Petits Pains with Bear’s Garlic

Even though it snowed yesterday, there’s a sign that spring is on its way: ail des ours (bear’s garlic). Bear’s garlic supposedly got its name from les Germains (Germanic people). They thought this plant gave bear-like strength to whoever consumed it, since it’s a popular plant for these powerful animals to eat in the springtime, post-hibernation. After learning about this local herb last year, I first used it for an allergy-friendly pesto with pumpkin seeds. There are many ways you can cook this versatile plant, but this year I wanted to try it in savory petits pains for summer sandwiches.

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I remembered the place where our friend took us last spring to pick bear’s garlic, and sure enough, we found a large patch of fresh green leaves poking out of the ground about 2 weeks ago (see this map for where to find bear’s garlic in Switzerland). If you don’t have a place to pick your own, I also saw vendors at the local farmers’ market selling it, and even our local Coop is selling large packages of this fragrant herb.

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We picked the bear’s garlic before it started flowering, which seems to be the typical practice—when the leaves are still young and relatively fresh. If you can’t find bear’s garlic where you live, I think chives would make a good substitute for the recipe below.

Please note: If you’re planning to forage for wild bear’s garlic, you must be very careful and make sure you’re picking the right stuff! At this time of year, other plants are sprouting that look similar to bear’s garlic, but are toxic. The Centre Suisse d’Information Toxicologique has some helpful information, which you need to review if you’re planning to eat the wild plants.

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Petits Pains with Bear’s Garlic

Recipe adapted from swissmilk (see p. 3).
Makes 8 rolls.

(dairy/egg/nut-free)

500 grams all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
7 grams active dry yeast
250 ml very warm water
75 ml olive oil
1-2 tablespoons bear’s garlic (or chives), finely chopped

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.

2. Separately, stir together the warmed water, sugar and yeast. Let set for about 5 minutes until the yeast dissolves.

3. Make a trough in the center of the flour mixture, and pour in the yeast mixture and olive oil. Stir together until a dough forms. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic. Place in a covered bowl and let the dough rise for about an hour, until doubled in size.

4. Punch down the dough, and then divide into eight equal pieces. Form into small rolls and place on a pan lined with parchment paper. Cover with a towel and let rise again for about 20 minutes.

5. Using a sharp knife, cut an “X” on top of the roll and sprinkle with a little flour.

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6. Bake in an oven heated to 230°C/450°F for 10 minutes, and then reduce to 180°C/350°F and cook for another 5 minutes until the rolls are nicely browned.

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Last week, I made these petits pains for a picnic lunch at our local botanic garden and for American-style hamburgers at home. This recipe makes a small batch. You can throw them together very quickly and with few ingredients. I’ll be using them a lot now for outdoor lunches and when we’re traveling.

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What do you make with bear’s garlic? Do you buy it or pick it yourself? Please leave a comment below if you have tips or recipes to share. Thanks so much!

Also, this Thursday is Switzerland’s Journée Nationale de l’Allergie 2014 (National Day of Allergy 2014), sponsored by aha! Centre d’Allergie Suisse. I’ll have more information later this week, so stay tuned. 

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