Chocolate Cherry Sourdough Bread in “Modernist Bread”

The chocolate cherry sourdough bread recipe is published in the New York Times article, “slicing through the myths to rethink bread.” The article reviews the new bread book, Modernist Bread, chronicling the history and science of the bread making in-depth. It addresses the key question: how do you make the best bread possible?

Do I need another bread book? I own the Modernist Cuisine at Home and have read it from cover to cover. Furthermore, I thoroughly enjoy the deeper explanation and useful variations the “modernist” books provide. This bread book can be useful. But it is also seriously expensive ($600), there is just no way to justify it for a home baker, isn’t there? Why not start baking one of its recipes?

I have tried over the years to make a very dark chocolate bread that tastes like a dessert. Nothing like having a decadent chocolate dessert without the quintessential sugar being one of its ingredients. The bread I tasted at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns, shown below, has fed my fascination in a chocolate sourdough bread. But nothing I tried (black bread or chocolate cherry rolls) came close to that incredible balance of taste, sweetness, texture and color. Overtime, that effort has been relegated to the back burner, until now.

I stayed true to the “modernist” chocolate cherry sourdough bread recipe and followed the process as closely as I could, especially in my first attempt. The bread was everything I’ve expected, and better. Made one loaf, tasted one or two slices, and I gave away the rest of the loaf to my daughter. I wouldn’t have given it to anyone else. Somehow, this chocolate bread has not left the realm of my bread imagination and memory; it was that good.

This chocolate cherry sourdough bread earns a place on your holiday dessert table. What is different about this bread as compared to most sourdough breads I make?

  • The use of yeast as leavener, in conjunction to the basic one-stage sourdough starter.
  • Sourdough starter is in excess of 100% of flour weight, a large amount of sour culture where lactic-acid-producing bacteria or LAB dominates.
  • Hydration is about 89%, considering the high percentage of 100% hydration sourdough starter used. However, the dough was quite manageable.
  • A copious amount of cherries and chocolate chips are added at the second fold, making the bread a delectable celebration dessert/bread.
  • High degree of gluten development is desired.
  • A cold ferment in the refrigerator for 14 to 16 hours is an option. Or proof at about 55 degrees until the dough has increased in size.
  • Cold dough is brought to room temperature in a cold cast-iron Dutch oven. (This reminds me of Westphalian Pumpernickel and Icelandic hot-spring bread that cook low and slow, in sealed pans. The slowly rising internal temperature creates the ideal conditions for the amylase enzymes to transform starches into sugars and the bread carries a slightly molasses notes.) Then bake in the 500°F oven for a total of 43 minutes.
  • The final bread has a subtle sweetness, produced by the enzyme activity and as the sugars caramelize during baking. Meanwhile, there is no sugar at all on the ingredient list.

The addition of yeast, the high percentage of sourdough starter, the cold-temperature proofing and the use of a cold Dutch oven are measures bakers often use to manipulate the yeast, enzyme and LAB balance. They work wonderfully well here to create the complex flavor profile of this bread. This recipe is reminding me what I’ve read in the bread-baking books and the true notion that “baking is biochemistry.” Indeed!


The chocolate bread at Blue Hill

The loaf baked from a “Modernist Bread” recipe

The sweetness of  the chocolate sourdough bread is evident. “Baking is biochemistry.”



Chocolate Cherry Sourdough Bread

Print Recipe
Serves: 8-10


  • 1 heaped teaspoon/8 grams instant dry yeast
  • ¾ cup/185 grams warm water
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon/230 grams liquid sourdough starter (see recipe)
  • 1 ⅔ cups/225 grams bread flour, plus extra for dusting
  • ¼ cup/30 grams cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon/15 grams espresso or very strongly brewed coffee
  • 1 ⅛ teaspoon/7 grams fine salt
  • Canola oil (or other neutral oil), for greasing
  • 1 cup/160 grams dark chocolate chips
  • 1 generous cup/160 grams dried cherries



In a wide mixing bowl, whisk together the yeast and water and allow the yeast to bloom, about 1 minute. Whisk the sourdough starter into the mixture until dissolved, then add the flour, cocoa powder and coffee. Use a dough scraper to stir the ingredients into a shaggy mass. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 20 minutes, then add the salt, incorporating it well. Transfer to a lightly oiled plastic container and cover with plastic wrap; it will be sticky.


Rest dough for 30 minutes, then lightly oil hands to fold: Pull one edge of the dough up and press it down into the center of the ball; repeat with the 3 other edges of the dough, then cover dough. In 30 minutes, repeat the folding, this time incorporating the chocolate chips and cherries. Repeat the folding every half-hour, for a total of 6 folds. Check for gluten development: Pinch a piece of dough between your fingers and stretch it. It should stretch out to a thin, transparent membrane before tearing. If not, repeat folding and check again.


Turn the bread out onto a lightly floured surface and use hands to gently tuck the edges up toward the center of the dough, then flip the dough over so it’s seam-side down, and gently round with your hands. Cover with plastic wrap and rest dough for 20 minutes, then tuck edges down toward the seam, to shape dough into a tighter ball. Cover with plastic wrap and rest for 10 minutes. Transfer to a flour-dusted wicker breadbasket, seam side up, pinching the seam shut if necessary. Wrap basket with plastic wrap, or slide the basket into a clean plastic bag, closing it. Proof at about 55 degrees, or in the refrigerator, for 14 to 16 hours, until dough has increased in size, and springs back slightly to the touch.


When you’re ready to bake, remove the dough from the refrigerator and transfer it, smooth side up, to a large cast-iron pot (with a lid) lined with a round of parchment paper. Be careful not to over-handle dough and lose air bubbles. Cover and bring to room temperature for 1 to 2 hours. Position a baking rack in the center of the oven and heat to 500 degrees. Using a razor or fine, sharp knife blade, score a cross on the top of dough, making a fast, clean cut about 1/8- to 1/4-inch deep.


Bake covered for 33 minutes. Remove lid and bake for another 10 minutes, cracking open the oven door for the last 5 minutes. Push a thermometer into the bread dough; it should read 195 to 200 degrees for cooked bread. Transfer bread to a cooling rack, carefully remove the paper, and allow to cool completely at room temperature before cutting open.


Adapted from The New York Times

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