Wikipedia and it is a sad story: our chestnut trees (we had over three billions of them) were wiped out by a blight: the pathogen remains alive and well on other trees which it treats as hosts and doesn't harm, waiting to jump back on chestnut trees if someone is brave enough to plant new ones. I guess I may not see American chestnut flour in my lifetime but who knows? Climate change might help eliminate the fungus. Of course, it might also bring about the complete extinction of the tree on this continent...
I debated the usefulness of posting the formula since good chestnut flour is so hard to find here but then, what the heck, some of you may live in France or travel to France or have family and friends going there who might be willing to bring some back. By the way you don't have to make bread with it: I bet the flour does wonders in crêpes too!
The vacuum-packed chestnuts themselves were easier to find: I got them at Trader Joe's in December. Unopened, they keep a very long time in the refrigerator and you know what? They come from France as well!
Finally I want to say I mightn't have thought of making this bread right now if we hadn't gone for lunch last week to Sitka and Spruce, a little place in Seattle where they have a tiny menu and small plates but where the flavor combinations never disappoint. I had a bowl of chestnut soup with fermented cranberries and home-cured pancetta. It was so enticing I had to take a picture (something I almost never do in a restaurant because it rarely turns out okay) and it tasted so good it made me want to go home and bake bread. Which I did. I replaced the pancetta with cocoa nibs (thank you, my Seattle friend -you know who you are!- for kindly giving me your stash when you remodeled your kitchen). I drew the line at cranberries for fear they might overpower the delicate taste of the chestnuts but I might try and add in dried ones next time, just for the color!
For those of you who are using BreadStorm (including the free version), please click on this link to import the formula. For more on BreadStorm, you may want to read this post.
Adapted from Crust by Richard Bertinet, p. 102
Makes four small loaves
- Mix flour, yeast and salt
- Add water and mix until incorporated
- Mix until smooth
- Let rise, covered, at room temp for 6 hours or in the fridge overnight (for up to 48 hours)
- Combine flours
- Add water
- Mix well and autolyse for 30 minutes
- Add fermented dough and yeast and mix until smooth
- Add salt and mix again. Dough should no longer be sticky
- Place dough on bench and flatten it with fingers
- Spread chestnut pieces over the top and press them down well into the dough
- Fold a few times until well incorporated
- Form dough in a ball, cover and let rest for 40 min
- Give it a fold
- Let rest another 20 min
- Divide @ 630 g and shape into elongated or round shapes
- Let rise for 1 hour and 30 min
- Snip tops with scissors or score with knife
- Bake in 500°F/250°C oven with steam
- After 5 min turn temperature down to 440°F/220°C and bake for another 20 minutes
- Cool on rack
I found the chestnut leaf stencil on this website and the Man was good enough to cut it out for me. In exchange, he got to try and eat his weight in chestnut bread.