Rustic Walnut Bread
For someone who bakes her own bread pretty regularly, I haven’t experimented too much with different types of bread. I usually only eat bread once a day, for breakfast, with peanut butter, so I tended to think that my options were limited to plain sourdough or wheat. But I recently read a book by Joyce Carol Oates in which the main character begins learning how to bake bread. And she bakes all kinds of different loaves, full of fruits and nuts and flavors, and I was smitten. I decided it was time to branch out, to move away from sourdough and try something new. And I just happened to open one of my bread cookbooks to a recipe for Rustic Walnut Bread, and my decision was made.
Of course, I started pretty small, as far as wild variety goes. This bread is subtle enough that it’s very versatile: It’s great with peanut butter because the two nut flavors play off each other nicely. And it’s terrific with apple butter, a huge batch of which I just made recently. And man, it is terrific with a nice, nutty gruyere, with sharp cheddar, with brie. I’m willing to bet it would be terrific with any cheese. Make some small toast points out of this bread and they will fit perfectly onto an antipasto platter, or with an artichoke or spinach dip. And it will make great rolls for a holiday dinner. Thanksgiving, anyone?
Even better? It’s easy, and doesn’t require any special nut flours or anything. I actually left out fennel seeds, which the original recipe calls for, because I didn’t have them, and am not always a great fan of fennel seeds. I also updated the recipe to use instant yeast instead of fresh.
Rustic Walnut Bread
Adapted from Ursula Ferrigno’s The New Bread Book
- 1 lb. 5 oz (or 4 1/5 c.) bread flour (or you can use all-purpose, or you can use half bread flour and half whole wheat)
- 1 tsp. salt (I use fine sea salt for baking)
- 2 T. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 c. finely chopped walnuts
- 2 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
- 1 1/2 c. warm water
Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Cut the butter into the bread like you would butter for a pie crust: Use your fingers to rub the butter pieces into the flour until it is broken down into a coarse, sandy texture, without too many large lumps of butter left. Stir in the walnuts.
Mix together the yeast and about two tablespoons of the water. Add this to the flour mixture and stir, then slowly add the rest of the water, stirring, until you have a smooth, slightly sticky ball of dough. I have found that a hand mixer with dough hook attachments works really well for the middle mixing stages of making bread. I use a spatula to begin mixing the liquid into the flour, and once it’s started to come together, I switch to my hand mixer. I use the mixer until it’s almost entirely incorporated into one large ball of dough, then I turn the dough out on a floured surface to knead for about five to seven minutes, or until I have a nice, smooth ball. The walnuts made kneading this one a little tricky, because they kept popping out and flying to the ground, but if you’re not too vigorous, they should mostly stay in the dough.
Once the dough is smooth, put it back in the mixing bowl, cover with a towel, and set in a warm-ish place to rise for about an hour and a half. Sometimes I rinse the bowl out and spray it with spray oil, and sometimes I am just too lazy for that.
Once the dough has doubled in size, preheat the oven to 425F.
You have a few different options for shaping and baking.
- You can use a rectangular bread pan: Punch down the dough (or gently deflate, if you’re not feeling violent. Spray the pan with spray oil or butter it. Shape the bread into a slightly rectangular shape and fit it into the bread pan. Cover with a towel and let rise for another 20 minutes or so. Then slash the top of the bread a few times with a knife or lame, so air can release. Bake the bread for 10 minutes at 425, then for another 30 minutes at 375F. If you want, you can add a small dish of water to the oven to create steam, which helps make crispier crusts. Once the bread is browned, remove from the oven, pull the loaf out of the pan, and let cool on a wire rack.
- You can bake the bread on a pizza stone: Preheat the stone with the oven. Punch down the dough, and gently shape into a round or a baquette. Cover with a towel and let rise for another 20 minutes or so. Then slash the top of the bread a few times with a knife or lame, so air can release. Bake the bread for 10 minutes at 425F, then for another 30 minutes at 375F. If you want, you can add a small dish of water to the oven to create steam, which helps makes crispier crusts. Once the bread is browned, and sounds hollow when you tap the bottom, remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.
- You can bake the bread in a dutch oven: Preheat the oven with the dish part (not the lid) of the dutch oven in the oven. Punch down the dough, and shape into a round. Cover with a towel and let rise for another 20 minutes or so. Then slash the top of the bread a few times with a knife or lame, so air can release. Carefully place the dough into the hot dutch oven, and cover with the lid. Bake for 10 minutes at 425F, and another 30 minutes at 375F. The lid on the pot helps create steam, which makes for crispier crusts. Once the bread is golden brown, remove from the oven, pull the loaf out of the dutch oven, and let cool on a wire rack.
The bread has a wonderful, earthy flavor and I am loving it. I’ve already started to contemplate how it might taste made with pecans or even hazelnuts, perhaps with a little bit of cocoa added for a treat. But of course, I have three or four different bread cookbooks full of an amazing variety of breads, and I should probably give those a chance, too, now that I’ve finally broken out of my boring bread rut.