Did you know March 11 is Johnny Appleseed Day? When I was small, every school child in the United States was taught about John Chapman, the nurseryman who traveled the early 19th-century American frontier planting apple trees and distributing seeds to the settlers and Native Americans. We learned that “Johhny Appleseed” was a conservationist, humanitarian, herbal healer, and philanthropist.
What they didn’t tell us in grade school was that the apples that grew on those seed-grown trees were much too sour for snacking or baking a pie, too sour for anything except turning into hard cider. As Michael Pollan put it, Johnny Appleseed was popular and legendary with American frontier settlers because he was “the guy bringing the booze.”
So for Johnny Appleseed Day, I had it in mind to bake an apple sourdough that included hard cider. I did use hard cider the first time I made it, but I like this version with sweet cider a bit better. The dough is still plenty sour from the high proportion of sourdough starter. The sweetness of the chunky walnuts and cider-soaked dried apples is a welcome contrast.
The instructions are written for the bread as I made it; however, in the future I would probably proof the boules right-side-up on a couche rather than upside-down in a floured basket. I used (dark) buckwheat flour for dusting the basket, to contrast with the white flour I used for the stenciling, but I think I’d prefer to have the unstenciled area completely flour-free, to showcase the rich chocolate brown crust color that results from the buckwheat flour in the dough.
Yield: 1700 g (two large loaves)
- Elaborate sourdough starter: varies according to your starter and feeding schedule
- Soak apples, and toast and cool nuts: 1 hour
- Mix final dough: 15 minutes
- First fermentation: 2 hours, with folds at 40 and 80 minutes
- Divide, preshape, shape: 20 minutes
- Proof: 2.5 hours
- Bake: 50 minutes
Desired dough temperature: 77F
- 400 g flour
- 80 g buckwheat flour
- 80 g whole rye flour
- 280 g water
- 16 g salt
- 480 g mature 100%-hydration sourdough starter
- 100 g dried apples, very coarsely chopped
- 240 g (1 cup) sweet apple cider
- 200 g walnuts, very coarsely chopped
- Soak the apples in the cider for one hour, then drain them. (Drink or save the drained-off cider for another use.)
- While the apples soak, toast and cool the walnuts.
- Place flours, starter, salt, and water into the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low speed until the ingredients are incorporated, about 4 minutes. The dough should have a medium consistency, and it will be very sticky.
- Continue mixing in low or medium speed until the gluten is moderately developed. This may take about 5 minutes, but will depend on your mixer.
- Add the apples and nuts, and mix in low speed until they are evenly distributed through the dough.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled container. Ferment at room temperature for 2 hours, with folds at 40 and 80 minutes.
- Turn the dough onto a lightly floured counter. Divide the dough in half and shape each piece into a light ball. Cover and let them rest for 20 minutes.
- Shape each piece of dough into a tight ball. Place each one seam-side-up in a linen-lined basket dusted with buckwheat flour. Cover and proof for 2.5 hours.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven, with baking stone, to 475. You will also need steam during the initial phase of baking, so prepare for this now.
- Cut an apple stencil from a piece of paper.
- Before baking, lay the stencil on the top of each loaf. Using a strainer for even dusting, dust flour over the top of the loaf, then carefully remove the stencil.
- Make several slashes in the bread to compliment the stenciling.
- Once the loaves are in the oven, reduce the heat to 450F. Bake for 15 minutes with steam, and another 25 minutes without steam, until the crust is a deep chocolate brown. The oven may be turned off for the last 5 minutes of this time. Then leave the loaves in the oven for another 10 minutes, with the door ajar, to help the loaves dry out.
- Cool on a wire rack.