Do you sometimes wish you could eat the landscape? I do. Like babies, I need to taste the world to apprehend it. If that means I am stuck at a pretty archaic stage of personality development, well, so be it! I will readily grant you that I am the oral type. My grandfather probably had a lot to do with it: he had had two sons, one of whom, my uncle, had tragically died of tuberculosis at age 19. My father gave him three grandsons and one granddaughter. My grandfather had never had a little girl in his life before. He fell hard for me.
To be closer to us (we lived in Paris), he and my grandmother moved from Southwestern France (where they were born and had lived all their lives) to Normandy. We went and visited them every weekend, all year-round and in all kinds of weather. Which means that they saw a great deal of us and often while my brothers were playing war games in the wonderfully half-tamed garden, he took me walking. He had made a little wooden basket for me and when we were not looking for eggs in the chicken coop, we wandered the nearby woods and meadows. But we never walked just for exercise or leisure.
Our neighbor, the farmer, had given us access to the land across the road where he pastured his cows and there was a wood at the end of the bramble-hedged lane that went up the hill: I learned to gather baby dandelions (so utterly delicious in a salad that I still yearn for them almost six decades later) and button-mushrooms in the fields, chanterelles and boleti in the forest, blackberries, wild apples, hazelnuts and walnuts on the way back. I can still recall the puckering taste of sloes and the black stain the walnuts left on my hands. And then of course, there were the fruit and vegetables my grandfather grew, the chickens and the rabbits that he raised and the ducks we bought from the farmer, not to mention the milk we went to get every evening in metal milk pans.
The only thing I didn’t really care for was the bread which we bought from a baker who made his rounds in an old van. On the baker’s days off, my grandfather (who by then was already over 80) rode his Solex (a motorized bicycle) three miles away to another village to get it. It wasn’t good either (I guess I was born and raised at the time bread in France took a precipitous turn for the worse).
Well, these days are long gone but for the past couple of months, they were somehow brought back as I wandered the lanes around our new home enjoying the sun (yes, summer can be gorgeous in the Northwest) and picking blackberries. The blackberries were nothing like the ones I remembered from my childhood though. For a start they were generally sweeter (maybe because August had been so sunny) but also, of course, this being America, they were twice the size. But I filled buckets after buckets. I also ate a lot of them.
Walking, eating and picking and fighting my way out of countless thorny grips, I was listening to a French recorded book on my iPod. That book is one of my favorites. I have read it (in print) over and over to the point that I can often guess what is coming at any given moment. It was written in the early years of the 20th century and the action (such as it is) takes place mostly in and around Paris. The writing is gorgeously descriptive and listening to its music along these brambly lanes in the Pacific Northwest had the strange effect of knitting together the past and the present for me. The cadences of the language and the fragrance of the blackberries slowly wove themselves into a new whole and that’s when I knew with absolute certainty that moving here had been the right call.
Just as I can recall with uncanny precision the exact taste of my childhood, I started to yearn for the taste of the landscape around our new home. We joined a CSA where, wonderfully, part and parcel of the weekly share is the freedom to go to the fields and pick the greens, herbs and flowers we want (out came the little wooden basket which I had cherished but not used all these years). We visit farmers’ markets around our home and recently, as you know if you read my previous post, I went to the Kneading Conference West 2011 where I met local bakers, farmers and millers. I bought local organic all-purpose flour from Fairhaven Mill. Having attended Leslie Mackie and Andrew Ross‘ inspiring presentation on baking with barley, I also purchased local organic barley flour.
I was at the farmers’ market the other day when the sight of gorgeous hazelnuts gave me the idea of baking the flavors of the surrounding landscape into what I love best, bread. I purchased some hazelnuts as well as a quart of honeycrisp unpasteurized cider and I went home. I had previously bought delicately flavored blackberry honey from a local beekeeper who sells through the CSA but I decided against caramelizing the hazelnuts with it. I didn’t want a sweet bread. I wanted a clean-tasting loaf where the soul of the levain would soar to the accompanying music of the roasted hazelnuts and the tang of the cider. I wanted a bread, not a dessert. And that’s what I got.
The fermented taste is mysterious and almost inebriating in its complexity. The flavors of the barley and the cider do not really shine through but they definitely contribute to the whole as by themselves, wheat and hazelnuts would never have yielded such aromas.
I imagine there are endless variations on the theme of the local loaf and I might look for others as the seasons change. I’d love to know which ones you would come up with to define your own landscape if you felt so inclined and didn’t mind sharing.
Meanwhile I am sitting by the fire staring at the rain which has finally come and thinking of the many ways in which my corner of the Pacific Northwest reminds me of Normandy. As for the blackberry honey, it is incomparably delicious on a slice of the landscape…
Ingredients (for 2 loaves):
- 585 g all-purpose flour
- 60 g barley flour
- 387 g water
- 97 g unpasteurized honeycrisp cider (*see note below)
- 194 g liquid levain (at 100% hydration)
- 100 g hazelnuts (roasted for 10 minutes, rubbed together to remove skins and roughly chopped)
- 13 g sea salt
- * Note: what this farmer calls cider is basically apple juice. It has no alcoholic contents whatsoever. What I did though was to keep it unopened in the refrigerator for a week before using it. By then it had reached the stage where, with the boost of the levain fermentation during the slow rising of the dough, it started fermenting in earnest. At least that’s how I explain the slightly boozy taste of this bread. Maybe a scientist would see it differently…
- Mix flours and water until combined and let rest for 45 minutes (autolyse)
- Add levain and salt and mix until medium soft consistency is achieved
- Add cider and mix until absorbed (I had to put the dough into the mixer at that stage and mix on high for a couple of minutes until the dough came off the sides of the bowl)
- Add the hazelnuts and mix on slow for a few minutes until combined
- Set the dough to ferment for as long as it takes for it to stop springing back quickly when poked with a finger
- Divide the dough in two, pre-shape as boules, shape and score as desired (I did one boule, one batard)
- Pre-heat oven to 470°F/243°C
- When loaves are fully proofed (the dough no longer springs back quickly when poked), bake at 470°F/243°C with steam for 10 minutes, lower temperature to 450°F/232°C, bake another 10 minutes, turn the loaves around if necessary and bake another 12 to 15 minutes or until their internal temperature reaches about 210°F/99°C
- Cool on a rack.
The Local Loaf is going to Susan’s Wild Yeast for this week’s issue of Yeastspotting.
What a fantastic looking loaf! Awesome post, as usual….
Teresa Greenway says
Exquisite writing! I was transported back to your childhood. What a lovely post and resultant equally lovely loaf of bread. You are an inspiration and a wonderfully creative woman! Thank you!
I'm always impressed when I see beautifully made bread and seeing yours and hearing the stories behind them bring tears to my eyes.
I can feel your passion in this dreamy post, thanks so much for sharing your childhood days and recipe with us!
@Sally, thank you so much for visiting. I am glad you liked the post.
@Teresa, thank you ever so much. You are too kind.
@Foodiva, thank you. It never ceases to astonish and delight me that words can convey so much…
oh yes. i will be making this bread through winter. i am so happy autumn is finally here! it's truly 'my' season, and this bread is perfect for it. with a little gorgonzola dolci…mmm..
thank you so much for visiting my page. what a beautiful piece of memory you shared in this post -if I have to choose a favorite day in my childhood, it also includes blackberries picking- and what a gorgeous loaf. do you think it could work even with more rye? one practical explanation… what do you mean with "springing back"?
what a beautiful story! what a lucky girl you were, being so close to your grandpa and to nature and building such a close connection to food such that the memory never left you. I can see why you love A la recherche du temps perdu so much.
Thanks for sharing your memories. I can imagine how past, present, senses, emotions and nature all came together for you. And the bread it inspired must have been as worthy.
That is such a beautiful memory you share with us! And the bread looks delicious. I bookmarked it already.
Could it be that the cider you bought is similar to german Federweißer? Federweißer is freshly fermeted grape juice and when the longer you keep it, the more alcohl it developed.
@Francis-Olive, great idea! Thank you.
@myitaliansmorgabord, thank you for visiting. With more rye, you'll change the taste and the structure a little bit but why not give it a try? By "springing back', I mean your fingerprint disappearing very quickly from the surface of the dough. When the dough has proofed enough, a little indentation will remain.
@Anonymous, yes, I was lucky, I know, and it makes me happy you understand what deep connection the book evokes for me. Please let me have your first name.
@Stefanie, thank you! if you try it, please let me know. Yes, I do think it could be similar. It is raw and therefore subject to fermentation. It makes for wonderful layers of flavor.
What a touching and moving story from your childhood you have shared with us, and it has inspired your baking in such a special and wonderful way.
Your 'Local Loaf' is so beautiful, outwardly and with all that went into making it.
@ breadsong, how true that our bread is always much more than just bread. So much of us gets kneaded into it. Thank you for such a kind comment…
Just making your Barley Bread for the third time – we love it!
Next time I will try this one, I like hazelnuts in bread, my favorite Vollkornbrot in Germany is made with whole hazelnuts. One question: why did you add the cider after the dough had firmed up and not together with the levain and salt?
Thanks for sharing the lovely story, very evocative, it brought back fond memories of foraging for mushrooms and blueberries with my grandmother.