This chestnut bread is the first recipe I make from the book Crust by Richard Bertinet. I have had the book for close to a year, I have looked at the gorgeous photos quite a few times but I have never watched the DVD that comes with it and never baked from the recipes.
What turned me off, I think, is that the bread that “talked” to me the most was the one he made with Cabernet grape flour. I was longing for this incredible purple crumb and imagining the taste but, first of all, when I checked, the flour was out of stock and then, when it was back in stock, it was so expensive (and shipping was extra) that it just wasn’t worth it. I must have been sulking because I didn’t open the book anymore.
But last time I was in Paris visiting my mother (she lives 5 minutes away from a fantastic health food store), I bought some organic chestnut flour and I remembered it when I saw Trader Joe’s vacuum-packed steamed chestnuts the other day. I don’t know about you but if there is one thing I won’t do is cook and peel a large number of chestnuts.
In my youth, whenever my mom made her signature chestnut milk soup – so delicious! – we had to prepare everything from scratch and I figure I have enough hours of chestnut peeling behind me to last me a lifetime (the white skin inside is the worst!). No more, thank you! So Trader Joe’s to the rescue, as usual!
Armed with chestnut flour and steamed chestnuts, I started looking through my books for a recipe and Crust practically jumped at me from the shelf. I guess time-out was over, I was done sulking and ready for something new. So here it is. Bertinet’s chestnut flour bread! One dough, four shapes and a lot of fun!
Here are the four shapes that Bertinet suggests. His loaves are beautiful but I wanted something a bit more holiday-ish (I won’t have much time to bake before Xmas as I’ll be barely be back from visiting my mom), so I tried different things. The “chestnut” one was “de rigueur” to go with tiny tots (we have plenty of those) and Santa (which we have too as one of our menfolk is always called upon to put on the costume, the beard and the hat and to ring the doorbell, whereupon the tiny tots usually start running for cover, unless this year they finally figure out that Santa sounds strangely familiar, even if they can’t see his face too well behind all this white hair).
Anyway I also wanted to make a loaf that looked like a chestnut. I don’t think I really succeeded. First of all, the scoring opened up much more than I thought it would, then the shape isn’t quite right but who will notice? (I used molasses to get the glazed look in case you are wondering. My family loves molasses, so I won’t get any complaints but if you want to make the bread and don’t like molasses, you may want to start thinking of alternative glaze).
I made the hedgehog shape because I find irresistible! I’ve always loved hedgehogs and not only because of Beatrix Potter…
And finally I made a Christmas carol loaf. I had cut out paper stars which I stuck on the loaf before dusting the whole thing with flour but they disappeared during the baking, swallowed up by the huge chiasms that opened up wherever I had scored.
Since it was my first time ever baking chestnut bread, besides playing with the shapes, I pretty much followed the recipe (except that I used my mixer and Bertinet does it by hand). The only real thing I changed is that I made the pâte fermentée (basically “old dough”) with liquid starter instead of commercial yeast. That’s it.
Everything else is the same, down to the last gram of water. I wasn’t really too sure what to expect, water-wise, since I don’t know whether or not the recipes in the book sold in the US had been re-tested with American flours (somehow I doubt it) and I know nothing about British flours. So I reserved a fair amount of the water (more like 15% than my usual 10%) but I ended up putting it all back in. The chestnut flour sold here (I know Whole Foods carries one from Italy) may absorb more or less water than the one I brought back from France. So exercise caution with the water amount. It is always a good idea anyway.
Because of the pâte fermentée, this bread is made over two days.
Ingredients (for 4 small loaves)
For the prefermented dough
- 175 g mature white starter
- 494 g unbleached all-purpose flour
- 258 g water
- 26 g raw wheat germ
- 12 g salt
For the final dough
- 750 g unbleached all-purpose flour
- 400 g chestnut flour
- 700 g water
- 450 g fermented white dough (for a possible use of the surplus fermented dough, click here)
- 5 g instant dry yeast (Bertinet uses 15 g fresh yeast but I didn’t have any)
- 25 g salt
- 200 g whole, peeled vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts, crumbled into chunks
For the fermented dough
- Mix flour, water and white starter until the flour is well hydrated, cover with a cloth and let rest 20 minutes
- Add salt and mix until you get a gluten window (when you stretch some of the dough really thin, you see strands of gluten and almost-see through spots)
- Put in an oiled bowl and cover tightly
- Let rise at room temperature for about two hours, then put in the fridge for up to 48 hours
- Remove from the fridge at least two hours before using
For the final dough
- Combine the flours in the bowl of the mixer, add the water and mix well. Cover with a cloth and let rest for 30 minutes
- Add the fermented dough and yeast and mix until the dough is smooth and elastic
- Sprinkle the salt over it and mix some more (the dough is really supernice to work with and very fragrant)
- Very lightly flour your work surface. Place your dough on it, rough-side up, and flatten it out with your fingers
- Spread the chestnut pieces over the top and press them well into the dough
- Fold a few times so that all the chestnuts are incorporated into the dough
- Form the dough into a ball, put it into an oiled bowl, cover with a cloth and let it rest for 40 minutes
- Lightly flour your work surface again, and turn the dough out on it
- Fold the dough (on all four sides), then put back into your bowl, cover with baking cloth and let it rest for another 20 minutes
- Lightly flour your work surface again, turn out the dough and divide it into 4×630 g pieces
- Shape as desired (I made two boules and two batards)
- Place on a semolina dusted parchment paper over a sheetpan
- Let rise, covered with baking cloths, for 1 ½ hour or until just doubled in volume (mine didn’t quite double) (my oven is too small to bake 4 loaves at a time, so I let 2 of them proof in the basement where it is much cooler, so that I could stagger the baking)
- Meanwhile turn on the oven to 500ºF/250ºC with a baking stone in it and an empty cast iron (or metal) pan on the bottom shelf
- When ready to bake, score the breads the way you like, pour 1 cup of water in the cast iron (or metal) pan and slide the breads (still on their parchment paper) onto the baking stone, spray some water into the oven and close the door quickly
- After 5 minutes, turn the oven down to 440ºF/220ºC and bake for another 20 minutes
- Check to see if the loaves need to be turned around or if they need to switch places, then bake for another 10 minutes as needed
- Let cool on a rack.
Bertinet doesn’t provide a picture of his crumb, so I can’t compare. Here is the crumb I got, not that great but not too bad either, considering that the bread contains a high percentage of chestnut flour. The taste is unusual and very delicate. I like it a lot…