Meet Charlie, the latest addition to our flat. With him he has brought bread recipes, plans for ice cream making and biscuit baking. This is a good place to live. Here, he kneads hazelnut and walnut bread. I’ve written about fruit bread here before. I could write about fruit bread several times over; there are many moments and words for fruit bread. But now I turn to nut bread: savoury dough wrapped around hazelnuts and walnuts. We do not want fine sprinkles of nuts here, the sort you would top icecream with, but whole nuts barely cracked under the blade of a knife or the heel of a hand so their sweet oil perfumes the bread.
Charlie and I first made this bread several months ago, well before he parked his motorbike out front and claimed the downstairs room. We thought we both have a similar approach to cooking (a sort of wing it and hope approach): we should cook together.Work schedules forced our cooking date to late afternoon. Soup, we decided, and bread, were appropriate at this hour; light and warming for an early supper. We roasted mushrooms and pumpkin, the dark wrinkly undersides of the mushrooms becoming more rich and velvet like in the oven. Charlie made a broth of stock, herbs from our garden, carrot, red onion and a half head of garlic. It was all very pleasant – a slowly simmering broth on the stove, vegetables roasting, the pumpkin almost caramelising, while Charlie and I drank coffee and talked cocktails. (Charlie is a bartender by night, at this fine establishment. He is a good person to know.)The soup was everything good soups should be, but it is the bread I wanted to share. Charlie began making the bread earlier in the day, transporting the rising loaf in a big courier bag. It’s a nut bread he said, hazelnuts and walnuts. It’s also, he confessed, an Australian Masterchef recipe. We don’t discriminate when it comes to good bread, though. He became animated as he spoke, more than he usually is. In the oven, under the baking bread, he told me, is an oven tray with a few ice cubes, and as the ice melts it creates steam so the bread gets a good crust. It should be kick-ass good is what I believe he said next.
As it turned out, this bread needed a bit more tweaking. But there were good things going on here: it’s sweet and salty and when the nuts are still warm from the oven they are silky and smooth. The wholemeal flour is nubbly and more satisfying than regular white, something to sink your teeth in to.
The bread is perfect for soup as the nuts add a richness that negates the need for butter. Though, as a lover of butter, I slathered some on for good measure. This bread is versatile and easy enough for butter and jam, perhaps toasted and dunked in coffee. It could hold more oil and be rubbed in dukkah. It would make a fine sandwich, pehaps with hot mustards and smoky cured meats.Last week we made this bread again, determined to get it right this time. We did. It rose perfectly in the way that yeasted dough does – with a slight spring beneath your teeth and the tiniest of air pockets, but there remains a density. (Maybe Charlie would like to explore sourdough starters…?) The nuts spread throughout and when sliced, slivers of walnuts and cross-cuts of round hazelnuts form strata in the bread. And the crust really was kick-ass good.
Hazelnut and Walnut Bread
Adapted from here. One hour before baking pre-heat oven to 220°C.
200 grams wholemeal flour
200 grams plain flour
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons dried active yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
335ml lukewarm water
75 grams hazelnuts, lightly crushed
75 grams walnuts, lightly crushed
Mix the flours and salt in a large bowl. Fill a small bowl with 100ml of the lukewarm water and stir in the sugar. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and leave in a warm place for 10-15 minutes or until frothy. Make a well in the centre of the flours then add the yeast mixture and the remaining lukewarm water. Mix well with your hands until a dough forms. Add more water, a teaspoon at a time, if mixture is too dry or more flour if too wet. Clean the bowl with the dough then turn dough onto a floured surface.
Knead dough for 5-10 minutes or until dough is smooth and the ‘skin’ begins to tear. Push dough into a large rectangle and sprinkle with the nuts. Roll together and knead a few more times until the nuts are spread throughout the dough.
Place dough back in the bowl and leave, covered, in a warm place for 1 hour. Every 20 minutes knock back the dough by rolling it away from you with 5 to 6 strokes. After an hour knead the dough again for a few minutes and shape into a loaf. Place loaf on a greased and lined baking tray. Cover the baking tray and leave in warm place for 1 to 1.5 hours until doubled in bulk. Pre-heat the oven to 220°C at this stage.
Once doubled in bulk make 3 slashes in the top of the loaf with a sharp or serrated knife and place in the oven. Throw a half dozen ice cubes in an oven tray and quickly place underneath the bread or at the bottom of the oven. Immediately turn oven down to 200°C and bake for 25 minutes. Set oven door ajar with a wooden spoon and bake for another 5 minutes to dry the bread out.