Made with Acorns - Acorn Levain à la Tartine
During my childhood, we kids used to gather acorns and chestnuts (not the edible kind) to make funny little gnomes from them. Nice and shiny as they looked, I knew that only pigs and squirrels could eat them, they were much too bitter for human consumption.
When I read a facebook post ("Bread History & Practice") about the possibility to use acorns in bread baking, I was intrigued - the huge European oaks in our neighborhood had produced a bumper crop of acorns this year.
To remove the bitter tannins from the acorns they have to be leached. This process, described in "Acorns: The Inside Story", takes a bit of time, but is pretty easy. Repeated soaking of the ground acorns in cold water (instead of boiling the kernels) works best for bread making, since this gentler method preserves the binding qualities of the acorn meal.
My resident bread tester (aka husband), helped me to gather a bag full of acorns, and I left them to dry for several weeks on our porch - the kernels shrink a bit, and are then easier to remove from the shells.
Cracking acorns is no more difficult than cracking hazelnuts
With a nutcracker, the acorns could be cracked like hazelnuts, and I ended up with about half a pound of kernels.
First the acorns have to be ground with water in the food processor (water prevents them from turning into greasy nut butter). The meal has to be rinsed in a fine-mesh strainer, before transferring it to a bowl, and soaking it in a lot of cold water. I rinsed, drained and soaked the acorn meal three times a day.
Grinding the acorns with water in the food processor
After two days I started testing the meal for bitterness, and finally, after three days of leaching, the tannins had been washed out, and the meal tasted similar to walnuts, but a bit milder.
The wet acorn meal had to be dried, either spread out on a baking sheet in the oven at very low heat, or, if you own one, in a dehydrator (lowest setting).
Now I had my acorn meal, ready to use. But what kind of bread could I bake with it? A simple, skillet bread wouldn't do it for me, I wanted a real loaf with a nice rise. My usual to-go bread (if I'm not trying out a specific recipe) is based on Tartine breads, and this is what I ended up with:
Acorn Levain à la Tartine