SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A NUT
Another day, another bread challenge. And this one was a doozy. Pane ai Cinque Cereali con Noci (Five-Grain Bread with Walnuts). But after my most recent bread successes, I felt more than up to the challenge. And very, very excited about it!
This one I discovered on Tanna’s blog My Kitchen in Half Cups who hosts this month’s Bread Baking Babes (celebrating their one-year anniversary of happy baking) challenge. This is a rustic, hearty, earthy bread made with five different flours and finely chopped walnuts to boot. According to Tanna, it is the perfect bread to serve with smoked meats, smoked salmon, sharp cheeses, oysters and mussels – most of our favorite things to eat and staples of our kitchen! With that going for it, I felt that it was the perfect bread to start with as a wannabe Bread Baking Buddy.
First challenge : finding all of the various flours called for in the recipe (click here to see the complete recipe) : oat, rye, whole wheat, brown rice and all-purpose. Okay, the whole wheat and the all-purpose are shoo-ins, but the rest? And in Nantes? In French?
I grabbed my shopping basket and off I went to discover the only health food store in walking distance (that I know of), selling whole and organic groceries. If I don’t find brown rice flour here…. As soon as I stepped through the door, I felt the years drop off and the wash of my youth flood over me. Ah, those long-ago college years spent in health food stores, cooking organic, eating vegetarian. I felt suddenly at home. Wandering up and down the aisles was a certain bliss, long lost in the frenzy of travels, marriage, children and changing times and eating habits.
I found myself gazing in wonder at the array of flours and grains lined up in this Ali Baba cavern of baking supplies. After a short discussion with the salesgirl and a lengthier discussion with some kind of biologist or whatever he called himself who bakes his own bread and felt the urge to explain all of the different grains to me, I found, much to my delight, all of what I needed. Rye (seigle), oats (avoine), brown rice (riz complet) fell into my basket along with a sachet of poppy seeds (which are hard to find and normally very expensive in France) as a special treat. And off to home I skipped…
Second challenge : the Great Walnut Conundrum. Hubby, as I may have mentioned, is allergic to walnuts. In a big way. He won’t even taste anything I bake using even a hint of walnuts, and he sometimes decides that even pecans or almonds shouldn’t be risked. As he is the one person in the household whom I can rely on to help me eat whatever I bake (except brownies), I usually bend over backwards to avoid baking with the Evil Walnut.
So I hopped over to my neighborhood supermarket and, much to my chagrin, discovered their dried fruits and nuts section half empty – no pecans, no hazelnuts, nothing that I could use as a replacement for walnuts. I called over the manager who explained, very politely, that the person in charge of this aisle was on vacation until Friday, so he suggested I wait for his return and come back at the end of the week. Arrrrgggghhhh….. France! I shoulda known!!!
I begged and pleaded, but to no avail. No one but this particular person was allowed to restock the shelves in this section, so I would just have to wait until Mr. So-and-So finished up his holiday and came back to work.
After pacing up and down, back and forth, I decided that I had no choice but to grab packets of walnuts – strangely enough, the only nut that was NOT out of stock – and stomp off back home (trying to calm my seething anger) to bake.
So in the end, walnuts it is!
Bread challenge : I measured out my flours, grinding rolled oats down to a fine flour, my salt and yeast and water.
I allowed my yeast to bubble and froth (adding 2 tablespoons light brown sugar to help in the process, as I usually do) in the warm water. I then stirred in the 3 cups of additional water
I toasted my walnut pieces for 10 minutes in a 400°F (200°C) oven. Once they were toasted, I ground them – in 3 batches – to the size of grains of rice.
I blended the flours, walnuts and salt together. This mixture of dry ingredients I stirred into the yeast/water 2 cups at a time until well blended and eventually, with the last two cups stirred in, forming an homogeneous, albeit very sticky dough.
I turned the dough out onto a well-floured work surface and kneaded for about 10 minutes, adding more flour as I kneaded. The dough was very sticky until, at just the 8 minute mark, this stickiness gave way to a beautiful, smooth, elastic dough.
I placed the dough in an oiled bowl, turning the dough around to coat it with oil, then covered the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and set it aside to rise until doubled in size, for 1 hour.
Once the dough doubled, I turned it out onto a floured work surface and sliced it in half. I placed each half in an oiled bread pan, covered once again with plastic wrap and a towel and set aside to double a second time for 1 hour 15 minutes.
I slashed the top of each loaf and baked in a preheated 400°F (200°C) oven for a total of 45 minutes, turning the loaves out of the loaf pans and onto a baking sheet for the last 5 minutes or so.
Once baked, I allowed the bread to cool slightly (I couldn’t wait!) before slicing and testing the crumb. I buttered a slice and bit into the dense, moist perfect bread. I found the bread not particularly lovely to look at – quite rustic – but the inside was beautiful with a dense, lovely crumb and a fragrant, nutty flavor.
Husband even popped a piece into his mouth and said “It’s very good….(pause)… it’s excellent. It is really excellent!”. Success!
This morning I sliced off a piece, toasted it lightly, slathered it with butter and cherry jelly and it was delicious. Hmmm, maybe that smoked salmon at lunch? Nutty girl!