I have a terrible time admitting defeat, especially when it involves a very plump, very beautiful and very tasty candied lemon that traveled all the way from Spain to play a supporting role in my holiday gifts. The lemon was intended for this year's batch of Christmas bread, and I'll be damned if that lemon was going to waste.
I chose my holiday bread over the summer during my stint at a particular very very fine baking school in San Francisco. One morning after a marathon baguette shaping session I stepped out to our break area looking for a snack. There on the dining table I saw a completely unassuming, paler than pale, thin circular bread, dusted with sugar. One thing I cannot, under any circumstances, refuse is a little sweet treat baked to the lightest shade of pale. It was useless to try and resist. And resist I did not. Before I knew it I had eaten a third of it. I was completely smitten and have been anxiously awaiting the holidays ever since, just so I had a good excuse to bake mountains of these breads.
I tried to do some research on this bread, which happens to be called a gibassier, before I made it, but for once the internet was found lacking. I found only one recipe, which seemed fairly different from the one I have. Wikipedia, too, was no help. In fact there was no entry for gibassier in the English version, and the French version was so short I didn't even bother to translate it. So I'll tell you what I know. The name of the bread originates from the summit Les Gibas in the mountains of Luberon. In Provence it was served as the thirteenth dessert at the Christmas dinner. I've decided the number thirteen plays a key factor in this bread in that I've not had the best of luck with it.
Last week I began gathering the ingredients (culminating in the extravagantly procured candied lemon) and over the weekend, after a week of doing everything short of sleeping with the cookbook under my pillow, I made my first gibassier.
The first time I made the bread I held out half the oil in the early stages of kneading, thinking it would hinder the formation of the gluten. Apparently it was only my poor judgment which halted the gluten in its tracks. I was left with a misshapen sad little unrising lump of dough. However, it tastes like a dream and could step in for a scone at a moment's notice.
My second round went much better. I, this time, cut them into little diamonds, just in case they decided to masquerade as scones yet again. This time my gluten fell into line more or less, but it was still a struggle. They puffed up and turned the perfect shade of pale. That was the first batch. Sometime between taking the first batch out of the oven and putting the second batch in I turned off the oven. I'd actually be laughing if this sort of absent-minded thing didn't happen to me so frequently. Despite their unwillingness to rise in a 300 degree (and falling) oven, this round ended up tastier than the first.
So in a sense I beat this little bread at it's own game. Complicated ingredients and difficult to mix dough be damned. I'm making this bread for my friends for the holidays. I'm letting them disguise themselves as little tea cakes, since I think they fare better that way, at least in my kitchen, with my absent-minded self at the helm of their destiny.
So while I haven't brought the gibassier to the full glory that I remember from San Francisco, I still think I hear angels faintly singing when I bite into these beauties. They're unbelievably complex and rich... and how could they not be? They're made with milk, butter, olive oil, with orange flower water and anise for flavor, then once baked they're dredged in clarified butter and sugar. Oh dear, a tear came to my eye just typing that.
I'm not going to lie, the gibassier truly is a bread for the experienced baker. So as a little Christmas treat for you I'm going to give you not only a recipe for the gibassier, but also a recipe for scones inspired by the gibassier. The scones are by far easier to make. But I can promise, nothing can compare with a gibassier.
And that candied lemon? Well, I'm glad it made the trek over to the states for my Christmas breads, because it is a mighty fine lemon indeed. However, candied lemons can be made just as easily here in the states and in the future I'll be sparing the environment the heartache and making my own candied lemons from local citrus. I'll step off my soapbox now and let you play around with this recipe. And by the way, let me know if you make this bread and how it works for you. I think the internet needs a little more love from the gibassier.
Adapted from Advanced Bread and Pastry by Michel Suas
For the sponge
85 grams bread flour
39 grams milk
11 grams egg 25g
1/8 tsp instant Yeast
Combine, cover and ferment at room temperature for 12-16 hours.
For the final dough
326 grams bread flour
95 grams egg
81 grams granulated sugar
7 grams salt
12 grams osmotolerant yeast
60 grams butter (cold, but pliable)
60 grams olive oil
21 grams orange blossom water
28 grams water
7 grams anise seed
82 grams candied lemon peel
Pour liquids, then sponge into the bowl of the mixer. Add dry ingredients except sugar, candied fruit and anise seed. Incorporate all slowly for about 2 minutes. Put the dough hook on the mixer and knead for 9-11 minutes on medium speed. The dough should have a great deal of gluten strength and hold a strong window. Slowly sugar. Incorporate before each new addition.
When a nice dough window can be formed, add the butter. Bring the dough back up to an intensive consistency, with very strong gluten formation. Add candied fruit and anise seed at the lowest speed, just to incorporate. Place rounded dough into oiled bowl, cover so no crust forms, and ferment for 1 hour.
Round the dough lightly into a boule, let rest for 20 minutes.
Roll to about 3/4" thick and cut into desired shapes. Lightly cut x's on top of the shapes if you wish to. Place on parchment-lined pan and proof for approximately 1 1/2 hours. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until golden brown, about 10-15 mins. Brush with clarified butter and toss in granulated sugar.
Adapted from Pastry Studio
2 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup chopped candied lemon peel
1 tsp anise seeds
1/2 - 1 tsp orange flower water
1 Tbsp melted butter for brushing the tops
sugar for sprinkling the tops
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking pan with parchment paper.
Sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, lemon peel and anise seeds in a mixing bowl. Add the cream and orange flower water and stir gently with a fork. Stop mixing when it starts to come together and the cream seems fairly absorbed. Be careful not to overmix. The dough will look loose and lumpy and not like a finished dough.
Pour the mixture onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a very light touch, begin to gather and gently pat into a 9” circle, taking care to press the edges into a solid border. It will come together just enough to look like it might work. Do not handle very much to achieve maximum tenderness!
Using a lightly dusted bench scraper or sharp knife, cut into 8 scones. Use the bench scraper or a metal spatula to lift the scones gently onto the baking sheet. Be careful as they are very soft and delicate to handle. Brush the tops with a bit of melted butter and a sprinkle of sugar.
Bake on the middle rack for 15 minutes or until they are golden. Serve immediately. These scones are best warm.
For a list other fantastic breads check out Yeastspotting at Wild Yeast!