Local Favorite, Local Flavor: MI Chestnut Baguettes

Posted on Tue, 01/17/2017 - 10:00am

Here at Zingerman’s Bakehouse, we have taken the phrase “eating local” to heart with the dawn of our Michigan Chestnut Baguette (among other things). The history of chestnuts at the Bakehouse goes back nearly 50 years. Bakehouse Co-Founder, Frank Carollo, has been eating chestnuts for many years. It was a common food at the holiday table for Frank as he was growing up in an Italian-American family.

But, let’s start at the beginning of the journey- of how Frank’s history with chestnuts, his passion for local food and the exploration of Hungarian food culture led to the birth of the Chestnut Baguette.

The hunt for local flours

The idea of using Michigan flour in our breads is not a new one. Co-founder of the Bakehouse, Frank Carollo, has made “local” grain part of our mission over the past decade. Years ago, he began scouring the Michigan countryside looking for farmers growing wheat flour we needed for some of our breads. It has been a tough road to find a consistent quality level and supply but we have had some small successes. Among others, locally milled flour from Michigan-grown chestnuts was on that list.

Zingerman’s Bakehouse brings Hungary to Ann Arbor

During this time, Frank, with Amy Emberling, co-owner of the Bakehouse, were traveling to Hungary to learn more about its cuisine and baking history. Hungary has a rich food tradition that Amy thought would compliment many of the cakes and pastries we already offer. So, throughout 2011 and 2012, they traveled there to research traditional Hungarian recipes and, of course, give them a try. While in Hungary, they discovered many Hungarian recipes utilize chestnuts and it was a popular flavor.


Chestnuts at Zingerman’s Delicatessen

Meanwhile over at Zingerman’s Delicatessen, Rodger Bowser had already established a relationship with chestnut growers here in Michigan. These growers, fittingly named Chestnut Growers, Inc. (CGI), were providing him with chestnuts for his take on marrons glacés (a confection that consists of a chestnut candied in sugar syrup and glazed). In more recent years, the Delicatessen has been selling roasted chestnuts during the holiday season.


Chestnuts at the Bakehouse

We first tasted chestnut bread in 2003 when Shelby Kibler returned from a baking trip to France. We instantly fell in love with the flavor, texture, and unique color of the bread. A decade later we decided to get back to it. Good things come to those who wait, right?

Frank’s on-going search for locally-sourced flour. Frank and Amy’s travels to Hungary. Rodger’s work with Michigan-grown chestnuts. The inspiration to incorporate chestnuts into some Bakehouse recipes emerged.

We began working with CGI in Fall of 2014, purchasing chestnut flour. They grow the chestnuts for us, and then their sister company Treeborn mills them in this unique (and flavorful) chestnut flour. Not only is CGI a local company, they do not genetically modify their chestnut trees. Everything they grow and sell is always all-natural. Not to mention, Michigan-grown chestnuts are among the sweetest in flavor. Whether roasted, used in a recipe or milled into flour, they pack a flavor-filled punch.

The Chestnut Baguette is born

Thus, we began using chestnut flour, experimenting and playing with different recipes until we found one that was, well, our favorite. The Chestnut Baguette recipe, itself, actually originated from the ovens in our hands-on baking school, BAKE!. After months of testing and modifying the recipe (with rave reviews), we instantly knew. Knew that this recipe was one for the books, not to mention the shelves of our shop.

A brand new bread had arrived at the Bakehouse, one packed with a nutty and rich flavor.


How do we make it?

We use the chestnut flour from Treeborn, as well as wheat flour, both grown and milled at Grand Traverse Culinary Flours in Traverse City. This naturally leavened bread itself consists of just a few ingredients- chestnut flour, wheat flour and sea salt. From start to finish, it takes right around 6 hours to bake.

After it’s been pulled out of the oven, the Chestnut Baguette has a beautiful and thick crust. Once you cut into it, you will discover a rich tan and purple crumb. If you are looking for a photogenic bread, this one is it! Pull out your phones and get ready to Instagram that beautiful bread on your cheese board.

Anything that looks THAT good has to taste good, too? Right? Well, our Chestnut Baguette certainly does. It is rich, nutty, slightly sweet and full. It pairs perfectly with an array of cheeses, meats, spreads, wines… the list goes on. Let us know how you enjoy it.

Amy Berger, longtime staffer in our bread bakery, sings the praises of chestnut baguette, sliced with fresh goat cheese from our next door neighbor Zingerman’s Creamery.

You can find it...

You can find the Chestnut Baguette at the Bakehouse, fresh from the ovens at noon on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It is also available at Zingerman’s Delicatessen.

Don’t live in Michigan? Want to share the chestnut love with your family across the country? Well, Zingerman’s Mail Order ships our Chestnut Bread. Same recipe, different shape (imagine trying to mail a baguette).


Natasha Mason, Zingerman's Bakehouse

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Sourcing our ingredients locally has many benefits, not least of which is literal field trips to visit our future ingredients as they grow. To this end, one June morning a contingent of the bakehouse grain commission headed west to Living Earth Farm in Sawyer, Michigan where rye is being grown for us this season. I think rye is delicious and I know our customers agree, many using our rye breads as staples in their diet each week and famously enjoying it on sandwiches at Zingerman’s Delicatessen. However, this ancient grain took a major back seat to wheat in the 1900’s when very fluffy and sweet breads became more popular. Now, though relatively easy to grow, particularly good for the soil, and hearty under a variety of weather conditions, rye is used primarily as a cover crop to improve the soil in between main crop seasons and is typically not harvested for food in the United States. Because it is no longer widespread in our state, it is necessary to work directly with farmers to access these grains whole, fresh, and from Michigan. The rye growing at Living Earth Farm is a special departure from today’s typical baking and farming and I’ve been looking forward to seeing its progress for months.

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