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I am interested in making the dense pungent black bread that is traditional in Russia. Recipes for black bread are varied and seem to disagree with one another. Too many of them make spongy, pumpernickel-like loaves which, while good, are not what I'm trying to make.

Is Russian black bread always made with a sourdough starter?

Some recipes have called for cocoa powder or coffee to darken the loaves as just rye flour will often turn out gray instead of dark dark brown.
Are such additives common in traditional black bread recipes? If not how is the dark color obtained?

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i adore russian black bread, and all recipes i've ever seen, even the very old ones, call for either coffee, molasses, or espresso powder. i have no idea how to get that color, though... i am also very curious to know the answer to this! – franko Feb 21 '12 at 20:12
Black bread is culturally seen as low-quality bread in Eastern Europe. It is for the people who can't afford the soft bread from finely milled wheat germ. So I am sure that the original recipes won't include exotic (for the USSR, and even more so for Czarist Russia) ingredients like coffee or cocoa. If a recipe calls for these, it must be someone's try to approximate the color, not an authentic recipe. – rumtscho Feb 22 '12 at 8:45
@rumtscho- this is what I suspected as well. – Sobachatina Feb 22 '12 at 15:47
@Sobachatina is this the bread you wanted? The recipe says it has the "traditional" taste and the picture looks quite black. If it is, tell me, and I will post a translation as an answer. – rumtscho Feb 22 '12 at 18:38
@rumtscho- the picture definitely looks correct- excellent color. The instructions also seem authentic as it does contain a sourdough starter and no "exotic" ingredients. I'm going to try this recipe. – Sobachatina Feb 22 '12 at 19:21
up vote 2 down vote accepted

The primary coloring agents in a traditional black Russian loaf are molasses and dark rye flour.

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The sour dough turns the rye dark - either from sourdough fermentation or from vinegar as some recipes require. The addition of some used coffee grounds (to get the last bit of goodness from it in hard times) helps the color too.

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