Pain Aux Pommes

Two weeks in the making, this is the bread I mentioned in my post about the blueberry fougasse that is made on a starter of fermented apples. It was the first time I had ever fermented anything (on purpose) and I was excited about that (though the actual process mostly involves a lot of waiting) and I like the idea of starting bread on fermented fruit. I'd never heard of that, and it is definitely an idea that merits more attention and experimentation. Just think of everything that's been fermented to wonderful effect, and how many breads that could mean!
The bread also has a very nice texture and flavor. It uses a ratio of 1 part rye flour to 3 parts white flour, which gives the bread a more rustic taste that goes better with the apples than an all white flour bread would.

Making it was fairly straightforward, with only a few problems, all of which I was able to correct. They just seemed worse than usual because it would take more than a week to start over, if I ruined it. There was also very little explanation in the recipe of what the apples and dough should look or smell like at various stages. I also ended up adding some sourdough starter at the second refresh because I was worried it hadn't risen enough. This probably changes the flavor of the bread, but I had been stupid earlier and had to correct it. See, the recipe calls for organic, unbleached flour to be added to the fermented apple paste to make the starter. I was out of flour and all I had was bleached all-purpose thanks to someone's picking up the wrong thing at the grocery store. Bleached APF is very bad for sourdough, to say the least.

But everything worked out anyway, without more problems until I was baking. The recipe makes four (one pound?) loaves, which I shaped into one large and two small bâtards. I thought the sheets I'd put them on would fit on a rack in the oven side-by-side, but they didn't and I had to overlap them a bit. This probably did very bad things to the airflow and the bread burnt on top. It only cooked about half as long as the recipe said, but it was cooked through and delicious, if one overlooked the slightly blackened parts on the bottom and top. Pictured is the larger loaf that didn't burn much and one of the smaller ones ripped open to show the apples inside.

Pain Aux Pommes

Paraphrased from The Village Baker by Joe Ortiz
(This book is full of interesting recipes, but a photo of this one caught my eye and I was fascinated by the idea.)

The Levain de pomme

1 medium-sized apple peeled and cut into pieces (I think I used a Cortland or Fuji.)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water

Combine the ingredients and let them sit in a warm place for 8-10 days. When the mixture has become highly alcoholic and carbonic gas starts to develop, it is ready to use. (I kept mine in a Tupperware. After about three days, the lid would frequently swell up from CO2, so I'd let it out. It smelled very alcoholic after about 5 days, but I left it for 8.)
If any mold or fungus has developed on the apple mixture, carefully remove it. This should leave at least three-quarters of the mixture (1/2 cup). (I had no problems with this. One apple chunk turned slightly brown and I took it out, but the rest were fine.)

The first refreshment

1 teaspoon malt extract or 2 teaspoons honey (I used honey.)
1/3 to 1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup apple starter from the previous step
2 cups organic, unbleached white flour (Seriously! Accept no substitutes)

For the first refreshment: Dissolve the malt extract or honey in the water. Mash the pieces of apple to a paste (I tossed everything in a food processor to do this, since a fork wasn't working.) and add the paste to the honey mixture. Add flour gradually while mixing with a wooden spoon. When the dough comes together, empty it onto the worktable and knead in the rest of the flour. Continue kneading into a firm dough for between 8 and 10 minutes. Place in a bowl covered with a damp dishtowel in a very warm place for between 8 and 10 hours. If it looks spotchy and spooky, throw it out and start over. If it looks round and well-risen, it is ready to be refreshed. (I put mine in a slightly warm oven for 8 hours, and it came out somewhere between 'splotchy and spooky' and 'well-risen'. I didn't particularly want to start over, so I added some sourdough starter.)

The second refreshment

1 teaspoon malt extract or 1 teaspoon honey
Approximately 1/3 cup water
All of the levain from the previous step
1 cup organic, unbleached white flour

For the second refreshment: Dissolve the honey in the water. Break up the levain in a bowl and pour the honey-water over it. Start adding flour gradually while mixing. (Here, I added maybe half a cup of starter and enough good flour (which I'd purchased by then) to make the consistency I expected they wanted.) Mix into a firm dough that is not too dry. Let this refreshed levain fermente between three and five hours in a bowl covered with a damp cloth. It should double in size. (Yep, the sourdough saved it...)

The dough

1 pound tart Granny Smith or Gravenstein apples (4 cups cubed) (I think it was 3 apples?)
3-4 tablespoons butter for sauteeing the apples
1 package active dry yeast (I cut this down to one teaspoon, because of my addition of sourdough starter)
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon malt extract or honey
3 cups organic, unbleached white flour
1 cup organic rye flour
1 tablespoon salt
All of the levain de pomme from the previous step

Glaze: 1 egg white beaten with 1/2 cup cold water. (I skipped this. I am becoming less and less a fan of glazes and washes.)

To make the dough: Begin by preparing the apples. Peel, core, and cut them into 1/2 inch pieces. Saute them in the butter for a few minutes until they have softened. Set aside.

Proof the yeast in a little warm water and, when it is creamy, add it and the honey to the rest of the water in a large bowl. Cut the levain into pieces and add it to the liquid. Combine the salt and the two flours, then start adding the dry mixture to the liquid by handfuls, while mixing with a spoon. After you have added several handfuls of flour, you will need to stir the spongy mixture vigorously to dissolve the levain and make sure it is incorporated. Continue adding flour until the dough has come together. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead in the sauteed apples and remaining flour. Knead the dough to a firm consistency with the rest of the flour. (This is a difficult task. My dough remained a bit on the sticky side when I decided it was 'done'.)

Set the dough aside, covered and in a warm place to rise for 1 1/4 hours, until doubled in size.

Cut the dough into 4 pieces and form each into a bâtard or a boule. Place the loaves on a parchment-lined baking sheet and let rise an additional 45 minutes to one hour.

Glaze the loaves (if desired) and slash with a blade.

Bake in an oven preheated to 425* or 450*F, either on the baking sheets or on a baking stone, for between 35 and 40 minutes. For the last 15 minutes of baking, reduce the temperature to between 375* and 400*F.

Note to the advanced baker: You may wish to reduce the amount of yeast to one teaspoon and extend the rising times to give more of a sourdough effect. You can also save a cup of the final dough and let that rise 8 hours if you wish to make the bread again the next day. Take that piece of dough from the 'second refreshment' step to make another batch.