Chestnut bread…

As with my sourdough loaf, this is written in real time, as I’m making it. All flour is from Shipton Mill.

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250g organic strong white flour No. 701

250g organic chestnut flour**

3 tablespoons e-v olive oil

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

336ml, 60% hydration, you’ll need it all.

1 teaspoon yeast, made into a starter as usual – in a mug put 200ml lukewarm water, 1 tablespoon flour (before adding salt), and the yeast, stir vigorously until lump free and leave until frothing almost to the top of the mug.

½ teaspoon yeast added directly to the flour

** The chestnut flour is quite coarse, like polenta, and a surprising yellowish colour – all the chestnuts I’ve ever seen have been greyish. Like all nuts, it has no gluten. It’s studded with rock-hard fragments of nut  which, hopefully, will soften with baking.

I’ve read that the Italians make chestnut bread, but the name given for it online, Pane di Farro, is totally wrong – that’s emmer bread – so this is very much baking by the seat of my pants

With all the water, and the oil, added, the dough has the texture of a ball of sticky wet sand, so I left it to sit and absorb the water for 15 minutes, before attempting to work it.

OK – it’s rested, and easier to handle, but it’s like trying to knead concrete – it’s incredibly hard work. Bear in mind, if you’re inclined to get a bit sniffy about that, that everything here is aimed at disabled bread makers, to show how easy it is to make bread. So far, this one isn’t easy at all. I suspect, too, that it will rise like a brick!

Based on the feel of it, I think 20% chestnut flour would have been appropriate – we’ll see.

It took maybe twice as long as normal for the first proving, then I knocked it back, kneaded it until the gluten began to tighten up, divided it into 2 more or less equal parts and shaped them into round loaves, spritzing the tops with olive oil so the don’t dry out and covering them with a bowl to keep the draught off – it’s a windy day.

They’re rising but, so far, not very enthusiastically.

Finally in the oven, after a couple of hours. Not hugely risen, but better than it looked as if they’d be and, hopefully, there’ll be a little oven-spring.

And there was – but only a little (see before and after, below).

Unbaked loaves, sitting on the peel before being slashed and baked. In the background you can just see my bench knife. The white “speckles are the hard bits of nut I mentioned, these are unnoticeable in the finished bread.

The finished loaves – you can clearly see the kissing crust where they were touching. The apparent difference in size is just down to the degree of zoom. IA clearer shot of my bench knife on the right.

Now the loaves are cold I can try one. The texture is close but surprisingly light and almost like cake, the flavour nutty and sweet. Despite the chestnut flour being yellow, the bread is greyish (the colour of bread matters not at all, and has no bearing on the taste). There is, a couple of minutes after eating it, a faint, rather bitter aftertaste. (But see below.)

By the way, when tasting a new recipe, always taste it without butter or, in my case, Clover, to get the true, unadulterated taste of the bread. Wait until it’s cold, too. I know a lot of people, including me, like warm bread slathered with butter, but it really does taste better if you wait a while.

Altogether an interesting loaf, which would almost certainly make a good base for a spicy fruit loaf. However, given the cost of the chestnut flour – £6.00 per kilo compared to £1.30 for my normal flour, not to mention the effort of kneading the stuff – it’s unlikely to be on the menu too often.

That bitter taste worries me, though. It wasn’t apparent in the bread, and didn’t pop up until 2 or 3 minutes afterwards. It lingers, too. It’s not unpleasant, but it just shouldn’t be there and I can’t account for it.

Next day: I’ve just tried another piece of the bread, and the bitterness isn’t there. It’s either something that’s only present soon after it comes out of the oven, and disperses quickly, or it was my sense of taste (I’m taking antibiotics, and they can make stuff taste bitter).  All I’m getting today as an aftertaste is nuttiness – hardly surprising…

Note: Chestnuts are not particularly high in calories, and they are quite low in fat, being only about 2%.

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