Gather 'round, boys and girls, and pull up a chair, because this is a looooong one. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Here’s the TL;DR version: Make this bread. It’s really good.
If there’s one thing I love (aside from bread and cheese and buying stuff), it’s taking classes. Online, in-person, videos, you name it. If I’m even remotely interested in the subject, I’m there. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a class where I didn’t learn something (okay, there was one which shall go nameless because the people who taught it were very nice but a sort of clueless) so I never feel like I’ve wasted my time. Plus, it keeps me off the streets and out of trouble. Sometimes.
Naturally, I especially love cooking and baking classes and I’ve taken dozens, mostly for the fun of it (and the recipes). And I’m always on the lookout for bread classes in particular so when I got a “what’s coming up” email from Institute for Culinary Education and saw French Country Breads with Master Baker Lionel Vatinet on the schedule, I jumped on it. I’ll confess that I really didn’t know who Lionel Vatinet was–clearly a major lapse in my baking education–but he was a Master Baker. And owner of La Farm Bakery in Cary, North Carolina. And the author of A Passion for Bread: Lessons from a Master Baker. And FRENCH.
Of course, after signing up, I figured it might be a good idea to check out his book so I wasn't completely clueless when I went to class. And a lovely book it is, full of personal stories, clear explanations of his technique, tons of photos, and recipes that you want to bake RIGHT NOW, all developed with the home baker in mind. But as wonderful as this book is, Lionel himself? (And he insists you call him Lionel–or, in North Carolina-ese, "Lah-nuhl"–and not Chef. Never Chef.) Even wonderfuller.
Without a doubt, his was the most enjoyable class I’ve ever taken. If he’s ever in your area, or if you’re in his Do. Not. Miss. Out. Not only is he incredibly knowledgeable, but he’s engaging, approachable and hysterically FUNNY. Yes, FUNNY. French and FUNNY. Clearly, we’ve been misled by their whole inexplicable national worship of Jerry Lewis. French people DO have a sense of humor! (I’m kidding here, French people! I kid because I love.) He seriously had us snorting throughout the entire class, all while teaching us how to bake some awesome bread. Bacon bread, white chocolate mini-baguettes (a revelation!), and a fabulous artisan bread with a little pool of herbed oil olive shaped into it, then slashed and sprinkled with sea salt flakes (I, uh, ate the entire thing on the train home and gained five pounds overnight). He taught us his method of kneading and we each went home with a ball of dough to bake up at our leisure. Which, for me, turned out to be at midnight when I got home. Because I HAD to. And did I mention the enormous loaf he'd brought with him from La Farm to share with all of us? Swoon.
All of this brings me, in a very roundabout way, to the BreadBakers challenge for October, which is all about The Grape. I was originally going to do a raisin something-or-other until I thumbed through Lionel’s book. Lo and behold, there it was: Beaujolais bread. Talk about your grapes! It doesn’t get much grape-ier than wine.
Now I’ll say at the outset that this a very "not-me" choice because I don’t drink alcohol at all, and not because I’m some kind of goody-two-shoes. The fact is that I just don’t like the taste of alcohol and never have, even when I was younger and came of drinking age, which was 18 at the time. (I think I’ve just dated myself. CARBON dated myself, maybe.) I was the designated driver before it had a name, and it was my ability to keep my head while all around me were losing theirs that got me invited to a boatload of parties. (It wasn’t my scintillating personality, that’s for sure, since I was kind of a dweeb in high school. It was definitely the non-drinking thing. And my killer traveling record collection.). Thankfully, despite the fact that I was basically being used–and I was okay with that–the users at least had the courtesy not to barf in my car. Good times, good times.
My point, and I do have one, is that Lionel’s Beaujolais bread was just the ticket for this challenge, setting aside the alcohol thing (I figured it would bake off–at least that's what people tell you). Not only did it feature grapes in a major way; but it's shaped like a bunch of grapes too. Visual onomatopoeia! AND, it's made with salami and salami is never a bad thing. We did have a bottle of red wine in the house but it wasn’t Beaujolais. And not that I’d know Beaujolais from grape Kool-Aid, but in the interest of authenticity, I went and bought a bottle. I have to say that red wine makes for a very, um, interesting looking dough. Kind of unappetizing really; grayish purple doesn’t exactly inspire. The dough was very wet but this is exactly what we’d worked with in class, so I followed Lionel’s method and sure enough, it came together. Because of the wine, this dough may not have the kind of rise you expect, in fact, mine hardly looked like it rose at all, let alone doubled. But it did pass the finger dent test so into the oven it went. Lionel recommends covering the dough with a large stainless steel bowl or hotel pan to approximate what it would be like to bake in a professional steam injection oven, but I had neither so I went with the alternate, throwing ice cubes into a pan to create steam. My bread came out of the oven looking okay but…
I was actually very disappointed in the result. Part of it was definitely my fault, because I somehow over-baked the bread. I’m not sure how or why, since the oven temp registered correctly, I timed it right and the temperature of the finished bread also registered in the correct range. But it was hard, overly browned and the bottom crust was way too thick and almost burnt. Then too, it had a very pronounced alcohol flavor and it wasn’t pleasant. As much as it pained me (especially since I’d just blown 15 simolians on the wine and another 7 on the salami–ouch), I threw most of it out. I felt like I’d let Lionel down.
Fast forward two weeks and I decided to try again because BreadBakers’ deadline was looming, I still had half a bottle of Beaujolais left, and I was too lazy come up with a better idea. I was fully expecting another “meh” result but SURPRISE! My second attempt turned out to be an epic WIN. Everything that screwed up the first time worked out perfectly the second, although I did worry at one point because my dough was nowhere near as wet as it should have been (and I know I weighed everything correctly). It was so easy to work with that I ended up kneading it the old-fashioned way after my hand froze in a crab claw using Lionel’s method (which is better suited to a wetter dough). I still didn’t get much of a rise out of it but the finished bread was soft and the bottom crust was just right. And best of all–for me, anyway–there was absolutely NO residual alcohol taste. The fruitiness of the wine shone through and the salami added the perfect salty, savory touch. It’s not a bread I would make often (wine is EXPENSIVE!) but I’m glad I tried it and persevered, especially after my first screw up. I think Lahnuhl would be proud.
- 454g/16 oz unbleached, unbromated white bread flour
- 7g/.24 oz/1 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
- 5g/.18 oz/ 1 1/2 tsp instant dry yeast
- 21g/.75 oz/1 Tbsp honey
- 320g/11.26 oz/1 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp Beaujolais wine* (should be 82-84F. If necessary, place the bottle in warm water until it comes up to the correct temperature)
- 113g/4 oz salami at room temperature, cut into 1/4 dice
- Add flour to a large mixing bowl, then add salt, yeast and honey and mix the ingredients together by hand.
- Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, then pour the wine slowly and steadily into the well while rotating the bowl and mixing it into the dry ingredients. Use a bowl scraper to scrape the sides of the bowl and gather the dough together into a rough ball.
- Turn the dough out onto a work surface, making sure to clean the bowl thoroughly. The dough will be wet and sticky but don’t add more flour.
- To knead, hold your hands open with palms up on each side of the dough ball. Slide your fingers underneath the dough, lifting it slightly off the work surface. Using your thumb and forefinger in a pincer-like motion, squeeze through the dough, working from one end to the other. Turn the dough a quarter turn and repeat the motion. Continue pinching and turning until you feel the dough coming together. This can take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes.
- Form the dough into a ball by lifting it from the front with both hands, then dropping it to the work surface and folding it back onto itself. Repeat this 4-5 times until a ball forms, using your scraper to make sure you’re gathering up all of the dough.
- Flatten the dough ball into a rectangle and scatter the salami down the middle and fold the dough over, wrapping the salami completely. Repeat the pinching and turning until the salami is fully incorporated, then repeat the folding and dropping motion to form a ball. To determine if the dough is ready, touch it with the back of your hand. If it doesn’t feel sticky it’s sufficiently kneaded. If not, continue the folding until it’s no longer sticky. The dough at this stage should be between 72-80°.
- Lightly dust a large bowl with flour, transfer the dough to the bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest in a draft-free place, preferably 75–80°, for about 1 hour.
- At the end of the hour, lightly dust your work surface with flour and place the dough on the surface. Pat the dough down then fold the right side into the middle, then the left side, then top, then bottom, patting each seam down. Flip the ball over and return to the bowl, seam side down, cover and let rest again for another hour. At the end of the hour, repeat this process and let rest again for another hour.
- At the end of the third hour, transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, let rest for 30 seconds, then divide the dough into 16 equal pieces. Set one piece aside, then shape the remaining 15 pieces into balls. To create the grape cluster, place the balls close together in rows on a parchment lined baking sheet as follows: 4 balls, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1, offsetting each row.
- Roll the last piece into a rope about 10” long, then shape into a curve and attach to the top of the grape cluster.
- Lightly flour the dough cluster, the cover with a clean linen towel, followed by plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place and let rise for about 1 hour to 90 minutes, making sure the dough doesn’t overproof. To determine if the dough is ready, use your finger to make a small indentation in the dough. If if fills in slowly and evenly, it’s ready to bake.
- While the dough is proofing and about 30 minutes before baking time, move your oven rack to the lowest position and place a baking stone on the rack. Preheat the oven to 450°.
- When the dough is ready, slide the dough on the sheet pan onto the baking stone. Immediately cover with a stainless steel bowl (see notes) and close the oven door. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the bowl and continue baking for 15-20 minutes until the crusty is golden brown and the temperature in the middle of the bread reaches 185–210°.
- Remove the bread from the oven, transfer to a cooling rack and let cool for about 1 hour before eating or storing.
Adapted from Lionel Vatinet's A Passion for Bread
* When I mentioned to Lionel that I'd be making this he said that any red wine would do.
You can see Lionel’s kneading technique very briefly here. If you want to get an in-depth lesson in the technique and don’t have Lionel handy, I highly recommend the Craftsy class, Handmade Sourdough with Richard Miscovich. I enrolled in this months before I took Lionel’s class so it was a bit of “who came first” until I discovered that Richard learned the technique at the San Francisco Baking Institute where Lionel was a founding instructor. The Craftsy course goes over it very thoroughly and the class is well worth the investment. (Craftsy also has specials quite frequently.)
Lionel recommends simulating a professional baking oven with steam injection by covering your dough with a large stainless steel bowl or hotel pan. None of my bowls are large enough to cover a dough of this size and I can’t justify purchasing a ginormo hotel pan since I don't own a hotel but I did have a 2 a.m. revelation (really, it woke me up–obsessed much?) that solved the problem. I bought a large oval, heavy-duty foil turkey roasting pan that fit my big sheet pans perfectly and worked like a charm.
If you don’t have a large enough stainless steel bowl, hotel pan or foil roasting pan, forget about covering the dough and use the ice cube method to create steam instead.
The first time around, I had a problem with the bottom of the dough over baking and becoming thick and hard. This time, I used two stacked sheet pans which provided extra insulation so the bottom baked perfectly.
here's what #BreadBakers have been baking this month
- Cinnamon Raisin Bread from Rocío at Kidsandchic
- Double Chocolate Red Wine Bread from Heather at Hezzi-D's Books and Cooks
- Easy Grape Focaccia from Kimberly at Rhubarb and Honey
- Golden Raisin and Fennel Sourdough Pocket Bread from Karen at Karen's Kitchen Stories
- Grape Bread Pudding from Cindy at Cindy's Recipes and Writings
- Grape Cornbread from Vonnie at My Catholic Kitchen
- Grape Focaccia from Renee at Magnolia Days
- Grape Poppy Bread from Mireille at Chef Mireille's East West Realm
- Oat & Raisin Hokkaido Loaf from Kelly at Passion Kneaded
- Peshawri Naan from Anshie at Spiceroots
- Poached Pear Brioche Tart from Sophie at Sweet Cinnamon & Honey
- Povitica from Stacy at Food Lust People Love
- Raisin Bread from Caro at En La Cocina de Caro
- Savory Grape Bread with Goat Cheese, Lemon and Coarse Salt from Jenni at Pastry Chef Online
- Schiacciata all'uva from Camilla at Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Sweet Dry Grapes Bread with Cinnamon from Kathya at Basic N Delicious
We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient.
If you are a food blogger and would like to join us, just send Stacy an email with your blog URL to email@example.com.