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English Cider ‘n’ Apple Bread

Normandy Apple Bread Jeffrey HamelmanThere is nothing French or even Norman about this bread, though the formula is  based on the Normandy Apple Bread (NAB)  from Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman. This is one of the breads the Mellow Bakers are baking this February.

I have to confess I didn’t make my own cider. Ha! Who am I kidding? I don’t even really like cider. Reminds me of student parties and vomit to be honest. There, I’ve got that out of the way. But like so many things that you remember disliking it’s often worth trying again; olives took me about twenty five years to really get to love and it was time to face cider again.

In the interests of research I toddled down the road to Waitrose to see what they had on the shelves and they had loads of cider. I plumped for a bottle of Sheppy organic. I cracked the top and the first whiff  took me straight back to Collingwood Road and a Vicars and Tarts party and a very bad hangover. I can’t remember now if I went as a Vicar or a Tart, I might just have donned my all purpose Groucho Marx glasses and moustache. That’s the effect cider has… and West Country scrumpy in particular is an acquired taste to say the least.

Halfway through gearing up for this I read Doc’s post and realised that what we call cider here is called hard cider (hard cider often has hard liquor added to it as well) in North America. The sweet cider that is called for by Jeffrey Hamelman is an unfiltered and unpasteurized apple juice, the kind you’d get if you go to a juice bar in the UK or have a juicer at home.

To read more about this complex subject I recommend the Wiki cider pages. Steve B on The Fresh Loaf also kindly suggested I read his post on making this bread which is a great read too! Thank you both, I have learnt loads from reading your wonderful blogs.

Back to my preparations : Last autumn we had loads of apples on our little family tree; three varieties on one root stock -  Fiesta, Sunset, and Russet in case anyone is interested  – and I oven dried what I thought would be masses of the Fiesta for this bread, carefully freezing the dried slices in anticipation of the NAB’s  arrival on the list one day.

Unlike commercial dried apple rings which must be treated with something to keep them white and pale, these went the most lovely russet brown colour and have an extraordinarily intense flavour. They started off like this →

I ended up with a mere 50 grams so I made a half portion of the recipe this time around.

I thought at first to supplement mine with some from the whole food shop, so I went and bought some, but they turned out to be from China and I thought better of it as I was trying to keep the apple part as English as I could.  My dried scraps were so sweet and nutty that I didn’t really want to surrender them to the bread, but I did in the end.

I supercharged my oldest sourdough with several feeds over three days and made the stiff starter as instructed.  Here it is -  full of life and energy -  about to go to work.

I warmed the cider up slightly to try and reduce the alcohol content and the fizz.  The dough took its time rising but it got there in the end. As you can see it sprang a little but not hugely.

I made some buttermilk loaves (the ones in the front of the above picture)  with the same batch of leaven on the same day and you can see the contrast in the oven spring between the two breads.  I was quite glad I did that as it reassured me that my leaven was working fine.  You can see from the crumb shot below that there was reasonable aeration but not the irregular sized holes that one normally associates with a sourdough.

The flavour of the dried apples was wonderful, someone who sampled a slice said that it tasted like raisins, and (disapointingly maybe)  I could only get a hint of a whiff of student life when I buried my face in the bread, certainly no taste of alcohol.  The bread is like a mild fruit bread, subtle tastes rather than in your face apple.  It was better the second day, and I like the crumb, not too soft, not too chewy, but really rather delicious!

I’ve picked up a couple of bottles of different cider to try, Old Rosie, a scrumpy style,  a Swedish cider, and a carton of fresh pressed cloudy juice.  It might be a bit harder to find some really excellent dried apples though. I am definitely going to play around with this bread. It’s a good one!

This is what I used for my English Cider ‘n’ Apple Bread

adapted from Jeffrey Hamelman’s Normandy Apple Bread in ‘Bread A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes’

Here is a pdf file if you would like to print this out →Click here!

Makes 1 large loaf

To make a stiff levain

  • 15 g mature starter
  • 80 g strong white bread flour
  • 48 g water

Mix to a firm dough, cover and leave for 12 hours until ripe – see picture above

For the final dough

  • 300 g strong white flour
  • 60 g very strong (high gluten) white flour
  • 50 g swiss dark flour ( a fine wholewheat from Shipton Mill)
  • 10 g fine sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp active instant yeast (optional – your rising times will be longer if you don’t use this)

Mix the three flours, salt and yeast (if using) together well in a bowl

Prepare the liquid part of the mixture by mixing the following together

  • 200 g English Sheppy cider (alcoholic) warmed in a pan and allowed to cool to lukewarm temperature and mixed with
  • 90 g water (aiming for an overall temperature of about 22 C)
  • 143 g levain – all the above (assuming you have some starter kept elsewhere for your next bake!)

When the dough is well mixed and there is some gluten development add

  • 50 g of dried apple pieces – I kneaded these in by hand after the dough had rested for about 15 minutes.

I whizzed my apple pieces up a bit in a chopper and had a mixture of fine apple dust and small pieces, this might be why my bread came out looking quite dark. If you are using commercially prepared apple pieces it might look different.

I used a Kenwood mixer to mix the dough initially and I have found when I mix this way it works best if I put the liquids and wet ingredients in first, followed by the dry ingredients. If I put the flours in first I always end up with unincorporated flour underneath what looks like well mixed dough on top.

Please mix and knead the dough in a way that makes you happy. These slow doughs will respond to gentle treatment, you don’t have to rush them or beat them up!

The dough bulk proved for two hours at 22 – 24 C in my boiler cupboard, with one fold after one hour.

I made one loaf which went in a banneton dusted with swiss dark flour and then left till it had risen by half  (not the same thing as doubling!) which was another 2 hours approx.

I scored a pattern into the top and baked on a kiln shelf at 235 C for twenty minutes, after which I reduced the temperature to 200 C for another 30 minutes .  I used a small metal tray on the rack below the shelf as my steamer, adding boiling water to it immediately after loading the bread in the oven.

If you make this, please rely on your own knowledge of your oven for temperatures and times just using mine as a guide.  This was a biggish loaf and so I gave it a full bake for 50 minutes. The top goes quite dark due to the sugars from the apple cider and the dried apples.

30 thoughts on “English Cider ‘n’ Apple Bread

  1. Geraint

    Beautiful looking loaf & great write up.
    Are Fiesta apples eaters rather than cookers? Does the drying intensify their flavour?
    We only have one apple tree, no idea what variety, but somewhere between a cooker & eater; large apples, better for cooking earlier in the season (but not tart like Bramleys) & eating after storing for a month or two during which the sweetness seems to develop. The harvest was so bountiful this year we still have loads left, though by now they’ve gone a bit soft to be pleasant as eaters. I wonder if they could still be dried? I might also try making some into wine, once Carl Legge gets his post up!

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Thanks Geraint! Fiestas are eaters, I think a cox relation, and the drying really does intensify the flavour, I ovenbaked/dried the ones here last October and then bagged them in the freezer and I was amazed how much flavour they had. Nothing like those pappy apple rings you buy. I would definitely experiment with your own apples and see how they turn out. I’ve never made wine. My alcohol experiments begin and end with sloe gin and damson vodka :)

  2. cityhippyfarmgirl

    Joanna that picture of the four loaves looks magnificent. All of them standing proudly like that. I like the sounds of the cider and apple bread, I wonder if I could an Australian version…
    Does Zeb know that you used to go to Vicar and Tarts parties? The hangover memories gave me a good chuckle.

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      You absolutely must do an Australian version! The bread at the very back is the cheese bread, this time made with English cheddar – I was thinking maybe a sandwich with one side of apple bread, the other side cheese…..

      Zeb gets worried if I wear dark glasses and a woollie hat…. :)

  3. Ulrike

    Wonderful bread, I like the scoring. And I didn’t read anything about cheddar on this bread ;-). It’s hard to find good dried apples, I was satisfied with organic ones.

  4. Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial

    Jo, what magnificent looking loaves! Both the apple bread and the buttermilk loaves! I love how well your slashes have turned out. And your dried apples look absolutely amazing – I’m surprised you could bring yourself to do anything other than scoff them straight! :)

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Oh believe me it was hard, especially as I am on my no extra sugar thing this month… they are so sweet and fragrant. Not difficult to do, oven drying, but you have to spread them out and they take up a lot of low temp oven time and space for a very small end product ;)

  5. Jeannette

    Thank you for such a graphic description of how you made your bread. I have not made many different varieties of loaves yet, although I have had reasonable success with JH’s Vermont Sourdough. I am now looking for something else to do from the book and thought of doing the Cheese loaf this week, have you done that one yet? If so, can you give me a link to your description of it, please.

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Thanks Jeannette!

      Here is is the link to my cheese bread post. This weekend I made it with cheddar and it was preferred by Brian to the original version I made with parmesan and pecorino.

      There are also posts by some of the others on the Mellow Bakers site here if you want to see how other people did it. If you follow the links to their blogs someone has probably written out the recipe too somewhere.

      It’s a lovely bread, I hope you enjoy it :)

  6. Jeannette

    Thank you, I feel more confident about making it now! If it turns out well, I’ll let you know!

  7. heidi

    Your breads are so lovely!
    The scoring and the flour stencil are really well done.
    And the memory of English apples is still so clear- your apples are different from those grown here. I don’t know you could bear to use those dried slices. But then – you are a dedicated baker!
    Thanks for sharing this beautiful post!

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Thank you Heidi! There was no stencil here, just a dusting of flour and a rather lefthanded attempt at a spiral with a razor blade. I had thought of making an apple stencil though, I’ve seen some beauties on other blogs before now.

      Did you know that the original apple comes from forests in Kazakhstan – now under threat like so many very special places? Roger Deakin writes about them in a wonderful book called ‘Wildwood – A Journey through trees’ published by Hamish Hamilton

  8. drfugawe

    My god, woman, you bake off more bread in one session than I can get done in two months! Either you’re not telling us about your nine hungry kids, or you go around the neighborhood scoring points by handing out fresh baked loaves – Damn! (Actually, I’m quite jealous because I’m already baking mostly for the birds outside, and I still can’t bake as often as the inspiration motivates.)

    I wanted to share one thought on your process – in the past, I too have been concerned about the effect of the CO2 in the cider/beer that I was baking with, but when I recently did the cider rye you note above, I simply used it straight from the bottle – and I found it surprising that as a pure sourdough loaf -and a rye at that- that my rise was so good, and it still had a nice oven-spring left. So, maybe the CO2 thing is not as critical as Hamelman suggests (it is he who suggests letting it go flat before using – correct?).

    All of this cider talk reminds me of listening to my grandmother when I was a kid – she liked to tell us about how they did things in the ‘old days’, and one of her favorites was describing how they made hard cider – as she explained, as winter neared, they’d take newly pressed sweet cider, put it into a barrel, and put the barrel outside to freeze – then well into winter, they’d open the top of the barrel, chop a whole in the ice, and drain out the unfrozen liquid, which, if everything went well, was now hard cider.

    At the time, my thought was ‘Damn, that sounds really simple.’ – but since that time, I have learned just how quickly sweet fresh cider turns into vinegar, and I know now that if someone was making hard cider the way my grandmother described, they were skilled at the task, and grandma wasn’t telling us everything.

    At the risk of adding to the complexity of this cider discussion, Jo, there’s also a beverage (quite delightful too) called Apple Jack, which is distilled sweet cider, which if I remember correctly, attains an alcohol level of 35-40 proof, and for the early American colonists, was a good alternative to the beloved rum that the damn English monarchy was withholding from our colonial ancestors! (I know you’ll forgive me because it’s all very true.) Ha.

    You know, if the British hadn’t been so hardheaded on the rum thing, we’d probably still be a British colony – or at least a part of Canada, maybe.

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      I was thinking more of the time I made a barm following Dan Lepard’s instructions in the Handmade Loaf. You heat your good beer up and then whisk flour and leaven into it once it has cooled down and leave it over night to mutate…if you’re interested I can email you the exact process. I was going to try that next only using cider.

      I have heard of Apple Jack – it has a certain reputation :D Your grandma was one smart lady I reckon ! Don’t blame me for the rum, good story though! my ancestors were lurking elsewhere in northern Europe in that period trying to scratch a living.

      and yes there was an excess of bread baked that weekend, I kept having too much leaven waving at me from the jar, saying don’t throw me, bake with me… so I did. Some is in the freezer, some given away, but it stays good for five days at least and I like bread as it gets older, it develops character too.

      1. drfugawe

        Yeah, it was Lepard who scared me with the idea to make sure the beer was flat before using for bread – I’ve done his barm bread a few times, and that’s where I came on his instruction – is that the process you mean?

        I love the way you humor me by responding to all my silliness – you know of course you could just ignore me.

        1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

          Ignore you??!! Never! You write the best comments going, imagine the entertainment you give to the people who read this blog and never say a word and it’s all for free :D Got to go and eat fish and chips now. (chips = fries) From the take away… there’s only so much home cooking a gal can do !

  9. Abby

    This looks wonderful, Joanna! I’m really looking forward to trying it. And you know, JH does say that this is best if the cider is starting to ferment, doesn’t he? So maybe you have the right idea going with a hard cider! My parents have an apple tree, but it’s covered under about six feet of snow right now, so think I’ll have to go with store-bought for now. =)

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      I think you’re spot on, a lightly fermented apple juice…maybe one should juice some store apples and then leave the juice out on the side for a day or two…? All sorts of variations possible with this one I suspect :) Look forward to seeing what you make of it Abby!

      I can not believe how much snow you guys are having right now. An acquaintance in Vermont wrote about having to shovel snow again to get to her cabin at the weekend…

  10. Melanie Corley

    I’m amazed at how much bread you made that day!! It would take my husband and I months to eat that much, even if I could muster the energy to make it all. I love reading your blog. I’m learning so many new words. I’m trying to work them into my everyday conversations:)
    You are lucky to have an apple tree. I definitely want to dry my own apples when I get to make this bread. I can’t make it yet as I don’t have a starter of my own :( I bought dried apples at the store once and made a skillet dish with pork chops and the apples remained rubbery no matter what I did and they had no flavor.
    I see leaves on the trees behind your beautiful looking slice of bread. I’m jealous. We’re still looking at bare branches and lots of muddy, brown grass.
    Is that your backyard?
    It is better to purchase cider here in the US in the fall during apple picking season, when you can buy it fresh and just made at the local orchard. Then you can bake with it after it’s been opened a week or so when its started to go hard.

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Hi Melanie, thanks for reading.You’re right it was a bit excessive that day! There are still loaves in the freezer from that bake. We do get through it eventually, if we don’t give it away when it is fresh to neighbours and friends.

      Dried apples are funny things, I know what you mean about being rubbery in cooked dishes, I don’t use them very often. I think it’s just as easy to cook fresh apples for a dish like your pork dish, and just fry them gently or add them to the sauce.

      Yes, that is my back yard – it’s getting greener by the day now, there is a small clump of daffodils in flower and the grass is growing again, though it is still chilly at night.

      I was thinking if you don’t have starter yet, you could still make the levain breads with yeast. It’s not impossible to convert the recipe over, if you made a preferment like for the wholewheat breads I am sure it would work, you can add some yoghurt or buttermilk to get a tangy taste to the final dough. :)

  11. Melanie Corley

    Thank you for the idea! I am going to try to make my own starter in March when its warmer and see how it goes. Re-watching Lord of the Rings gives me necessary courage to try this :)

  12. jan trounce

    Jeepers I had such a sheltered young life – not because I was preciously raised but because my Dad kept me on a very short rein. I think I would have benefited enormously from Vicars and Tarts and gained the confidence to front the world wearing a Groucho Marx mo and glasses. That was such fun to read. Your apple slices look and sound so good and the bread sounds like good ploughman’s lunch bread. I had to smile at the image of you toddling back up the street for more cider – you’ll have to start explaining the ‘empties’ to the neighbours. I really enjoy Doc’s writing too, I should let him know I’m peering over his shoulder and how much I enjoy his blog.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I was never a very good drinker when I was a student, and even less interested in alcohol nowadays to be honest Jan! And that was long before the days of Happy Hours and all day drinking opening hours. I quite liked wearing the GM mask as I recall, though it got a bit hot as one bicycled through the streets. We put empties in our black box for recycling, if we don’t take them to the bottle banks.

      I miss Doc and his posts, he has stopped blogging for now. He wrote a post about it here http://drfugawe.wordpress.com/2011/08/30/hiatus/#comments :(

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Rachel, thanks for visiting :) Are you going to have a go at this? Wish I could give you some apples, there’s an oversupply here for sure. :)

      1. Rachel K

        Hi Joanna – it’s possibly going to be my next bake (if I can get some dried apples from my local whole food shop . . . ) It sounds the perfect bread for a damp, chilly Autumn evening – with cheese! And cider!

        BTW, I have been following you for a few months now and love your site! :)

        1. Joanna Post author

          You might find in a Holland and Barrett. It’s a lovely bread. I might make if for Bonfire night. I like your site too! I have subscibed by email today :)

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