As a baker, I mentally divide recipes into three groups. First, the winners: they work the way they’re supposed to, and they taste wonderful. Second, the disasters: they don’t work as advertised; and the finished product ranges from “blah” to “blechhh!”
And third, the challenges–a.k.a. “pain-in-the-neck” recipes. The recipe is really difficult; or it doesn’t work without a lot of on-the-fly changes. But either way, the finished product is fabulous, so of course I have to figure out a way to make the recipe behave. That’s where I found myself recently with Roasted Hazelnut and Raisin Flûtes.
Roasted Hazelnut and Raisin Flûtes are a signature bread from Le Pain Quotidien, a bakery chain with American outposts in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. As one of King Arthur Flour’s “Baking Across America” partners this past year, we asked the folks at Le Pain to send us a recipe for one of their breads, something we could share with our customers. They answered with the flûtes: dense, chewy, and exceptionally flavorful plump breadsticks.
So far, so good. We planned to run the recipe in various King Arthur Flour magazine ads. Unfortunately, the recipe as written would have taken up several pages of the magazine, let alone fit in just one small part of an ad. Charge! Recipe-slasher to the rescue (that would be me, in my capacity as editor at this joint). The challenge: cutting back–WAY back–on the steps and directions for the flûtes, without ruining the final product. And I succeeded–at least I thought I had. Until several customers contacted us wondering WHAT was wrong with that recipe…
Turns out two things had happened. First, I’d tested it during last summer’s heat and humidity, when the flour was quite moist. Now, in winter, the dough needs a couple of tablespoons additional water to bring it to the correct texture. And second, readers seemed unable to get their minds (or hands) around the fact that they were expected to knead 4 1/3 cups of raisins and nuts into a normal-sized (3 cups of flour) yeast dough. I mean, that’s a LOT of stuff to try to incorporate! But it’s a matter of poking, pushing, folding, and just plain dubbing with the dough till it and the raisins/nuts become one. Trust me; it happens. And there’s no deep-dark secret, other than keep at it and don’t be discouraged.
So, here it is: Roasted Hazelnut and Raisin Flûtes, formerly in category 3 (pain in the neck), now in category 1 (winner!) Notice that this is a 2-day process; which is not to say it takes 2 days' worth of work. It takes just 30 seconds to make the necessary starter the night before you want to make the flûtes; most of the activity takes place the next day.
...and here's what it looks like at 8 a.m., after 12 hours. Notice how it's expanded and become bubbly and softer. The yeast has spent all night growing and creating carbon dioxide (which makes it rise) and organic acids and alcohol (which make it softer, and give it great flavor).
And 5 to 6 minutes at medium speed with the dough hook makes the dough fairly smooth. Notice it's not completely gathered into a ball; instead, some of the dough has climbed up the dough hook. That's OK. (If you're using a bread machine, simply program it for the dough cycle, and let ’er rip. If you're preparing by hand, knead until the dough is cohesive and springy.)
At this point, the dough won't be completely smooth. Again, that's OK; it's going to rise for 90 minutes and, while it's rising, the gluten will continue to develop. The dough will magically smooth itself out as it rises.
After 45 minutes, reach in, gently deflate the dough, and round it into a ball. This redistributes the yeast, and "off-loads" some of the carbon dioxide, allowing the yeast to work more efficiently. Notice how smooth the dough has become.
Patience, my child. Put dough, raisins, and nuts in a bowl, and have at it. Just keep pushing, pulling, folding, and turning till the raisins and nuts are almost fully incorporated. Don't be too fussy; some will always want to fall out. Just keep pushing them back in.
Next you're going to divide the dough into 12 parts, to make 12 flûtes (“flûte” is French for, you guessed it, flute–apparently these breadsticks are supposed to resemble a flute. Kinda gnarly for a flute, but whatever...) Hey, would you look at that–the dough weighs 1199 grams, and I want to divide it into 12 pieces. How serendipitous is that?!
Each piece weighs about 100g (about 3 1/2 ounces, for those of you without a scale that does both American and metric weights). A scale is darned useful for all kinds of baking, but if you don't have one, just divide the dough into 12 pieces as evenly as you can.
Let the flûtes rise, covered with plastic wrap (no need to grease it), for 90 minutes. Notice they don't go crazy rising; they just get a bit puffy. Preheat the oven to 375°F towards the end of the rising time.
Put one sheet of flûtes in the upper third of your preheated oven. The other sheet will bake after this one, so keep it covered with plastic wrap in the meantime. And why don't we bake both sheets of flûtes at once? Because even if you rotate the pans, the flûtes would spend enough time towards the bottom of the oven that the raisins on their bottom crusts would burn.
After 30 minutes, remove the flûtes from the oven, and put the second sheet in to bake. Notice the finished flûtes aren't really brown; the second one from the left has been turned over to show you its golden-brown underside. If you let these breadsticks really brown, the raisins will burn and become bitter.
That's it–serve these at breakfast; or as appetizers with aromatic, runny cheese and your favorite wine. Pain-in-the-neck recipe? Well, a tiny bit. Let's just say it has certain challenges, like trying to incorporate ALL the nuts and raisins into the dough. But that's what makes these breadsticks unusual–they're more nutty/sweet add-ins than they are bread. And trust me–they're addictive. Enjoy!