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In Season: Wonderful Walnut Wheat Bread

Thu, 01/18/1979 - 13:42

Whole wheat has finally become upper crust. Dark, earthy loaves of bread formerly shunned by everyone except peasants, nutritionists, and other dangerous types, have been welcomed at the tables of quality. The about-face is made complete by the fact that whole grain breads now cost more than once fancy white.

Where people used to put on airs, considering that any taint of color in the slice would reflect a lower station in life, the demand is now for fresh air and fresh bread, nutlike and fragrant with grain. Marie Antoinette would not know what to say. Even the French who have cherished their baguettes and whose long loaves we have sought and tried to reproduce, have turned to brown bread, or “pain biologique” as it is sometimes called.

Just so you won’t think that any brown bread will do (although any brown is probably better than any white among discriminating eaters), the bread currently in the limelight is studded with walnuts. The walnuts are not some fancy conceit, the way people dusted everything with almonds in the late ’50s or like the rage for green peppercorns that started a few years ago, but an extraordinarily fine marriage of flavors. The natural nuttiness of the whole wheat is enhanced and given an extra dimension of richness by the walnuts.

I have always preferred whole wheat to white, ever since I was a child, but about three months ago I started adding walnuts to my whole wheat bread. This is my recipe, called “wonderful” because everyone who tastes it says so.

Wonderful Walnut Wheat Bread

1 package dry yeast
2 tsp. sugar
2 1/2 cups warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 Tbsp. salt
1/4 cup finely ground walnuts
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (stone ground)
2-2 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1 cup broken walnut meats
1/4 teaspoon salt dissolved in 1/4 cup cold water

Dissolve yeast and sugar in one-half cup of the warm water and set aside in a warm place for a few minutes, until it begins to froth. In a large bowl, combine remaining water with salt and ground walnuts and then add yeast mixture.

Stir in three cups of the whole wheat flour, a cup at a time. Add the final half cup of whole wheat flour and then about a cup or more of the unbleached flour, half cup at a time, until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl.

Turn out onto a well-floured (with unbleached flour) board and knead for about eight minutes, kneading in another cup or so of the flour until the dough is resilient and has lost most ofits stickiness. You should be able to knead it on an unfloured surface with it barely sticking. At the same time, the dough should not be too stiff although it will be somewhat heavy. Now place the broken walnuts on your work surface and knead them into the dough until they are well-incorporated.

Punchy Procedure

Place dough in a well-oiled bowl, turn to oil the surface, cover lightly and set aside to rise until doubled. In a warm place this will take about an hour. Punch dough down, knead for a minute or two and slice into two equal portions. Shape each portion into a round ball and place the balls of dough on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal. Set aside to rise uncovered until doubled, about 45 minutes.

With a very sharp knife or razor blade, slash the top of each loaf to a depth of about one-half inch in a series of at least three lines or a criss-cross pattern. The blade must be extremely sharp so you can make the cuts gently without compressing the surface of the risen bread.

Place breads in the middle of the oven and turn the oven to 400 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes. Brush breads with salt water mixture, lower heat to 350 degrees and bake about 30 minutes longer, brushing the breads every ten minutes with the salt water.

Since you will be opening the oven several times, you probably should turn the baking sheet once to assure even baking. Bake the breads until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Remove from the oven, carefully lift off the baking sheets and cool them on racks. Makes two medium loaves.

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