Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Chesnut Bread with Cocoa Nibs

I know I already posted this bread but it was ages ago and this version is a bit different: I used regular pâte fermentée (yeasted old dough) instead of dough fermented with levain and I added cocoa nibs for the crunch. It worked well: the bread carries the inimitable taste and sweetness of chestnuts and the hint of chocolate makes it appealingly festive. How I wish good chestnut flour was more readily available in this country... The only time I tried and bought some (from Whole Foods no less), it had been smoked (or the chestnuts had been smoked before they were dried and milled) and the resulting bread tasted just like I imagine soap might. This time I used organic chestnut flour a friend sent me from France as a Christmas present (merci, toi!) and it was simply perfect. If Whole Foods ever wanted to find a good source for chestnut flour, maybe it could check out this one.
Of course it'd probably be horridly expensive (not that the soapy one was cheap, mind  you!). So the next question is why don't we produce and eat chestnuts in this country? I looked it up on 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

Pâte fermentée
  1. Mix flour, yeast and salt
  2. Add water and mix until incorporated
  3. Mix until smooth
  4. Let rise, covered, at room temp for 6 hours or in the fridge overnight (for up to 48 hours)
Final dough
  1. Combine flours
  2. Add water
  3. Mix well and autolyse for 30 minutes
  4. Add fermented dough and yeast and mix until smooth
  5. Add salt and mix again. Dough should no longer be sticky
  6. Place dough on bench and flatten it with fingers
  7. Spread chestnut pieces over the top and press them down well into the dough
  8. Fold a few times until well incorporated
  9. Form dough in a ball, cover and let rest for 40 min
  10. Give it a fold
  11. Let rest another 20 min
  12. Divide @ 630 g and shape into elongated or round shapes
  13. Let rise for 1 hour and 30 min
  14. Snip tops with scissors or score with knife
  15. Bake in 500°F/250°C oven with steam
  16. After 5 min turn temperature down to 440°F/220°C and bake for another 20 minutes
  17. Cool on rack
  18. Enjoy!
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.


  1. Oh, my good, the timing of this bread is perfect! "Someone" is going to France soon, and I will search for this flour and bring a bag with me.... oh, la la


    gorgeous bread, you are quite simply a fantastic bread baker!

    1. Sally, you are too kind but really I am not. It'd be way more accurate to say that I am maturing as a baker (and in other ways too, LOL!). That's a good feeling, one that comes with the knowledge that there is way more to learn than I can possibly ever hold in my head and hands but then that's the whole fun, isn't it?...

  2. I have this terrible urge to mutter about chestnuts to you. In the winter nearly all the chestnuts that turn up in the shops in England now come from China from a different species of chestnut tree. I think our native sweet chestnut trees have this fungus as well http://www.forestry.gov.uk/chestnutblight The Chinese ones are bigger and blander than the European chestnuts which we still see from time to time. I read an article before Christmas saying that Chinese ones were being passed off as Italian ones this winter to meet demand as it outstripped production. The Chinese species produces nuts that are far harder to peel and strangely unlovely in aroma and taste. The irony of course is that chestnut flour was poor people's food, used to eek out the more expensive wheat flour. I have a bag of organic French chestnut flour and vac packed chestnuts and will definitely make your beautiful bread to celebrate and maybe mourn the passing of the sweet chestnut tree as we know it. Joanna x

    1. Sorry to hear that, Joanna! I hope the blight doesn't get to France or Italy... I read about Chinese chestnuts being imported in the US as well. The article said to stay away from them as they were usually oldish and very hard to peel indeed. Well, I solved the problem by never buying fresh chestnuts in this country. To think that I grew up on the chestnut-milk soup my mom used to love to make in the winter... The things we take for granted when we are kids! I do hope you make the bread. Please keep me posted!

  3. What a beautiful recipe.
    I love the sweet and warm flavour of chestnut flour, and the cocoa nibs are just the perfect touch.
    The stencil looks gorgeous, well done, you are a great baker.
    Have a lovely day

    1. Hello Lou, thank you for your kind words, I don't think I am a great baker but it is very sweet of you to say so. What I will say is that I am more confident than I used to be, maybe because I now know mistakes are the best teachers!

  4. Buenos dias , este pan es ideal ...me encanta utilizar harina de castañas y sobre todo de las que recolecto de mis arboles ...hacen un pan ideal para desayunar....saludos desde España , VIGO ..MARIMI

  5. Hola, Marimi! Muchas gracias por tu comentario. Me alegra que me leas desde España y que te guste este pan! Un abrazo, MC

  6. Wonderful bread! I just bought cocoa nibs at our natural food store, where they also have chestnut flour that tastes fine.
    I'm glad your formula doesn't require a complete body work-out, slapping the dough for half an hour (and spending another half hour to clean up the resulting mess from the counter.)
    Here in Bar Harbor are a few chestnuts that survived the blight, they look gnarly and their leaves turn brown early, but every spring they produce new buds. I heard that there are efforts to breed blight resistant chestnuts to bring them back to the US, I hope they succeed.

    1. Hello, Karin! I am with you, I did have my slapping period but it was very brief. Never did it again after taking Artisan Bread II at SFBI! The instructor, Frank Sally, demoed hand-mixing for us and said: "Mixing dough is a very gentle activity. You can be over 90 and still do it.."
      I am happy to hear there is good chestnut flour to be found in parts of the country. Maybe you could share the brand? Please let me know how the bread turns out if you end up making it...

    2. This will be my first project, when I'm home from my mother-daughter trip to Boston. I will check the brand of the chestnut flour, and, of course, report back on my results. Can't wait to try it!

  7. Chestnut flour is available in Indian Stores. As it something they eat on religious occasions. D



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