We Knead To Bake #19 : Gibassier (A French Anise & Orange Flavored Loaf)
It is another sweet bread again, this month, at the We Knead To Bake group. This month I chose a French breakfast pastry/ bread called Gibassier (pronounced zee-bah-see-ay) from the Provence region, for the group to bake. Incidentally, Gibassier is also the name for large cookie from Lourmarin in particular that’s about a foot long, is made with olive oil and oval shaped like a leaf.
So what is a Gibassier?
The Gibassier is a buttery textured French breakfast bread that is flavoured with candied orange peel, orange blossom water and aniseed, and topped with a sprinkling of plain or vanilla sugar. It is shaped somewhat the way one shapes a fougasse and delightfully soft and delicious. Gibassier can be shaped and made as one big round loaf, or larger or smaller single serve breads. Whatever size they come in, they are slashed/ snipped decoratively before they’re baked and this makes them even more irresistible.
It is thought that the Gibassier is named after a mountain peak in the Luberon Mountains, called Le Gibas. Others suggest that the name comes from the “gibacier” which referred to a flat bag that was used to carry game, somewhat similar to the shape of the pastry.
Gibassier is one of the 13 traditional French Christmas desserts that are traditionally served after Midnight Mass to signify Christ and his 12 aposltels at the Last Supper. Many people refer to the Gibassier as Pompe à Huile (French olive oil bread) while others insist the two are not the same. The Gibassier is somewhat like an Italian Panettone, and it is believed that it must apparently be torn apart with the hands when served to bring good luck in the New Year.
Making Gibassier is not very difficult but it takes a little time as the process involves starting with a “Biga” or pre-ferment which is made the previous night of the baking of this bread. There are recipes which do away with the use of the pre-ferment and the bread is made all on the same day. But I personally find that where there is traditionally the use of a pre-ferment for a bread, that it is better to use it because this adds to the flavour and texture of the finished bread.
There are some aspects of the Gibassier which are important because they define this bread.
The use of Orange Blossom Water is important as it gives the Gibassier a distinct flavour that is difficult to replicate with any substitute. So leave it out if you can’t find Orange Blossom Water, or maybe try one of the substitutes mentioned in the recipe section of this post.
The other important part of this bread is the candied orange peel. You can make it at home, or if candied peel is not your thing (we’re not fans of it particularly, and my daughter will not touch anything with peel in it unless it something she likes when she will patiently pick out all the peel!) then you can substitute it with chopped dried apricots soaked in some orange juice. The orange flecked Gibassier has a lot of aesthetic appeal.
After baking the Gibassier, brushing them with clarified butter (ghee)while still warm not only gives them a lovely nutty flavour and taste but also helps the dusted sugar to stick well to the bread. Clarified butter is easy enough to make, as all it requires is to melt some butter and cook it till it turns golden.
To make the decorative cuts in the Gibassier, don’t use a knife (however sharp it may be) or anything that drags through the dough. What you need is something that you can push down into the down to make a clean cut. I used the end of a piece of plastic strip to make cuts in my dough.
And here’s the recipe!
Gibassier (A French Anise Orange Flavored Loaf)
(Adpated from CirilHitz’s Baking Artisan Pastries and Breads)
For the Pre-ferment (Biga):
For the Dough:
For Glazing and Dusting the Gibassier
- The pre-ferment has to be made the night before the Gibassier are baked. So the previous night, mix together the ingredients for the pre-ferment into a slightly stiff but smooth dough. Add a little more milk if your dough is too stiff.
- Scrape the dough into an oiled bowl and cover loosely. Let it stand, at room temperature, for about 14 to 16 hours. At the end of this time, the dough would have risen and have a fermented look.
- The next morning, make the dough for the Gibassier. You can do this by hand, but it will require some effort as the dough can get a bit sticky. Using a kitchen machine or a food processor will make things easier.
- Put the eggs, olive oil and Orange Blossom Water in the processor bowl and run a couple of times to mix well. Then add the warm water and mix. If the water is too hot, the mixture will curdle because of the eggs!
- Now add the pre-ferment (tear it up into chunks first so it will mix easily), bread flour, sugar, salt, yeast, and knead until the dough is smooth. Now add the butter in chunks (3 or four times) and knead until the butter is incorporated into the dough before adding the next chunk. Knead well until the dough is soft and supple.
- Add the chopped candied orange (or apricots), aniseed and the zest and knead till incorporated. Shape the dough into a round and place in a well-oiled bowl turning it to coat well. Cover loosely and allow the dough to double in volume. This should take about 2 hours.
- When done, turn the dough out onto your working surface. Divide it into 12 equal portions, shape each into a round and let the dough rest for about 15 to 20 minutes. Then shape and flatten each round into a semi-circle or oval. Make three cuts in the semi-circle, one in the centre and two on either side of this cut from the straight edge to the arch of the semi-circle (see photographs), by pushing your implement straight into the dough. Making sure the cuts open up into neat slits. Then using scissors, make 4 snips along the arched side at equal distance.
- Lift the Gibassier dough and transfer it to a parchment lined baking sheet making sure to stretch it a little so the cuts open up well and the slits also spread a bit. Repeat with all the balls of dough, and let the shaped dough rise for about 30 to 45 minutes till a little puffy.
- Then bake them at 180C (350F) for about 10 to 15 minutes till they turn a golden brown on top.
- Take the Gibassier out of the oven and brush them while still hot, with clarified butter/ ghee. Immediately press the brushed side down lightly (or sprinkle with sugar instead) into vanilla sugar or castor sugar. Then let them cool on a rack.
- Serve them slightly warm or at room temperature with coffee or tea.
This recipe makes 12 large Gibassier.
*What gives this bread its signature aroma is the orange flavour and orange blossom water makes all the difference. It is difficult to replicate with substitutions, so if you cannot find it, you may leave it out altogether. In this recipe since orange is an important flavour, you can can use 1/2 tsp orange extract instead, if you have it. Otherwise you can substitute the 1/8 cup water with unsweetened orange juice.
**If you are using apricots instead of candies orange peel, replace the 1/8 cup water with warm unsweetened orange juice.
***It is important to use butter that is just beginning to soften. The butter should be somewhat cold but just soft enough for you to press down with your finger. If your butter is too soft you might have greasy Gibassier.
****You can make your own candied orange peel if you want to.
If you don’t like candied peel, you can substitute it with chopped dried apricots. But then remember to use warm orange juice instead of warm water for a stronger orange flavour.
*If you don’t have ghee, you can make your own clarified butter. Just put unsalted butter in a pan and melt it. Let it boil and bubble on medium heat until it turns golden. Strain out the solids and you have clarified butter/ ghee. Store in a glass jar.
You can use melted butter instead of clarified butter but you will not get the same flavour.
You can make your own vanilla sugar at home, by steeping slit vanilla pods (whole or those from which you have removed the seeds) in a jar of granulated or castor sugar. Let it sit for about a week or two and your vanilla sugar is ready for use.