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Cherniy Hleb

Cherniy Hleb (Russian black rye bread)

(Russian black bread)

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A hearty loaf of sourdough rye bread represents for many Russians the core of the Russian soul. As an old Russian saying goes, "porridge is our mother; bread is our father."

Rye bread, called black bread (черный хлеб, pronounced CHOR-nee khlebf) in Russian, enjoys particular favor in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe due to rye's ability to thrive in higher latitudes.

Two common types of Russian black bread are Borodinsky bread, which is baked in a loaf pan, and Darnitsky bread, which this recipe approximates.

1 (1-pound) loaf


Dough Starter

  • Active dry yeast -- 1 (1/4-ounce) package
  • Warm (110°F) water -- 1/2 cup
  • Rye flour -- 3/4 cup
  • Bread flour -- 3/4 cup
  • Water -- 1 cup
  • Dark molasses -- 3 tablespoons

Flour Mixture

  • Whole-wheat flour -- 1 1/2 cups
  • Bread flour -- 1 cup
  • Caraway seeds -- 2 tablespoons
  • Cocoa powder -- 1 tablespoon
  • Onion powder-- 1 tablespoon
  • Salt -- 1 teaspoon
  • Cider vinegar -- 2 tablespoons
  • Oil -- 1 tablespoon
  • Cornmeal -- for the baking tray


  1. Mix the yeast and 1/2 cup warm water together in a large bowl and set aside for about 10 minutes to activate the yeast. Stir in the remaining dough starter ingredients.
  2. In another bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients except for the vinegar, oil and cornmeal. Pour the flour mixture over the starter and do not stir. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a clean towel and set aside for 2 to 5 hours to allow the starter to ferment. The starter will bubble up through the flour mixture.
  3. Add the vinegar and oil to the flour mixture and use a wooden spoon to stir the flour mixture into the starter. As the mixture comes together, remove the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. The dough might be a little sticky. Knead in just enough extra flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands.
  4. Set the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl and spread a little oil over the top of the dough. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel and set in a warm part of the kitchen to rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
  5. Remove the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Punch down the dough and lightly knead it 3 or 4 times. Form into a ball, return to the bowl, cover and let rise for another 45 minutes or so.
  6. Preheat oven to 450°F and set the shelf at the lowest level. Put a small metal pan in the oven (you will use this later). Press down and deflate the dough again and then form it into a ball. Sprinkle the cornmeal onto a baking sheet and set the dough on the baking sheet, with any seams facing down. Lightly oil the top of the dough and cover it with plastic wrap. Set aside to rise for another hour.
  7. Use a sharp knife or razor blade to slash the top of the dough in 3 parallel lines about 1/4-inch deep. Then slash with another set of 3 lines perpendicular to the first set. Use a spray bottle to mist the dough with water.
  8. Set the baking sheet in the oven and pour about 1 cup of water into the small pan to create steam. Shut the door immediately and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 400°F and bake for another 35 to 45 minutes. (An insta-read thermometer inserted into the middle of the loaf should register 190°F.)
  9. Set the loaf on a cooling rack and cool completely before slicing.

Cherniy Hleb (Russian Black Bread) Variations

  • Coloring the Bread: Rye breads are naturally darker than wheat breads, but a number of ingredients can be added to Russian rye to give it a darker color and a more toothsome flavor. The recipe above uses molasses and cocoa. Other recipes call for a tablespoon of grated baking chocolate or instant coffee powder.
  • Fiber Additions: Enrich your bread and give it healthful fiber by adding 1/4 cup oat bran, wheat bran or ground flax seed to the flour mixture.
  • Seeds and Spices: Flavor the bread with 1 tablespoon of fennel seed or ground coriander. Stir 1/4 cup of sunflower, pumpkin or whole flax seeds into the flour mixture.
  • Borodinsky, or Borodino, Bread (Бородинский хлеб): A soft rye bread flavored with ground coriander and baked in a loaf pan.
  • Darnitsky Bread (Дарницкий хлеб): A common sourdough rye baked as a round loaf. The recipe above approximates a loaf of Darnitsky rye bread.


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