Pain de Châtaigne

Chestnut Bread

In the low-beamed boulangerie half-way down the Grande Rue, Maurice Vignon has been persuaded by his wife to revive some of the bread of their childhood. This chestnut bread is particularly good, sliced thinly and served with saucisson sec or jambon cru. By using dried chestnuts this moist, fragrant loaf can be made at any time of the year.

Ingredients

  • 225 g(8 oz) dried chestnuts
  • 2 teaspoons dried yeast
  • 450 g(1 lb) white bread flour
  • 225 g(8 oz) 100 per cent wholemeal flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • a little olive oil or butter

Method

Rinse the chestnuts in cold water and soak overnight in cold water to cover. Next day, simmer, covered, for 45 minutes or until cooked and floury. Remove from the heat and allow the chestnuts to cool in their cooking water.

Transfer the chestnuts to a food processor. Add some of the cooking water and reserve the rest. Purée the chestnuts until the mixture is smooth but still grainy. Sprinkle the yeast on 150 ml(¼ pt) warm water in a small bowl and leave for 10 minutes until foamy.

In a mixing bowl, stir the white and wholemeal flours with the salt. Add the chestnut purée, the foamy yeast and sufficient of the chestnut cooking water to make a soft dough. Knead the dough on a floured board for 3 minutes and return to the bowl. Cover with a roomy plastic bag and allow to double in volume. This takes 1–2 hours in a warm room or overnight in a cool room.

Knead the dough again for 1–2 minutes. Divide in four and shape each piece into an oval loaf. Place on a greased and floured baking sheet and make a shallow cut down the centre of each loaf. Set aside to prove for 30 minutes.

Bake the bread in a hot oven (Mark 7, 220°C, 425°F) for about 45 minutes or until each loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath. Remove from the oven and rub the tops of the loaves with a little oil or butter. Cool the bread on a wire rack.

Sometimes I place one or two of the loaves to prove in a well-floured round or oval basket. When it is risen and puffy, gently turn the loaf, upside down, on to a greased and floured baking sheet, cut a line across the top and leave for 10 minutes. Then bake as above; the basket leaves an attractive design on the crust of a loaf cooked in this way.

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