This month, the ‘We Knead to Bake’ challenge set by Aparna was to make some Gibassier. This is a sweet bread, almost a pastry, from the Provence region of France. At first glance, the flavours of orange and anise seemed a delightful combo, and I wanted to make this straightaway. Then I read the recipe, and realises it was not as straightforward as the other breads I have made. In fact, this is the most complex bread recipe I have ever made so far. And that was daunting, but exciting at the same time.
The key challenge here was the soft, super enriched dough, and the use of a pre-fermented starter dough or ‘Biga’. So this called for some careful planning and preparation. And the recipe also introduced me to a new ingredient; orange blossom water. I’d never used it before, but was intrigued. I must admit, we had problems with the rise on the first proving. After two hours, there was no sign of any activity. So I left it overnight and by morning it had become a monster!
Don’t know if I will go through the whole hassle again, but in the end, it was a great experience (though the journey was trying) with an excellent end result. The house smelled divine, with aromas of orange and anise wafting through the kitchen as the bread baked. and the breads tasted perfect, slightly warm, with a hot cup of coffee.
For the Pre-ferment (Biga):
- 1 1/2 cups bread flour
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/16 tsp instant yeast
For the Dough:
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/8 cup orange blossom water*
- 1/8 cup warm water (or orange juice) **
- 3 1/4 cups bread flour
- All the pre-ferment/ Biga from above
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 3/4 tsp instant yeast
- 75 gm butter, slightly soft***
- 1 1/2 to 2 tsp anise seeds
- 1/2 cup chopped candied orange peel (I used dried apricots) ****
- 1 tsp orange zest (use 2 tsp if using dried apricot)
For Glazing and Dusting the Gibassier
- 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup clarified butter (ghee) *****
- Vanilla sugar or castor sugar ******
- The pre-ferment has to be made the night before the Gibassier are baked. So the previous night, mix together the ingredients for the pre-ferment into a slightly stiff but smooth dough. Add a little more milk if your dough is too stiff.
- Scrape the dough into an oiled bowl and cover loosely. Let it stand, at room temperature, for about 14 to 16 hours. At the end of this time, the dough would have risen and have a fermented look.
- The next morning, make the dough for the Gibassier. You can do this by hand, but it will require some effort as the dough can get a bit sticky. Using a kitchen machine or a food processor will make things easier.
- Put the eggs, olive oil and Orange Blossom Water in the processor bowl and run a couple of times to mix well. Then add the warm water and mix. If the water is too hot, the mixture will curdle because of the eggs!
- Now add the pre-ferment (tear it up into chunks first so it will mix easily), bread flour, sugar, salt, yeast, and knead until the dough is smooth. Now add the butter in chunks (3 or four times) and knead until the butter is incorporated into the dough before adding the next chunk. Knead well until the dough is soft and supple.
- Add the chopped candied orange (or apricots), aniseed and the zest and knead till incorporated. Shape the dough into a round and place in a well-oiled bowl turning it to coat well. Cover loosely and allow the dough to double in volume. This should take about 2 hours.
- When done, turn the dough out onto your working surface. Divide it into 12 equal portions, shape each into a round and let the dough rest for about 15 to 20 minutes. Then shape and flatten each round into a semi-circle or oval. Make three cuts in the semi-circle, one in the centre and two on either side of this cut from the straight edge to the arch of the semi-circle (see photographs), by pushing your implement straight into the dough. Making sure the cuts open up into neat slits. Then using scissors, make 4 snips along the arched side at equal distance.
- Lift the Gibassier dough and transfer it to a parchment lined baking sheet making sure to stretch it a little so the cuts open up well and the slits also spread a bit. Repeat with all the balls of dough, and let the shaped dough rise for about 30 to 45 minutes till a little puffy.
- Then bake them at 180C (350F) for about 10 to 15 minutes till they turn a golden brown on top.
- Take the Gibassier out of the oven and brush them while still hot, with clarified butter/ ghee. Immediately press the brushed side down lightly (or sprinkle with sugar instead) into vanilla sugar or castor sugar. Then let them cool on a rack.
- Serve them slightly warm or at room temperature with coffee or tea. This recipe makes 12 large Gibassier.
* What gives this bread its signature aroma is the orange flavour and orange blossom water makes all the difference. It is difficult to replicate with substitutions, so if you cannot find it, you may leave it out altogether. In this recipe since orange is an important flavour, you can can use 1/2 tsp orange extract instead, if you have it. Otherwise you can substitute the 1/8 cup water with unsweetened orange juice.
** If you are using apricots instead of candies orange peel, replace the 1/8 cup water with warm unsweetened orange juice.
*** It is important to use butter that is just beginning to soften. The butter should be somewhat cold but just soft enough for you to press down with your finger. If your butter is too soft you might have greasy Gibassier.
**** If you don’t like candied peel, you can substitute it with chopped dried apricots. But then remember to use warm orange juice instead of warm water for a stronger orange flavour.
***** If you don’t have ghee, you can make your own clarified butter. Just put unsalted butter in a pan and melt it. Let it boil and bubble on medium heat until it turns golden. Strain out the solids and you have clarified butter/ ghee. Store in a glass jar. You can use melted butter instead of clarified butter but you will not get the same flavour.
****** You can make your own vanilla sugar at home, by steeping slit vanilla pods (whole or those from which you have removed the seeds) in a jar of granulated or castor sugar. Let it sit for about a week or two and your vanilla sugar is ready for use.