Red Wine, Fig, and Chestnut Loaf
As it is Valentine’s Day, I decided to bake something special for the love of my life. Devin enjoys good bread and particularly relishes in a well-crafted plain sourdough or a rye with caraway seeds. But, aware that it was a special day, I wanted the bread for him to be a bit more decadent, with ingredients that I don’t usually use. So, I posited the question to him, “If you could have a loaf of bread with any ingredients in it, what would they be?” I added the extra constraint that he couldn’t just ask for a white sourdough or solid rye. He finally settled on a fruit and nut loaf with red wine, similar to the red wine, fig, and pine nut loaf in Dan Lepard’s The Art of Handmade Bread. But, what would the fruit and nut be? Devin particularly likes figs in his breads; the crunch of the seeds, their soft, but toothsome texture, and their mature sweetness. As for the nuts, that decision came to us while at the grocery store. Pine nuts were too expensive and the almonds and walnuts seemed too mundane for this bread. Then, I came across a can of whole chestnuts packed in water. Only familiar with whole chestnuts that required roasting and peeling, I had never tasted or baked with chestnuts package liked these before. I plucked them off the shelf, consulted with Devin, and decided together that they would be a fun experiment to try.
Back in my kitchen I opened up the can to find extremely soft chestnut nuggets. They were not quite what I had expected, yet still delicious and I was determined to incorporate them into the bread somehow. I knew that they would not be able to stand up to a vigorous kneading, their softness and malleability precluding that possibility. To dry them out a bit I tossed them on a baking pan and roasted them at 400 F for about an hour. This helped a bit, yet they were still quite moist. I decided then that a bit of dissolved chestnut in the dough, while not providing any added texture to the bread, would imbue it with an excellent flavor.
As for the wine, I talked to a man at The Wine Thief, a local wine store that is an absolute gem in this town. Whenever I go there I always find wonderful people helping connect me with wonderful wines. I told him that I wanted something that was relatively inexpensive for baking, but still full-bodied and drinkable (as I knew there would be some left over for my consumption). He pointed me to a delicious $6 Chilean Merlot, which I was quite content with.
Thus, with my ingredients identified, I set about creating a recipe. I outlined a couple of stipulations. 1) The chestnuts and figs would have to be soaked in the red wine for a good long while. 2) A combination of whole wheat and white flours would be required. 3) Only sourdough starter would leaven this bread. It seemed appropriate. A loaf of love should take time and care. No shortcuts would be allowed.
Below is the recipe I came up with. The final result: light, open loaves with a moist crumb, a pleasant sweetness of wine and figs, and a smooth, subtle flavor of chestnuts. Devin was quite content. I was quite content. Bread and love … I don’t think I need much more than that.
Red Wine, Fig, & Chestnut Loaf
Yield: ~2500 g (two very large loaves)
50 g mature 100% hydration sourdough
150 g water
150 g whole wheat flour
Dissolve the sourdough in the water until you have a frothy mixture. Add flour and stir until thoroughly combined. Leave covered, at room temperature, for 8-12 hours or overnight.
Fruit, nut, and wine soaker:
250 g red wine
160 g chestnuts, roasted and roughly chopped
260 g dried figs, cut into small pieces
Combine all of the soaker ingredients in a small saucepan and heat to boiling. Simmer for a minute and then remove from the heat. Allow to cool, covered, overnight.
Final dough ingredients:
all of sourdough
all of soaker
650 g liquid (drained soaker + extra water)
300 g whole wheat flour
575 g all-purpose flour
18 g salt
Drain the soaker by placing it in a colander and pressing on it gently. Reserve the drained liquid and add enough water to it to make 650 g of liquid total. In a large bowl combine the sourdough with the liquid. Stir the mixture so that the sourdough is loosened. Add to this the flours and stir until all the flour is hydrated. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes. Add the salt and knead until the dough achieves a medium level of gluten and is able to pass the windowpane test. Gently knead in the drained figs and chestnuts. (The figs and chestnuts will still be quite wet, so this process may be difficult. Don’t worry if the chestnuts fall apart and the figs get a little smashed around. Just keep working them in until evenly distributed and the dough has absorbed the extra liquid.)
Allow the dough to ferment for 4 hours with a fold at 1, 2, and 3 hours.
Divide the dough into two pieces and shape them into balls. Cover the balls with a cloth and let rest for 10 minutes. Shape the balls into tight boules and place upside down in floured proofing baskets. Allow to rise for ~30 minutes at room temperature. Cover the proofing loaves tightly with plastic and place in the refrigerator. Retard the dough for 8-12 hours.
Remove the loaves from the oven and allow to sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours or until the loaves are almost doubled in volume. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 F with a baking stone and steam pan. When the loaves are fully proofed, place in the oven with steam and lower the oven temperature to 440 F. Bake for 20 minutes with steam and then for another 30 minutes without steam at 425 F. Remove the loaves from the oven and let cool completely before cutting into.