Black Bread

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!

By Published On: January 13th, 202355 Comments

About the Author: Chef Mimi

As a self-taught home cook, with many years in the culinary profession, I am passionate about all things food-related. Especially eating!

55 Comments

  1. sallybr January 13, 2023 at 6:24 AM - Reply

    I use charcoal in my sourdough often as I love the dramatic result – this recipe is indeed quite unique – goes in the direction of the brioche with butter added in the end, although I had never seen the butter added after proofing – I imagine you could very well add it in small pieces inside a Kitchen Aid in the final stages of mixing the dough – also it uses both regular yeast and sourdough starter. I used to do that when I wanted to speed my sourdough proofing, but now I just don’t bother, and do overnight bulk proof always.

    Great post! loved it!

    • Chef Mimi January 13, 2023 at 9:27 AM - Reply

      The directions were just really odd, and like I mentioned, I should have halved the recipe. But I’ve never kneaded bread like it, and I’ve been making yeasted breads forever. I also didn’t have fresh yeast, but not sure how that affected anything. A fun experiment!

  2. 2pots2cook January 13, 2023 at 6:54 AM - Reply

    Few years back I’ve made black grissini and failed since I did not pay attention to huge liquids it requires once you add charcoal. Your breads look fantastic! I wonder how would it taste and look if I add nero di seppia….. must work on it to correct my disastrous post…….

    • Chef Mimi January 13, 2023 at 9:28 AM - Reply

      Well I didn’t know that either. There are so many additions that are just straight forward. The squid ink I imagine would create a fishy flavor, don’t you think?!

  3. angiesrecipes January 13, 2023 at 8:07 AM - Reply

    Lovely! I love the dramatic colour from edible charcoal. Cured tuna and wagyu on that menu are nice :-)

    • Chef Mimi January 13, 2023 at 9:29 AM - Reply

      The food at the restaurant was wonderful. A little over the top, but wonderful!

  4. Dorothy's New Vintage Kitchen January 13, 2023 at 8:34 AM - Reply

    What an unusual bread Mimi! I’ve never eaten or even seen this, and I’m surprised at the addition of the butter after the proofing. I wonder about the history, why someone first added charcoal to a bread!
    I think I’m going to have to find some charcoal and do some experimenting!

    • Chef Mimi January 13, 2023 at 9:29 AM - Reply

      I would imagine it’s just a trendy thing, don’t you? It only changes the color. The bread just tasted like bread.

      • Dorothy's New Vintage Kitchen January 13, 2023 at 11:08 AM

        That’s interesting. If it had some subtle charcoal flavor, it would make more sense.

      • Chef Mimi January 13, 2023 at 4:37 PM

        No, it doesn’t. And wouldn’t that be kinda awful?!!

      • Dorothy's New Vintage Kitchen January 14, 2023 at 7:40 AM

        I’m thinking about those little charred edges on grilled bread…

  5. Travel Gourmet January 13, 2023 at 8:38 AM - Reply

    What a great story and interesting bread and recipe!

    • Chef Mimi January 13, 2023 at 9:30 AM - Reply

      Thanks, Kay. That lunch was a wonderful experience.

  6. Molly P January 13, 2023 at 9:14 AM - Reply

    How interesting! I’ve heard of activated charcoal as an ingredient but I’ve never made anything with it myself. Your bread looks delicious!

    • Chef Mimi January 13, 2023 at 9:31 AM - Reply

      The bread turned out great, but nothing exceptional. I wish I could have done something more creative looking with the dough, like a challah, but it was almost impossible to work with. Oh well!

  7. cookingwithauntjuju.com January 13, 2023 at 9:33 AM - Reply

    This is a new bread for me! I’ve made pumpernickel (dark brown) bread with a sourdough starter. To get the dark color I used black coffee and cocoa. Bread is fun to make…

    • Chef Mimi January 13, 2023 at 4:44 PM - Reply

      Yes, I’ve used both of those back when I catered, sometimes molasses. There’s also something I used to get from King Arthur – it was essentially a brown additive for darkening bread, but I don’t remember that it was sweet. Just for color. It is fun to make bread. Carbs just don’t love me. Or maybe they love me too much!

  8. Bernadette January 13, 2023 at 9:42 AM - Reply

    I was going to ask you if the charcoal added a flavor to the bread. But, since you are going to use the charcoal in other recipes, I assume it doesn’t change the flavor?

    • Chef Mimi January 13, 2023 at 4:38 PM - Reply

      No, no flavor at all, just the color. I have no idea what to do with the leftover charcoal!

  9. Charlie DeSando January 13, 2023 at 12:25 PM - Reply

    It’s like pumpernickel, only black

    • Chef Mimi January 13, 2023 at 4:37 PM - Reply

      Well, with only white flour. But it’s pretty!

  10. Mary January 13, 2023 at 1:44 PM - Reply

    I like the sound of this bread and will probably only use a half measurement of the recipe. I have only heard of activated charcoal as a medical aid but into the bread it shall go!
    I guess I could just add the charcoal to my usual sourdough bread and see what happens.
    Thanks Mimi for bringing us a new ‘conundrum’. :))

    • Chef Mimi January 13, 2023 at 4:36 PM - Reply

      Oh you’ll have fun with it! It’s really pretty!

  11. Sherry M January 13, 2023 at 6:40 PM - Reply

    wow this is incredibly odd and interesting. yes looks very hard to get the butter into the dough at that point. There’s something a bit offputting about black food I find. Maybe a caveman twinge that black food is not good for you :=) I admire your fortitude in making this heavy bread.

    • Chef Mimi January 13, 2023 at 6:54 PM - Reply

      Thanks, Sherry. I’m glad that Tandy agreed that the recipe was written strangely. But I’ve never worked in a restaurant kitchen with commercial appliances, so I understood that this recipe didn’t necessary transfer to a home kitchen.

  12. Tandy | Lavender and Lime January 13, 2023 at 10:49 PM - Reply

    Hi, so glad you made the bread, even if it didn’t work out. I have made my own version so won’t try this one. Can I send the restaurant a link to your post? Thank you for the link love and as an aside, I live close to Stellenbosch. There is a new restaurant up the road from us I’m sure you would enjoy. I might try the squid ink as suggested in the comments.

    • Chef Mimi January 14, 2023 at 3:42 PM - Reply

      Stellenbosch was so pretty, but the vineyards and mountains at that time of year really got my attention. Plus, the wines! You’re very lucky. I should have just created a bread dough (I don’t use recipes for yeasted bread) and added the charcoal, because I’m used to my more whole-grain doughs, especially to one with cake flour! It was almost impossible for me to knead. Very strange but a fun experiment nonetheless. Squid ink? I think that might have a fishy flavor, but could be great with a seafood stew or pasta?! You can send the link to the restaurant, but I’m not sure they’d be happy with my post! Again, thanks for doing that.

  13. Gerlinde January 13, 2023 at 11:11 PM - Reply

    I have never seen a bread like yours. It’s very interesting . Good bread is such a treat .

    • Chef Mimi January 14, 2023 at 3:44 PM - Reply

      That’s exactly why I wanted to try it. It was interesting… and pretty!

  14. Anonymous January 14, 2023 at 5:24 PM - Reply

    So dramatic looking. I’d love to serve it and I imagine it’s a big hit when someone hasn’t seen anything like it. Very cool! :-) ~Valentina

    • Chef Mimi January 14, 2023 at 6:24 PM - Reply

      It’s certainly an amazing color! All I can think of is using it for Halloween!

  15. David Scott Allen January 15, 2023 at 9:05 AM - Reply

    I guess I didn’t realize that black bread was a South African “thing.“ Had my first black bread in Namibia, which isn’t far away. I really must try this. If for no, other reason, it is stunning on the plate!

    • Chef Mimi January 16, 2023 at 6:44 PM - Reply

      You know, I didn’t research black bread, or charcoal bread. In this case, it was a very high-end restaurant. Very fancy trendy stuff that I typically roll my eyes at… but everything was really good so I didn’t complain! I should have looked up who uses activated charcoal, except for people in the hospital…

  16. Jean January 15, 2023 at 10:14 AM - Reply

    But they are beautiful–their color and the baguette shape is lovely. What a sweet thing for your friend to get the recipe for you.

    • Chef Mimi January 16, 2023 at 6:42 PM - Reply

      I agree! Bloggers are wonderful people!

  17. Elena Bourke January 16, 2023 at 8:12 AM - Reply

    Always interesting, Mimi. Thanks for this and for tweaking the recipe. We have dear friends from South Africa and they’ve introduced us to several of their native foods, but they have never served this bread. I now look forward to giving this a go and surprising them!

    • Chef Mimi January 16, 2023 at 6:40 PM - Reply

      I don’t think it’s a native food. It was a really high-end over-the-top restaurant. Not my favorite kind to dine at but the food was delicious. I just don’t need to break a bubble and release smoke to have a good meal! The bread was just novel, but also good.

  18. Frank Fariello January 16, 2023 at 8:58 AM - Reply

    Interesting! Sounds like quite a process… I’m curious about the taste. Besides novel color, does the activated charcoal lends a different taste from other sourdoughs you’ve tried?

    • Chef Mimi January 16, 2023 at 6:39 PM - Reply

      The bread didn’t taste like anything particular. Mostly like the butter I put on it! And my husband ate it, and he wouldn’t eat anything “weird”!

  19. Ben | Havocinthekitchen January 16, 2023 at 5:55 PM - Reply

    That’s definitely one of the most unique breads! I have never used charcoal in my cooking, but I’m so intrigued!

    • Chef Mimi January 16, 2023 at 6:37 PM - Reply

      I know! I’m so glad Tandy was able to find out how it was made!

  20. David @ Spiced January 17, 2023 at 6:35 AM - Reply

    Cake flour in a bread recipe? Well I’ll be! I remember when black bread was trendy here in the US – maybe 3-4 years ago-ish? I think Burger King even jumped on the trend and had black buns. I kept meaning to try my hand at it, but I never got around to it. I’ll have to try it sometime! Plus, it’s so cool that the restaurant shared their recipe. I respect restaurants more when they do cool stuff like that!

    • Chef Mimi January 17, 2023 at 5:29 PM - Reply

      Yeah, that must have been the reason I had such a hard time with the dough. It was very strange. Gosh, I don’t remember the trend. But you’re right, it was really nice that the restaurant shared the recipe.

  21. Pauline January 17, 2023 at 9:53 PM - Reply

    Mimi I am just fascinated by this recipe, because I love to make sourdough bread, and have never made it this way either. It’s good to do fun things with food though so I might try to order some of the activated charcoal and try it out. I’m sure it’s very trendy and looks lovely on the bed of rosemary. Nice to have with a cheese platter and a glass of red. I love all of the heartfelt research you put into this recipe:)

    • Chef Mimi January 18, 2023 at 8:34 AM - Reply

      I appreciate the compliment! Trendy for sure, but definitely unique to me. And it was good!

  22. Hannah Kaminsky January 18, 2023 at 11:39 AM - Reply

    That’s a real show-stopping loaf! I love the sound of it, especially because I somehow ended up with a ton of food-grade charcoal and no ideas for using it. This one is definitely on the list.

    • Chef Mimi January 19, 2023 at 7:52 AM - Reply

      Oh interesting. Well, the bread definitely works but I’m trying hard to think of how else to use it. I mean, who wants black food?!!! Again, Halloween!

  23. neil@neilshealthymeals.com January 21, 2023 at 8:17 AM - Reply

    Well that’s a different bread altogether! Lynne and I do hope to get to South Africa one day (one of our many destinations to go to on our list) so I’ll be remembering this recipe post!

    • Chef Mimi January 21, 2023 at 9:36 AM - Reply

      The whole wine country region is so beautiful, and every winery we went to was spectacular. I’d love to go again!

  24. Carrie Tyler January 23, 2023 at 7:02 AM - Reply

    I always love how your recipes tie into an experience. This bread is certainly dramatic. I don’t bake bread, but if I did, something fun and dramatic like this is what I would try! As always, you’ve inspired me ;)

    • Chef Mimi January 23, 2023 at 7:08 AM - Reply

      Aww, thanks Carrie!

  25. nancyc January 23, 2023 at 8:20 PM - Reply

    Wow, I had no idea you could use activated charcoal to make bread—that’s so interesting! I like dark breads so I’m sure I would like this!

    • Chef Mimi January 24, 2023 at 7:30 AM - Reply

      I don’t think it did anything flavor wise, just changed the color!

  26. Raymund January 26, 2023 at 3:06 PM - Reply

    Yeah agree they dont add flavour just colour, had tried this several times but on a burger, it was a fad hence I gave it a shot

    • Chef Mimi January 26, 2023 at 4:41 PM - Reply

      I had no idea it was a trend. Where have I been?! It was fun trying it out.

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