Apricot, Lavender, and Walnut Sourdough + 2016 Saveur Awards

As you may have caught on my Instagram feed last week I was totally shocked and honored to find out The Perfect Loaf won both Editors’ Choice and Readers’ Choice for The Food Obsessive award in the 2016 Saveur Blog Awards! In addition, I met some incredibly talented and passionate people at the event in New York City — so passionate I could have probably talked with them for weeks upon weeks about food, cooking and baking. A huge thanks goes out to everyone who nominated, voted and supported this site (and me) — I really can’t convey enough thanks. And congratulations to all the other nominees and winners!

Now back to sourdough! I recently had an opportunity to attend a lavender event at Los Poblanos Historic Inn & Organic Farm, a local farm here in the heart of Albuquerque, New Mexico. They offered a small glimpse of their lavender fields, organic farming practices and an introduction to their growing lavender distillation process. The lavender grown on the farm is not culinary lavender, it’s actually only used for cosmetics (essential oils, lotion, etc.), but it was incredibly interesting to see how they follow sustainable growing practices throughout the farm and produce so much local lavender each year.Chile ristraLos Poblanos Historic Inn and FarmView of farm and seatingThe particular variety of lavender grown on the farm was selected for a specific reason: it takes extremely well to the local warm, dry climate. When walking up and down the numerous rows of large lavender bushes you spot bees busily going about their business, rich bark-laden soil, and every once in a while a faint smell of lavender on the breeze. Lavender margaritas are a common thing here, and if you’ve had one you know why, but I couldn’t help myself from dreaming up pastry and bread ideas that would complement the purple little buds. After the tour a quick visit to their Farm Shop provided just the fuel I needed: sachets of culinary lavender buds grown here in New Mexico ready to use in my kitchen baking adventures.

Back at home with this new and inspiring ingredient I started searching through my (many) cookbooks for that inspirational spark. My recent experiments with lavender in a peach, blueberry and lavender sourdough galette taught me that whatever other flavor profiles used had to be assertive enough to stand up to the lavender. Thankfully I stumbled across an apricot, walnut and lavender cake in Ottolenghi’s Plenty More (a must-have cookbook if you don’t already own it) and just like that I had my inspiration. He relays that this flavor combination is very French, although I can’t say I’ve had it during my travels through France but I’ll take his word for it. Next time I’m out that way I’ll be on the hunt.sourdough crumbHonestly I think simply pairing the dried apricot and walnut together would be fantastic in its own right if you did not have lavender or are not partial to its flavor. Walnuts are some of my favorite nuts to use in sourdough and their flavor is balanced out so nicely with the slightly tart and hearty dried apricots.

A Few Important Notes on Culinary Lavender

First, make sure to buy culinary lavender. Lavender is grown for a variety of purposes and some types are grown specifically for use in cooking and baking. This is what we want. Use the lavender sparingly the first try at this recipe, it can quickly go from just right to “oooh this tastes like soap bread!” If you are not sure on how powerful your lavender is err on the side of caution and perhaps halve the quantity I call for in the formula below.

culinary lavenderI chose to include the lavender buds whole (as you see in my photos) but you could also grind them down if you want to avoid the mouthfeel of the whole pieces, although to I didn’t notice them at all and neither did any of my “test subjects”. Another option is to use culinary lavender oil instead of the dried variety — if you choose this route you will have to modify the amount as the potency of the oil is surely drastically different from dried lavender buds.Los Poblanos Lavender Fields

Flour Selection

With most fruit loaves I tend to stick to predominantly white flour around 11-13% protein. For this recipe I used my standard Giusto’s Artisan Bread Flour, but using a stronger flour with higher protein might yield an even more voluminous, open crumb (something akin to King Arthur Bread Flour at 13-14% protein). This is not to say using a percentage of whole wheat wouldn’t work very well, because I think it would actually be really nice, but I was going for a more subtle wheat flavor and I wanted the mix-ins to shine through as much as possible.

Apricot, Lavender and Walnut Sourdough Formula

Vitals

Total dough weight: 1900g
Pre-fermented flour: 5.75%
Hydration: 87%
Yield: 2 x 950g loaves

Levain Build

Weight Ingredient Baker’s Percentage
50g Mature liquid starter (100% hydration) 100%
50g Central Milling Type 85 Flour 100%
50g H2O @ room temperature 100%

Dough Formula

Target final dough temperature (FDT) is 78ºF.

Note that the baker’s percentages listed below are with respect to the final dough ingredients and do not take into account the levain.

Weight Ingredient Baker’s Percentage
609g Giusto’s Artisan Bread Flour 74.27%
124g Central Milling Type 85 Flour 15.12%
87g Giusto’s Stoneground Whole Wheat Flour 10.61%
707g H2O @ 90ºF 86.21%
17g Fine sea salt 2.12%
70g Dried Apricots (I did not soak them) 8.00%
157g Shelled Walnuts 18.00%
4g Culinary Lavender Buds 0.50%
125g Mature, liquid levain 15.25%

Bench scraper and toasted walnuts

Method

1. Levain – 10:30 a.m.

Build the liquid levain (everything listed in the Levain Build section above) in the afternoon and store somewhere around 80ºF ambient.

2. Toast Walnuts & Chop Apricots – Anytime between 10:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.

Spread the shelled walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven at 400ºF for about 10 minutes. Each oven is different so keep an eye on them, remove when they start to become fragrant and slightly brown. Let the walnuts cool on the baking sheet and then chop as course as desired. Reserve them until bulk fermentation.

Coarsely chop the dried apricots. I did not soak my apricots because they were incredibly moist and tender. If you have overly dry apricots you might want to consider soaking them but I’d recommend draining them after they are rehydrated — no additional hydration is desired.

2. Autolyse – 4:00 p.m.

Mix flour and water (reserve 100g water for mix, later) in a bowl until all dry bits are hydrated. Cover bowl and store somewhere warm (around 75-78ºF) for 1 hour.

3. Mix – 5:00 p.m.

Add the levain (from step #1) and about half of the reserved water to the dough in the mixing bowl and mix by hand to first incorporate and then to build strength in the dough.

To build strength I chose to do slap and fold for about 5 minutes, just until the dough started to show signs of a smooth surface and it was catching some air. If you aren’t comfortable with slap/fold method, or don’t like it, you can do stretch and folds in the bowl until your dough tightens up and is slightly hard to stretch out and fold over. Medium development.

Let the dough rest for 20 minutes, covered, in the mixing bowl.

When finished resting, sprinkle the salt on top of the dough and use the remaining water to help dissolve. Pinch through a few times and fold the dough over itself to help incorporate. I continued to fold the dough over here until it came back together and started to get a little sticky. Transfer dough to a tub or thick-walled bowl for bulk fermentation.

4. Bulk Fermentation – 5:20 p.m. to 9:20 p.m.

At 76-78ºF ambient temperature bulk fermentation should go for about 4 hours.

Perform 4 sets of stretch and folds during bulk, spaced out by 30 minutes.

After the second set of stretch and folds mix in the dried apricots, lavender and walnuts. Place all the ingredients on top of the dough and using a splash of water on your hands gently mix and fold the dough over and over until everything is incorporated.

sourdough with apricots, lavender and walnutsAfter the fourth set of stretch and folds let the dough rest for the remainder of bulk. You want to look for significant rise in the dough, plenty of bubbles on top and just below the surface, and most importantly: the edge where the dough meets the bowl is domed, convex. This is a good sign your dough is strong enough and ready to be divided.

5. Divide & Pre-shape – 9:20 p.m.

Dump out the dough from your bulk container onto an un-floured work surface. Pre-shape the dough into two round boules and let rest 20 minutes uncovered. Don’t worry if you lose a walnut or apricot here and there, just push it back into the dough somewhere, preferably on the bottom.

6. Shape – 9:40 p.m.

This dough will work equally well shaped as a boule (round shape) or a batard (oval shape).

To gently shape as a batard, first moderately flour the top of the dough and flour the work surface. Flip one resting round over so the floured side is down on the work surface. Fold the top of the dough up and over to the middle and repeat for the bottom (you’ll now have a long slender rectangle in front of you). Pickup the rectangle and rotate it 90ºF so it’s now lengthwise facing you. Grab the dough at the very top and fold over a little ways, press to seal with the main mass of the dough. Now grab this rolled over top and gently continue to roll it down towards the bottom, tucking in the dough as you go (imagine rolling down a beach towel). At the end of this you’ll have a tube that has essentially been rolled downward. Once shaped, transfer each to their floured shaping basket with the seam side facing up.

You can see a video of me shaping a batard this way on Instagram.

7. Rest & Proof – 9:45 p.m.

Cover your baskets with plastic and then place in the refrigerator at 38ºF for about 10-11 hours.

8. Bake – Next Morning: Preheat oven at 7:45 a.m., Bake at 8:45 a.m.

Preheat oven for one hour at 500ºF (or 525ºF if your oven can go that high).

Take out both of the baskets from the fridge and cut a piece of parchment paper to fit over the top, quickly invert each basket onto each piece of parchment. Using a sharp razor blade fastened to a stick score the top of each loaves at a shallow angle to the dough and just deep enough to cut below the top skin of the dough.

It can be challenging to score this dough! Because there are so many walnuts and apricots I found my blade snagging here and there, producing a jagged score instead of a clean, slightly curved slash. I actually like the rustic, ragged look.

Scored doughBake the loaves at 500ºF for 20 minutes, then remove the steaming pans from inside the oven (or remove the lid of your Dutch oven). Turn the oven down to 450ºF and bake for an additional 25-30 minutes until done to your liking. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for at least 1-2 hours.

I steamed my oven in my usual way, described here in my post on how to steam your home oven for baking.

Conclusion

The smell. Oh the smell in the kitchen as this bread bakes. You don’t realize it at first, but then all of a sudden — somewhere mid-bake — you’re hit upside the head with smells that compel you to open the oven, risking burns and lost heat just to see what’s going on in there. When this bread is finished baking and resting on the rack, it becomes a true test of resolve.

I’m a fan of using lavender in cooking, and in this case especially so. I think it lends an unexpected floral note that works so well in this sourdough with the other assertive apricot and walnut flavors. However, I know lavender is very polarizing so if it’s not something you’re fond of ditch it all together. In fact, walnut and apricot go so well together I could envision a bread with just these two ingredients and perhaps even other mix-ins. They provide that grounded, hearty base.

Crust

Apricot, lavender and walnut sourdough crustBecause it’s challenging to cleanly score this bread you end up with this gnarly, ragged score on top that’s peppered with walnuts and apricots all going this way & that, trying to escape the interior. It’s a very beautiful thing, this crust, and one that you should let express itself in whatever way it sees fit. If you have a guest over whom by chance gets a slightly charred walnut or apricot and complains, very politely take their slice and eat it for them.

Crumb

Apricot, lavender and walnut crumbSwirls of stained purple from the tannins in the walnuts and an arthritic dark spot here and there from the dried apricots, the crumb on this bread is like an unreleased Van Gogh. Plenty open and light for my liking, despite the high percentage of fruit and nuts. Because of this high percentage I noticed this bread, when kept in a paper bag or bread box, retained its moisture for an entire week, easy — if it’s not eaten before that of course.

Taste

Sourdough crustLavender can be strong and overpowering when used at high quantity, but for the dried lavender buds I had the quantity called for here was just right. It worked extremely well with the musky dried apricot and deep, rich flavor of the toasted walnuts. This bread is incredibly delectable with a generous smearing of goat cheese or even just with a light coating of good quality cultured butter. There’s a lot going on in each slice and it’s a bread that wants to, and should, take center stage.


This is a very full, heavy bread. Full of nuts, fruit and flavor. If you’re more fond of a lighter sourdough reduce the percentage of all the mix-ins to suit — something like 8% walnut and 5% apricot would yield a substantially lighter bread with plenty of flavor still intact.

A slight nudge from the lavender, an assertive, deep flavor from the walnuts, and a musky tang from the apricots: what a combination. I think the French may be onto something.

Buon appetito!

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  • Jon (jonno_r on instagram)

    Fantastic News! A well deserved win – keep up the good work!! You just seem to have too much time on your hands with all these fantastic new recipes!! Not sure when I’ll find the time to try them all but I won’t stop enjoying looking at your wonderful photographs and reading about them! Well done again. – Jon

    • Thanks, Jon! I really appreciate that. “Free time”, what’s that again? 🙂 I spend so much time in the kitchen baking my wife thinks I might as well have a career change 🙂
      Add this one to your list of things to bake, I promise you’ll love it! Thanks again and happy baking!

  • jinal contractor

    Beautiful read and wonderful post. It was a well deserved win and congratulations for twin awards! I really enjoyed all the reference and humor in this post..It has been a while since I tried additions in bread as well, a good reminder there. Will definitely give it a go in next couple of days. Keep up the great work, always inspiring!!

    • Thanks so much Jinal! Yea it’s been a while since I’ve made a fruit loaf and since I got my hands on that lavender I’ve been thinking of ways to sneak it in (and this one is awesome!!) 🙂 Thanks again, ciao for now!

  • Rita

    Looks heavenly!!! On my to make list!

  • cherstuff

    Beautiful! Lavender is a favourite and the idea to use it in bread is quite exciting. Thank you for always enticing and inspiring. And a huge happy congratulations on your awards! I was so rooting for you.

    • Thank you and I knew you were rooting for me, I really appreciate that! I really enjoyed the subtle lavender taste in this bread, works so well with the other ingredients. I want to try a more whole wheat loaf next time because I think the heady flavor from red wheat might pair up really well with the lavender. So many things to try.

      Thanks again!

  • Felice DeNigris

    Congrats Maurizio!

  • Amazing!! Beautiful crust and crumb! Wish I had a slice of it right now. You can’t beat sourdough bread. You did a wonderful job. Congratulations on your Saveur win — you deserve it!

    • Thank you! I really like how these loaves turned out, this recipe is darn tasty 🙂 Thanks so much for the kind words!

  • kim

    Complimenti, Maurizio! I have been (quietly) reading your blog for two years and baking many of your recipes with much success and satisfaction. I started this particular bake this morning and have one more stretch and fold before resting for a few more hours of bulk fermentation. The dough feels strong and supple, and the smell subtle and very pleasing. If all goes well with this test bake, I’ll make it again for my sister’s birthday gift. I feel the additions are interesting and clever enough for a special occasion! Mille grazie.

    • Grazie, Kim! Wow, thanks for reading for so long and I’m super happy to hear about the good results — means a lot!

      I hope this bread turned out well for you! I do feel it’s kind of a “special occasion” bread actually. There’s a lot going into it and the result is unique and tastes incredible.

      Hope you guys enjoy it and happy birthday to your sister!

  • Anna Levina

    Congratulations, Maurizio! I voted for you!

    • Thanks SO much Anna, I really appreciate that!

  • Johnny

    Congrats, Maurizio! Well done!

  • Amy Phillips-Iversen

    Wow! Can’t wait to try this one out. I have some culinary lavender waiting to be used other than the lemon-lavender cookies I’ve made. Well-deserved accolades, too! Keep inspiring us!!

    • I hope you do try it out, I really like this recipe! Hmm… Lemon-lavender also sounds fantastic, great idea. Thank you for the kind words, I really appreciate that! Happy baking 🙂

  • Rita

    Question here? The mature Levain gets mixed in at step #3?

    • That’s correct, thanks for spotting that. I’ve updated the post!

  • Rosa V.

    Hi Joe I think your name is Joe isn’t it this is Rosa I’m Italian too and I love bread I’ve been following your blogs since I recognized it on the site and I love your breasts most of your beds I just don’t like polenta for some reason never have but I love all the other breads their wonderful indeed keep up the good work.

  • Rosa V.

    Hi ,I’m Italian too and I love your breads, I’ve been following your blogs since I recognized it on the site and I love most of your breads. I just don’t like polenta for some reason never have but I love all the other breads their wonderful indeed and delicious too, keep up the good work, I’m looking forward to your next bread..

    • Hi, Rosa! Thanks so much, I appreciate that! No worries on the polenta, it’s not for everyone. I grew up eating it but only really learned to love it as of late. Thanks again for the comments and happy baking!