Apricot and Hazelnut Country Bread

This is as close as I can get to le Farinoman Fou’s Nectar d’Abricot bread without Air France.

I thought about that bread all summer, with its jammy apricots, toasted hazelnuts, and all kinds of crust and chew. Toasted and slathered with French amounts of butter, it had been one of our favorite breakfasts in Aix.

And now we can have toast just like that at home! Except not just like that. Because making this bread takes longer than the plane ride to France.

But oh, is it worth it.

The recipe is, of course, based on the basic country bread from Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread. Martha has the original recipe and some photos. You don’t need the book to make this, but it’s a nice one to have.

Oh, but you definitely need a scale. And a dutch oven (or some other heavy duty round baker with an oven-safe lid), the international flight time, and a zen brain.

I’ve made a few small changes here. The way the original starter gets made uses up a lot of flour. Multiple loaves of bread’s worth, most of which gets discarded at feeding time. This bothered me. (My mom would be so proud.)

So I took Chad’s advice and thought about the ingredients in percentages. I did some math and came up a plan that keeps flour in the pantry and Chad’s ratio of 20% old starter + 80% fresh water and flour. 

Chad also makes a bread with semolina flour for breakfast, so I thought I would do the same. The semolina gives the loaf a look and taste of fresh cream that is quite pleasing. So does lots and lots of butter.  


APRICOT AND HAZELNUT COUNTRY BREAD
(adapted from Chad Robertson via Martha Stewart)
Makes one lovely loaf in a 9.5” Dutch oven.

THE STARTER
450 grams bread flour
450 grams whole wheat flour (I used white wheat)

Mix the flours together in a large, sealable container. This is what you will feed your starter from. 

Add a big handful of the 50/50 flour to a clean, clear (so you can monitor activity) container. Use your hand to mix in enough water to make a thick batter. Tidy up the sides of the container with a bowl scraper or spatula. 

Cover with a kitchen towel and place in a shady spot that’s free of drafts for 2 to 3 days. After 2 to 3 days, check on it. It will look bubbly and smell like stinky cheese (or worse). If it’s not there yet, give it another day.

When it’s ready, begin feeding (also known as training) your starter. Discard all but 20g of the starter. Add 40g of the 50/50 flour and 40g of water. Mix, tidy up, and cover. Give it a name it if you like. 

Feed the starter like this once a day for 15-20 days. (It’s okay if you forget a day or two.)

THE LEAVEN
1 TB starter
100 grams water at about 78ºF
100 grams 50/50 flour

Mix this together and let it sit overnight for 8 hours. The next morning, test it by dropping a spoonful in a glass of room temperature water. It should float. If it doesn’t, give it another hour.

Note that you only need 100 grams of leaven to make the bread. The leftover leaven is now your starter.

THE BREAD
100 grams leaven
375 grams water at about 80ºF (350 grams if you’re using all bread flour)
250 grams bread flour
250 grams semolina flour (or more bread flour)
50 grams water
10 grams (1.5 tsp.) salt
1 c. dried apricots, thinly sliced, soaking in a little bit of hot water
1/2 c. hazelnuts, lightly toasted, skinned, roughly chopped

AUTOLYSE (25-40 MINS)
In a large bowl, dissolve the 100g of leaven in the 350g water. Mix in the flours. Let rest 25-40 mins. This process of the flour soaking up the water and gluten chains beginning to form is called the autolyse. 

Massage in the salt and the other 50g of water. Waiting to add the salt further helps the gluten to develop.

BULK FERMENTATION (3-4 HRS, WITH A TURN EVERY 1/2 HR) 
Now the bulk fermentation begins. This 3-4 hour rise develops more flavor  and structure in the dough. To help it out, you give it a turn, or series of folds, every half hour.

The dough is temperature sensitive, so try to keep the room around 78-82ºF  for this. 

After half an hour, give the dough the first turn. Dip a floured hand into it, grab the bottom, stretch and fold it on top of itself. Repeat this three times, rotating the bowl a quarter each time.

Wait another another half hour, then give the dough a second turn. (Now is a good time to prep your mix-ins.)

When you do the third turn, sprinkle in the apricots, apricot water, and hazelnuts with each fold. Don’t worry if stuff seems like it’s falling out or not evenly distributed. 

After another half hour, give the dough a fourth turn. WIth the fifth turn, the dough should start to feel softer and bouncier, so be more gentle when you do this one and the next. 

If the dough is soft and bouncy, the sixth turn can be your last one (whew). If it’s not quite there yet, give it another hour, or two more turns.

SHAPING + FORMING (20-30 MINS) 
Next, the dough gets shaped. Use a bowl scraper to turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Use a circular motion to work the dough with your hands and scraper into a taut ball. Cover and let rest for 20-30 mins.

The dough now gets formed the dough into its final baking shape. The pictures in the book are very helpful for this part. Flour the top of the dough. Use the scraper to gently flip it over.

Pull the two bottom corners of the dough towards you and fold them into the center. Then pull the sides out and fold them into the center. Pull the top two corners away from you and fold them into the center. 

Line a bowl or basket with a clean kitchen towel and flour (be very generous). Carefully place the dough ball seam side up in it.

FINAL REST + BAKING (3-4 HRS + 40-45 MINS)
Let the dough rise at room temperature for another 3 to 4 hours. (Go ahead and gasp.) 

Preheat a Dutch oven with the lid on to 500ºF for 20 mins. Carefully invert the dough into the preheated Dutch oven. Score the top with a razor blade if you like. 

Reduce the oven temperature to 450ºF. Put the lid back on the Dutch oven and bake for 20 mins. Remove the lid (watch out for the steam) and bake for another 20-25 mins., until the crust is a deep, dark golden brown. 

Carefully take the bread out of the pot and cool on a wire rack. To double check for doneness, you can take its temperature with a thermometer, which should read 212ºF in the middle. 

Give yourself a little rest before having the best toast ever.

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