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?
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.
The blackness in Russian black bread comes from rye and black molasses. It will not have the right flavour if you don't use fennel. I never use white flour... only rye and it is an overnight wait before any kneading. Obviously I am not giving you the whole recipe here but there is a strange ingredient... onions. True Russian black bread has no cocoa or coffee to make it dark. The pauper's ingredients were anything but fine milled and originally white flour rarely made it into the cuisine of the poor.
Fennel seeds were gathered for tea making and also for flavouring. Please make the real thing not with the artificial darkeners etc. It is a powerful, solid bread that will sate your appetite and give you strength... chock full of minerals complex carbohydrates and great flavour. You won't need much as it is very filling.