In May of 2022 my husband and I were lucky enough to visit South Africa. We were at two destinations – one was Grootbos Nature preserve, southwest of Cape Town, and the second was Stellenbosch, inland east of Cape Town. Stellenbosch is a gorgeous, obviously Dutch influenced town, surrounded by the Cape Winelands vineyards, as shown below. It was early fall when we were there, and the vineyards and mountains formed a stunning panorama.
For lunch one day, we had a multi-course lunch at the restaurant at the Rust En Vrede Wine Estate. The restaurant is in an original cellar, with an open kitchen; the cuisine is modern and edgy. Here was our menu:
One item really grabbed my attention. Black bread!
After our trip, I contacted Tandy Sinclair, of the blog Lavender and Lime, who lives in South Africa. I wanted to share with her how much we loved our visit to her native country; she actually lives quite close to Grootbos. Plus I mentioned the bread and restaurant.
It turns out Tandy and her husband actually ate at the same restaurant for an anniversary dinner. Unbeknownst to me, she contacted the kitchen manageress, Lauren Buchanan, on my behalf and asked for the bread recipe. That’s when we both discovered that the black color is from activated charcoal.
And, of course, I was able to purchase a jar from Amazon!
The recipe was emailed to Tandy and she forwarded it to me. It’s not how I’d write a recipe, and Tandy and I both agreed that there were some odd discrepancies, but I stayed true to the ingredients, but re-wrote the method.
I’m really grateful to Tandy for her thoughtfulness, and also to the restaurant for sharing. I’ve never before enjoyed black bread!
One note on this bread – the dough weighed 7 pounds. I recommend cutting the recipe in half, especially if you’re not used to working with such a large amount of dough like me.
Activated Charcoal Sourdough Bread
1 kg cake flour (2.2 pounds)
1 kg bread flour (2.2 pounds)
60g sugar (2 ounces)
50g salt (1.7 ounces)
30g activated charcoal (1 ounce)
30g or 1 ounce fresh yeast (I used packaged)
150g sourdough starter (5.3 ounces)
600ml milk (20 ounces)
600ml water (20 ounces)
200g butter (7 ounces)
Mix all the dry ingredients together.
Activate your yeast, which I did in a small amount of water with a little sugar, plus I warmed the milk and water.
Add the activated yeast, the sourdough starter, plus the milk and water to the dry ingredients. This took two large bowls and a back and forth between liquid and dry. What an ordeal!
According to the directions, knead for 8 minutes. One weighed 3 pound 12 ounces, the other weighed 3 pound 7 ounces. I put each in a greased bowl, covered with a warm towel and placed the bowls in my warming oven on the proof setting for one and a half hours.
The directions say to then add butter, and mix until well combined. This was a challenge with such a stiff dough. Plus a greasy mess. Obviously in a commercial kitchen there’s a large machine that is capable of this task. I’ve never seen such a final step in a yeasted bread. In any case, I incorporated all 7 ounces of the butter into the larger dough as best I could, weighed it again, then cut evenly into thirds for my baguette pan, about 20 ounces each.
While waiting on the oven to reach 400 degrees, I let the baguettes rise, about 45 minutes in total.
The breads were baked after 20 minutes. I let the baguettes rest before slicing.
The texture of the dough was something I’ve never experienced before, which might be because of the sourdough? My typical way of making sourdough is to let a thin dough sour for a few days, a technique I learned from Martha Rose Schulman years ago. I posted about this technique here. Or maybe because I typically use some percentage of whole-grain flours in my breads, certainly not cake flour. Nonetheless, despite the fact that these baguettes didn’t turn out beautiful, the bread itself was very good and stunning.
And I even managed to get the butter to look like a Playboy bunny!
If I had really been thinking, this would have been a fun bread to make at Halloween!!! But next year I’ll just make my own dough and add activated charcoal to it.
I used the second “half” of the dough to make rolls, but they were almost a complete disaster because the texture of the dough was so odd to work with. I did not take a photo of them!