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I’d been wondering lately what to do with a small amount of chestnut flour that was languishing in a bowl in the cupboard when I saw this thread started by dorothydean (Thank you Dorothy!) after she’d read about Casola Marocca on the Slow Food Foundation website.


Chestnut Flour


I brought back around a kilo of chestnut flour from a holiday in Tuscany last October. The holiday had been organised by The Handmade Bakery, the UK’s first Community Supported Bakery (CSB), and included three mornings of baking classes (which turned into more like 3 full days!). We were staying in a villa in Ponte a Moriano, near Lucca, in the foothills of the Alpi Apuane in the north west of Tuscany (Garfagnana region).


October sees the start of the chestnut harvest in the mountains (the chestnut trees only grow above a certain altitude, above the level of the olive groves & vineyards) and on the first day of our holiday we visited the mountain village of Colognora where a chestnut festival was being held. The weather was atrocious, and by the time we arrived (after getting a little lost) the torrential rain had caused the smattering of small food & craft stalls that had been erected amidst the narrow, steep & stony streets, to start packing up. A few hardy souls continued to roast chestnuts, distributing them gratis in soggy paper bags. We were treated to a tour of the Chestnut Museum by the museum’s director, who unfortunately spoke no English. With long fluid sentences & elaborate hand gestures (translated into curt one-liners by our Australian guide!), he explained the innumerable applications of the sweet chestnut; we’d run out of time before we even got to the culinary uses, but there’s a useful summary here.


In order to make flour, chestnuts are dried over smouldering chestnut wood & old husks, in specially built smokehouses, before being shelled & stone-ground.


There seems to be some dispute over it’s keeping qualities, with some sources saying it keeps well year round, whilst others say it needs to be kept in the freezer. This might be affected by production methods which I believe also vary. Mine has kept perfectly well in the cupboard since October.


In the UK, Shipton Mill produce a flour from ‘chestnuts [that] are sourced directly from a small hill farmer, Patrice Duplan, who gathers them from the hills in the Ardeche region of Southern France', according to the blurb. In Tuscany we were told that the French use a different method of drying the chestnuts (I forget how - I've got a vague memory it involved paraffin?! – although I'd be surprised if this was the case with the Shipton.


Other UK sources (thanks zeb) include http://www.luigismailorder.com/ & http://www.flourbin.com/


I have also seen it stocked in wholefood shops.


In the US, Dorothy found this online supplier: http://www.chestnutsonline.com/ & breadsong found it here.


The flour seems very expensive in relation to bread flours, but when compared with other nuts, ground or otherwise, it is very reasonable.


Recipe


The recipe that mrfrost dug up was a hybrid whilst Daisy_A found a pure sourdough version.


(Thank you both!)


Both recipes were in Italian but had been google translated. I started the mrfrost recipe before seeing Daisy_A’s post but had decided to leave out the commercial yeast anyway.


I didn't have as much chestnut flour as the mrfrost recipe called for, so made up the amount with extra white bread flour. After all the additions, the dough was still dry & crumbly, so I added the potato I had left over & extra milk to make a stiff, sticky but workable dough.


So my modified recipe was as follows:


290g  chestnut flour


210g  strong white flour (Doves Farm)


10g    salt


150gr  sourdough


100g   milk


80g   water


20g   oil


110g   mashed potato


Method


I only kneaded it briefly after mixing as I figured there wasn’t much gluten to develop. I gave it a ‘fold’ after the first hour - a bit of an exaggeration: the dough had lost a little of its stickiness but was still stiff, so all I did really was to form a slightly smoother, taughter ball than before.



After another hour, the dough had some spring & had lost it’s stickiness. I just tightened up the ball, being careful not to tear the surface, and put it into a floured banneton. I’m not sure what my reasoning was for doing this, it was more an instinctive act! I guess I felt that the dough wouldn’t benefit structurally from any more folds. If I do this again, I might knead just a little longer after mixing until the stickiness is gone & then put it straight in a banneton.



Another 2.5 hours later, the dough had risen only slightly, almost imperceptibly. I was faced with a choice (since I had to go out an hour later): I could either bake it, leave it on the counter for another 4 or so hours, or refrigerate it (if I could find the space, which was doubtful). I decided to bake. I turned out the loaf and scored it with a deep cross, as mentioned in Daisy_A’s post.




I baked in the same way as I usually bake my sourdough wheat breads: on a preheated kiln shelf, starting high (250-60c) with steam (boiling water in tray below) for 15mins, then down to 200c. I checked internal temp after 30 mins (c.60c) & 40 mins (c.75c). After 55 mins, the internal temp was 92c but the bread still felt very heavy & moist. I needed to leave, so I turned the oven off but left the loaf in.


Results


The dough was obviously underproofed & the bake a bit high, but the result was very visually appealing. I don't think the picture gets the colour very accurately: the crumb was quite purple when first sliced (think darker & more purple than walnut bread), with a purple-red-brown crust, which darkened & mellowed overnight to a chestnut brown (go figure!); the crumb colour too was less pronounced a day later.


When I sliced the loaf in half, I was worried that it wasn't quite done & would be gummy like rye can be, but not at all. Although visually, the crumb texture resembles a rye bread, it feels very different to the touch & in the mouth: it's much drier for a start; this might be due in part to the manner of baking, but I also think that the chestnut flour retains less water than rye. I imagine that one reason for adding the potato is to preserve moisture.



The high bake led to a crunchy crust, like a sweet nutty biscuit (I think the milk contributed to this), which is a great contrast to the close textured, almost meaty, crumb. The sweet smoky flavour is terrific & I’ve had some rapturous responses from some friends who tried it.


I had it first with some Manchego, & the following day with a very similar, but more authentic(!), Pecorino Toscano, both hard ewe’s milk cheeses: a wonderful combination. I also made a mushroom soup, using fresh mushrooms & dried porcini, which was also a good accompaniment.


Other suggestions are soft goat’s cheese & (chestnut) honey, and lardo di Colonnata, or any other salty Tuscan (or other) cured meat.


Why not give it a go!

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geraintbakesbread

Pictures of bagel making process & finished product now on flickr:


http://www.flickr.com/photos/sgratch13/sets/72157625911233716/


Will blog about them later.

geraintbakesbread's picture
geraintbakesbread

As someone who's always fed their sourdough culture 1:1:1 (i.e. equal amounts culture,flour,water: keeps things simple!, although for flour I use 2/3rds wholemeal to 1/3rd white), making a 1:5:6 (culture,flour,water) 'levain build' was a bit daunting. I needn't have worried, as the levain was perfectly active by mid-morning when I was ready to bake.

I let the oats soak in water for 10mins then added & mixed the rest of the ingredients except the sultanas (UK=golden raisins?) which I added after 40 mins. I did almost no kneading, just briefly after mixing to make sure the ingredients were fully incorporatedacclimatise & again briefly after adding the sultanas. The dough, which was tacky but not sticky (drier than I'm used to), passed the windowpane test before I added the sultanas.

I gave the dough an air-fold after an hour. An hour later, when I should have been shaping, my partner Tess was dragging me out of the house on account of it being a beautiful day (& I think she was trying to avoid some onerous paperwork!), so I put the dough in the fridge.

2.5 hours later the dough was back out of the fridge, and after another hour to reacclimatise, I scaled it 2x500g & preshaped round; 25mins later I shaped two batards & put them in floured bannetons. Another 1.5 hours and they were ready for baking; after 35 mins, these emerged:





Nice springy crumb, with the creaminess you get from oats & no discernible sourdough flavour (due probably to the small proportion of mature culture used in the build), but lots of sultana taste. Great with butter & I'm sure even better toasted after a few days.

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geraintbakesbread

I had a busy day in the kitchen yesterday: as well as the semolina w/fennel bread (http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/21639/semolina-bread-wsoaker-amp-fennel-seed) & a Christopomos for the BBA challenge I'm participating in at http://akuindeed.com/?page_id=3099, I had a go at the ciabatta with biga.

I used some Italian '00' flour that I haven't used before:



Protein content is 11%. Reading through other posts at http://mellowbakers.com/index.php?board=67.0 (again, after I'd baked!), it sounds like Hamelman's recipes are geared to stronger American flours. I might give this another go using Doves Farm Organic White (12.5% protein) for comparison (I realise it's not just protein levels that determine gluten quality).

I don't have a mixer so kneading higher hydration doughs can be a challenge. I often use Dan Lepard's no knead method, but wanted to get this done fairly quickly & also wanted to see how well I could manage by hand. I made use of a tip I've picked up along the way, i.e. starting off with less water until the gluten is fairly well developed, then gradually adding the rest. I began by mixing the dough at 65% hydration; this was still very wet, so I used the French method of kneading that I'm sure many of you are familiar with (if not, video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvdtUR-XTG0).


I did this for about 15mins before incorporating the biga, and 10mins later, the rest of the water, which took a further 10.

I performed the folds at 1 & 2hrs, & scaled at 3x500g after 3hrs and left them to proove on floured boards. I somehow missed the bit saying: cover with linen & then plastic, and just used plastic, which was a bit sticky when it came to uncovering them 2hrs later!

Then came the bit which confuses me slightly: Hamelman writes about how fragile they are & not to sneeze near them & yet you're supposed to perform a flip?! Needless to say, they degassed considerably during this operation:



I don't know why I followed this procedure with all three; I wish now I'd baked one without flipping to see how it differed.They all baked well, one after the other, with almost no discernible difference in final appearance, in spite of the fact the last one went in an hour and a half after the first.



I was really pleased with the crust, but a little disappointed with the hole size/distribution. It was good to eat though: I ate half a loaf straight away!



More images at http://www.flickr.com/photos/sgratch13/sets/72157625835166834/

geraintbakesbread's picture
geraintbakesbread

I made this bread as a result of having recently joined the mellowbakers.com site where members bake their way through Jeffrey Hamelman's 'Bread' book.



I love fennel seeds & really enjoyed a semolina bread I made using a Carol Field recipe (from 'The Italian Baker'), so I was looking forward to this.

I made my soaker with millet flakes, along with the wheat flakes & coarse polenta. I wasn't sure how Hamelman defines 'hot', nor how long to soak, but used water at 50oc (122F) and soaked overnight.

For the first time ever, I used the DDT formula to calculate the water temp for the dough, which again needed to be 50oc. Even so, I didn't quite reach the recipe DDT of 76F, the dough being 72F after kneading. Nevertheless, the fermentation times were fairly close to those in the recipe.

The loaves (scaled at 2x488g) came out looking great:






It has a thin chewy crust & springy chewy crumb. The flavour is intriguing - certainly not a wow - but I enjoy the little bursts of fennel & the creaminess imparted by the soaker. I will be interested to see how the flavours develop overnight & also to try it toasted.





We're having hake tonight & I think this should go quite well with it. I'm sure it would be good with a simple white bean soup.

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