It has been walnut season here for a couple of weeks, and we've been merrily cracking them at every opportunity. That, and glowing plaudits at The Fresh Loaf, persuaded me to try Dan Lepard's Walnut Loaf. Dan is rapidly becoming one of my favourite bread mavens (Santa knows this) and after the stunning success of his black pepper rye I would try anything. First, a recipe. The one at The Fresh Loaf was hard to print. Lazily, I Googled around and found a version in The Independent. One close examination it is simpler than The Fresh Loaf's, which I think is taken direct from Dan's book. But hey, ho; simple is good.
For the dough:
100 gm walnut paste (see below) 275 gm water 1 teaspoon fresh yeast (I used one packet of dried). 350 gm white flour (I used organic stoneground grano tenero 0) 100 gm wholemeal flour (ditto, integrale) 50 gm rye flour (ditto, segale integrale) 2 teaspoons salt (weighed 10-11 gm) 50 gm honey 100 gm walnuts Oil for kneading
For the walnut paste:
40 gm walnuts 20 gm melted butter 40 gm water A pinch of salt
The first job is to equip yourself with 140 gm of walnuts. And as I sat there cracking and picking, two thoughts and a memory came to me. The first thought was that this is a job best undertaken immediately after lunch. Or some other meal. Otherwise the temptation to have one for me and one more for my bowl would be just too great.
The second thought was an evolutionary puzzle about the convolutions of the walnut. Brains are convoluted to get more of that good grey matter folded in on top of the white stuff. But walnuts? Why are they folded? So that people know to eat them for added brain power! The doctrine of signatures is alive and well. Walnuts are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are good for the brain. Walnuts look like brains. Therefore, walnuts are good for brains. QED. Unless you know of another equally persuasive explanation.
And the memory was of a time, long ago, when writers at New Scientist were encouraged to do oddball articles for the end of December, and I spent an inordinate amount of time -- pre-Internet, best beloved -- finding out how they get walnuts out of their shells and onto the top of a Walnut Whip.1 Not just walnuts, but nuts in general.2 I learned all about the various kinds of machinery developed to crack nuts, and that there was nothing better than a Chinese or French woman with a light hammer when it came to extracting whole half walnuts. I wonder whether that's still true? Anyway, armed only with a pair of the worst sort of uncontrollable nutcrackers, which are perfectly adequate when the walnuts are fresh, I had plenty of time to think such things as the walnut meats slowly accumulated.
Right. Back to the bread. First make the paste. Put 40 gm of walnuts, water, melted butter and salt into a small grinder and process until you have a soft, smooth paste. Mix the yeast into the water and leave to prove a bit while you weigh the flours and mix them, with the salt, in a large bowl. Now weigh the honey into the yeast and water, add the walnut paste and whisk them all together. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and stir it about to mix everything together, and then add the 100 gm of extra walnuts. At this point, stirring gets hard, as I didn't want to break the walnuts up too much. (I broke a wooden spoon instead.) In The Independent Dan says to "add walnuts and squidge together," and that seems about right.
At this point, Dan says to pat a tablespoon of olive oil over the top and sides of the dough. I didn't bother. I did cover the bowl and leave it for 10 minutes, as instructed.
Turn the dough onto "an oiled, floured surface and lightly knead about 10 times". Well, that makes no sense. Oil, or flour? I go for the tiniest bit of oil on my stainless steel worktop. Ten quick kneads is good. The dough goes back into the bowl, covered in a warm place, for 15 minutes and I go back to work.
"Knead once more" (10 quickies, I assumed, rather than one) "and return the dough to the bowl for a further 30 minutes." My kind of bread.
The shaping step seems to have been cut from The Independent's stripped-down version, because the next instruction is to put the dough "seam-side up" into a deep bowl lined with a flour-dusted clean tea-towel. But hey, where did that seam come from? Luckily, I knew what to do. The final proofing takes 60 to 90 minutes, then you score a checkerboard in the top and pop the loaf into a 210℃(410℉) oven "for about an hour or until the loaf is rich brown and, when tapped, sounds hollow".
You cool it, you slice it, you eat it, you marvel, you're inspired to do silly things with photographs.
Yay walnuts! Yay Dan Lepard! Yay the Fresh Loaf! Yay Yeastpotting!