A pleasant bread with a thin, crispy crust and a tender, moist crumb
In the vintage cookbooks that I have read I have found that beans are used in bread in two forms: cooked and mashed or as flour. The addition of either was done at times for health reasons (improving the bread nutritional value) and at times for economy.
I recreated the recipe for this bread from one suggested by Eliza Acton in her influential “The English Bread-book: for domestic use”. Miss Acton’s instructions were brief and I added a few details myself. The recipe required “French-beans” which here are usually called navy beans.
I included a little butter and used 50% bread flour and 50% whole wheat flour, to approximate wheatmeal, which was originally called for in the recipe. I did not add any sweetener, but a little brown sugar or honey might be added to taste. I baked the bread in a covered cast iron Dutch oven.
The bread develops a thin, very crispy crust and a fine, moist crumb. The beans do not add much in terms of flavor but provide the moisture for the velvety crumb.
From the original recipe by Eliza Acton
In: “The English Bread-book: For domestic use”, 1857—UK
For the overnight sponge:
1/8 tsp active dry yeast
250 g (2 cups) white whole wheat flour
150 g warm water
For the dough
1/2 lb cooked navy beans, pureed
250 g (1-3/4 cups) bread flour
2 tbsp brown sugar or honey (optional)
2 tbsp unsalted butter, cold and thinly sliced
9 g fine sea salt
1 tsp active dry yeast
130 g warm water—or as needed
Make the sponge: stir the yeast in the warm water then add the flour and knead briefly until smooth. Shape into a ball place it in a covered glass container and let the sponge ferment overnight in a cool place (12-14 hours).
Make the dough: stir the yeast in half the amount of water, (the sugar or honey if you want) then mix in the pureed beans and finally the sponge cut into small pieces. Mix at low speed for a minute or two, then add the flour and salt and enough of the remaining water to have a dough that is soft and supple. More water or flour might be necessary. Knead at low speed until the gluten is well developed (about 10-15 minutes), and towards the end add the butter, kneading until well incorporated.
Let the dough ferment until doubled in bulk, in a covered bowl. Briefly knead again and let the dough ferment once more until doubled.
Shape the bread and place it in a large cast iron Dutch oven (or clay pot) that you have previously lightly greased and sprinkled with semolina). Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) and once the bread is light score it, sprinkle with water and place the pot (covered) in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes then uncover the pot (carefully!) and let the bread finish baking until golden brown.
Carefully take the pot out of the oven and lift the loaf out —it should be easy, especially if you used a cast iron pot, the bread won’t stick.
Let the bread cool completely on a rack before slicing.