that has given me trouble over the years is Vegetarian Times Magazine. Not the magazine itself, but the recipes, which always hurt my head a bit in their logic and which come with introductions like “Threw this together last night for the kids!” That’s fine for a blog, but in a nationally-published magazine, I expect some triple-testing going on to make sure the recipe makes sense. Since most of their recipes didn’t make sense, and seemed like a disaster waiting to happen, I stopped buying the thing.

Now, remember that I am a food writer and editor. It is part of my job to go over recipes that my writers want to post with a fine-toothed comb to look for anything that might not work. Early on, a young and enthusiastic writer came up with a piece on healthy snack alternatives and suggested that readers should add a tablespoon of cinnamon to a half cup of applesauce. My face turns inside out at the mere thought – a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon would be about the right proportion for this treat – a whole tablespoon would be overwhelmingly unappealing.

So how I managed to completely gap on this knowledge and expectation when reading the recent issue of Vegetarian Times, I’ll never know, but I did. I jumped feet first into 1. a bread recipe, and 2. a badly proportioned bread recipe from that bastion of poorly thought-out recipes, Vegetarian Times. My excuse is that I was distracted by the chocolate and the cherries.

Things were going well until it came time to add the garnish, and this is where I should have caught the problem. 1-1/2 cups of chopped cherries, plus 1/2 cup of chocolate chips to a lump of dough with only 2 cups of flour… seems like a bit too much garnish, hmmm? And look at that… why does it call for less dried cherries than fresh? Given that fresh cherries, even well-drained ones, are going to make a dough very wet, I’m guessing those amounts were transposed at some point. Or that the recipe was only made with dried cherries, without testing it with the fresh. In any case, the full two cups of garnish never made it into my bread, maybe a cup and a half, but that’s an optimistic figure. Also, following the instructions as they were laid out with regards to adding the garnish, there is no way kneading the dough ten or twelve times would fully incorporate that much stuff. It took another five or ten minutes of kneading and a whole lot more flour, and the dough was still freakishly wet.

There was a whole lot of cursing going on, and I considered pitching the whole thing. After proofing and shaping the dough, and letting it rise the second time, I popped the buns in the oven and cursed some more. Twenty-five minutes later, expecting a big wet chocolate glob, I had… chocolate cherry bread. And it was good. Really good.

I really don’t know how that happened, but there they were, little chocolate buns, and they rocked. They were absolutely delicious, the crumb was light and fine, as it should be, the cherries and chocolate were luscious. I’m set to make these again, perhaps with candied orange peel or some spices.

I’m still sceptical about my bread curse, but after having survived trial by fire with the chocolate bread, I’m ready to give an easier recipe a go. And I’ve totally learned my lesson with regards to not checking published recipes more carefully. Particularly ones from VT.

Chocolate-Cherry Breakfast Bread

1 .25-oz pkg. yeast
1/3 cup, plus 1 Tbsp sugar
1 cup warm water
2-1/3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen pitted cherries, drained or 1 cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped (1 cup fresh cherries, chopped and well-drained)

Dissolve yeast and 1 Tbsp sugar in 1 cup warm water. Let stand 5 minutes or until water is cloudy and smells yeasty.

Sift remaining sugar, flour, salt and cocoa into large mixing bowl. Add water and yeast to flour mixture and stir until a smooth dough forms. Fold in butter. Transfer dough to a well-floured surface and knead for 7 – 10 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic and no longer sticks to your hands.

Pat dough into a 10-inch square. Place chocolate pieces and cherries in centre of square, then fold in sides like an envelope. Press edges to seal. Gently knead dough 10 to 12 times, or until chocolate and cherries are evenly distributed throughout. (Instead of making an envelope, simply sprinkle a mixture of cherries and chocolate chips onto the bread bit by bit and knead each section in, adding more flour as necessary to keep the dough from becoming too wet and glommy.)

Transfer to oiled bowl. Cover with a clean dishtowel, and let rise 1-1/2 hours in a warm place.

Punch down dough, then place on a well-floured work surface. Roll into thick log, then cut log into 16 equal rounds. Roll each round into a tight ball and place on baking sheet coated with non-stick cooking spray. Set baking sheet in warm place and let rolls rise for 30 to 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375F. Bake rolls 20 to 25 minutes, or until tops appear dry and centers spring back when touched.