Depending on which Southern French village you are in, gibassier either refers to an enriched bread not unlike brioche, sometimes also referred to as pompe a l’huile, or a rich and crumbly biscuit. This is the former.
The reason I love gibassiers so much is that they combine some of my favourite flavours: candied orange, anise seeds and orange blossom water. And while brioche and other enriched breads are typically made with butter, most French recipes I have seen for gibassiers call for olive oil (or a mix of butter and olive oil). And olive oil is a brilliant substitution for butter in brioche. My first time baking enriched breads with olive oil was when I tried the Olive Oil Brioche recipe in Tartine. And that was already delicious – especially when you use an olive oil with a bit of character, grassy and peppery. (Olive oil is a treat in cakes too actually – like in these pistachio olive oil cakes) But here, the olive oil works even better. There is something about its cleaner flavour (less rich but not less interesting than butter), that really lets citrus flavours shine. So it’s the perfect complement to the candied orange in these gibassiers.
Gibassiers are typically eaten as one of the 13 Christmas desserts in Provence. Hence why I decided to share the recipe just before Christmas. And while I have yet to find a Provencal family to invite me for their Christmas dinner so I can try the authentic Gibassiers, I am happy to just keep on making these until then – after all, they also make a rather good breakfast treat alongside a strong cup of coffee.
Note: Making gibassiers is not difficult as long as you are familiar with the basics of baking with yeast and enriched breads (i.e. handling somewhat sticky dough and having a good dose of patience as exact rising times will depend on how warm your kitchen is). The recipe is a bit involved timing-wise as it requires a pre-ferment (i.e. a small portion of dough that ferments over a long period of time) to add flavour to the dough.
Makes 10 Gibassiers.
100g all purpose flour
A pinch of dried active yeast
400g flour (you can use a mix of bread flour and plain flour but I have also made them with just all purpose flour)
7g dried active yeast (2 tsp)
Pinch of salt
All of the pre-ferment
100ml olive oil
30ml orange blossom water
2 tsp anise seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
100g candied orange, chopped finely
Extra: Milk or beaten egg for brushing the pastries before baking, melted butter and extra sugar for coating the freshly baked gibassiers
Mix the ingredients for the pre-ferment, cover and set aside for 14-16 hours. (If you forget to do this, you can accelerate the process by using body temperature milk – the mixture should then still ferment somewhere warm for at least 7-8 hours)
In a large mixing bowl whisk together the flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Form a well in the center and add the pre-ferment, olive oil, orange blossom water and eggs. Whisk to combine then knead the dough until smooth and elastic (at least 10 minutes if kneading by hand). Add in the anise seeds and candied orange and knead the dough until this is distributed evenly. Cover and leave to rise somewhere warm until doubled in size (ca. 1.5-2h at warm room temperature). Alternatively place in the fridge overnight.
Line two sheet pans with parchment paper. Knock the dough back and divide into 10 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a half circle slightly larger than the palm of your hand (it should be around 1/2cm thick). Cut one ca. 1 inch slit in the center of each piece and one slit the same size to both the left and the right of the central slit. Make 4 additional shorter cuts on the curved side of each piece, spacing them evenly apart as shown in the picture below.
Place the gibassiers on two sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Cover and set aside to proof somewhere warm for another 45 minutes to 1 hour until puffy.
While the gibassiers are proofing, pre-heat the oven to 175 degrees Celsius.
Brush the gibassiers with a little milk or some beaten egg and bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden (rotating the pan about halfway through to ensure even browning).
Brush each gibassier with melted butter and roll in sugar to coat (do this one by one otherwise the gibassiers might soak up the butter already and the sugar won’t stick). Serve immediately.