I’d like to say this wonderful boule of walnut bread has just come from my oven and that hints of its aroma are still wafting through my house, but it’s been quite a while since I baked it. I’ll blame my current efforts to change my eating habits on finally deciding to write about it because I’ve had little bread of any kind in nearly two months, and have decided writing about it, remembering its crusty, nutty appeal will be good enough for me today.
I have just begun to think about where my love for a good piece of bread fits into my plans for a healthier me. It’s been very easy to give up bread from the grocery store — even the extra fiber, packed with multiple grains and oats type loaf I’d often choose for morning toast, or lunch sandwiches. Ultimately, it’s all over-processed and lacking in any kind of appeal that good, fresh bread can have.
Passing up a crusty artisan loaf is more the challenge for me, especially if it’s something I’ve made. That first piece still warm from the oven, most likely sporting an already melting swipe of butter is tough to resist. So is the sandwich I can’t wait to sample at lunch loaded with my favorite ingredients, or tomorrow morning’s toast with jam.
I love bread, so completely avoiding it will never be a viable option for me. Instead, I’ll have to find more recipes like this Seedy Oaty Spelt Bread to try packed with wholesome goodness. And of course, the ideal — simply eating one slice once in a while. In the meantime, I am remembering the fabulous flavor and texture of this walnut bread — my first attempt at a mixed-starter bread. It took a while from start to finish, but was well worth the effort.
1/2 oz. piece of fully risen dough (like pizza dough)
1/4 c. warm water
2/3 c. unbleached flour
- Start by cutting the dough into small chunks and placing them in a mixing bowl.
- Pour the warm (105-115 degrees) water over the dough pieces and allow to soften about 5 minutes.
- Using a wooden spoon if mixing by hand, or the paddle attachment on a stand mixer, mix in the flour gradually.
- When the dough becomes too stiff to mix, turn it out and knead it with your hands until the ingredients are thoroughly combined, or mix on low for 2-3 minutes with the stand mixer.
- Put the dough in a bowl or other container, cover lightly with plastic wrap and allow to sit for 8 hours in a warm place.
- The starter will be very soft, sticky, and bubbly.
old-dough starter created above
1/4 c. warm water
3/4 c. unbleached flour
- Divide the old-dough starter into four equal pieces and place in a bowl.
- Pour the warm (105-115 degrees) water over the pieces and allow to soften about 5 minutes.
- As directed above, work the flour in gradually, either with a wooden spoon or using a stand mixer — about 2-3 minutes on low.
- Place it in a large bowl, cover lightly with plastic wrap and allow to sit in a warm place for 4 hours until at least doubled in size.
- Place in the fridge for at least 1 hour, and up to 8 hours.
Walnut Bread Dough
1-1/4 c. cool water (78 degrees)
3/4 tsp. active dry yeast
second-state starter from above
3-1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 T kosher salt
8 oz. walnuts, coarsely chopped
- Pour the water into the bowl of a standing mixer and sprinkle the yeast in and mix.
- Scrape the second-stage starter out of the bowl and break it up into small pieces, adding adding each to the water yeast mixture as you go. Allow it to soften for about 5 minutes.
- Add the flour all at once and using the dough hook attachment, stir on the lowest setting until all the flour is incorporated.
- Let the dough rest for 10 minutes until all the water is absorbed.
- Turn the machine on low and sprinkle in the salt.
- Increase to medium speed and knead the dough for 5-8 minutes. Push the dough down the hook when it climbs up.
- Turn the soft dough out onto the counter and press to flatten it. Sprinkle the walnuts over the surface and fold the dough over onto itself several times before pressing to flatten it again. Fold a few times again, then knead the dough to make sure the walnuts are well distributed.
- Place the dough into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, then allow to rise in a warm spot, about 1-1/2 hours until doubled in size.
- Carefully deflate the dough by folding it over onto itself a few times before covering it again and allowing it to rise for an additional 45 minutes.
- For the last time, fold the dough carefully over onto itself a few times and then turn it out onto the counter.
- Turn the dough using the palms of your hands like a wheel until a smooth ball is formed.
- Line a colander with a clean cotton dish towel and sprinkle it with rice flour. Place the dough ball into the colander so the smooth side is facing down.
- Cover the dough with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature for 1-1/2 hours or until it is soft and spongy looking.
- Prepare the oven in the last 30 minutes of rising time by placing a cast iron skillet on the oven floor if gas or on the heating element if electric. Place a baking stone on a rack positioned in the bottom third of the oven above the skillet. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
- Pour 1 cup of warm water into a long-necked bottle such as a wine bottle, or drinking water bottle and set it aside near the oven.
- Rub rice flour over the surface of a peel and set aside.
- About 2 minutes before putting the bread dough into the oven, pour the water into the hot skillet, then quickly close the oven door to trap the steam.
- Place the peel over the bread dough and invert. Working quickly slash the top of the dough in a large “X” filling the spaces between the lines with smaller slashes.
- Slide the dough onto the hot baking stone and immediately turn the oven down to 400 degrees F.
- Bake for 40 – 50 minutes until deeply browned and the internal temperature of the bread is 200 degrees F.
- Remove to a baking rack to cool completely before serving.
- I wanted to make this walnut bread the minute I saw the recipe because walnuts have always been a favorite, but at the time had really only baked white bread before. Close to 12 years went by — and much more experience gained baking in general — before I’d have the nerve to try.
- I’d only tried making one starter before and failed miserably. In fact instead of having something to grow and nurture to be able to use time after time, I ended up with something that looked more like a smelly, bubbling science experiment. I have the tendency to forget my normal persistence when something that takes time doesn’t work and because there are so many recipes out there to enjoy, I just move along. Such a bad habit.
- Essentially, when you are making the starter, you’re introducing whatever yeast was in the old dough with flour to feed it, and allowing it to ferment over that initial 8 hour period of time.
- The one caution Sullivan provides is to not allow the dough after the final rise to sit any longer — whether in the fridge or not. It will be come sourdough and that isn’t what this bread is intended to be. Because I feel like I’m the only baker I know who has not made sourdough, I’m feeling ready for that challenge, but didn’t want to find out with this lovely recipe.
- I read and reread this recipe — one of Acme Bread Company’s Steve Sullivan’s found in Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan. And then I read it a few more times — if anything because of the planning that needed to go into making sure I didn’t end up with bread in the oven at 3 AM! I had to have a plan.
- On the starter in particular — I was suspicious mine wasn’t going to work because there didn’t seem to be much going on. It was like a dense ball of dough and not as sticky, gooey, or spongy as I imagined it would be. I used part of piece of pizza dough I’d made. I keep small quantities on hand in the freezer and they’re very quick to thaw — so that part was easy. I also decided to mix by hand instead of with the Kitchen Aid just to see how tough it would be. Tough, but it works.
- The second starter was softer as was mentioned in the recipe, but still not what I thought it would be, so of course, 10 hours into it, I had suspicions that it wasn’t going to work. I’d have a brick of bread or a giant hockey puck when everything was done.
- I don’t have great equipment for this type of bread making, but I manage to do just fine. The baking stone is great and if you don’t have one, consider it. I have two now — one round and one rectangle. The give bread such a nice crust! Pizzas, too. I don’t have a peel, but have figured out how to use parchment layered on the back of a baking pan and I slide the parchment with the oven ready bread dough on it right to the baking stone. It’s not fancy, but it works. I could indulge in a razor so my slashes don’t appear as if a slasher had made them. That’s an easy enough fix.
- This method of steaming is a bit different from what I’m used to. Normally, I put the bread in the oven, then pour hot water into a roasting pan on the lowest rack and quickly shut the door. Either way, it helps produce a lovely crust on the bread.
- The best advice I can give is to encourage you to just jump in. I participated in the BBA Challenge started by Nicole of Pinch My Salt a few years ago (and didn’t finish, true to my form) and learned so much in such little time. Bread making is so rewarding and considering the quantity of ingredients that go into most breads, it’s far more cost effective than sugar laden sweets. Go for it! Trial and error is the best kind of learning.
- I’ve got much to learn with respect to the language of all that is bread making. Understanding the science behind it all is coming along slowly, but grows with each of my efforts.
More on mixed-starter, single starter, or sourdough starter bread from around the web:
The Fresh Loaf — “Mixed Starter”
Wild Yeast — “Miche with Whole Wheat Starter”
Pinch My Salt — “Baking from Tartine Bread”
Azelia’s Kitchen — “White Spelt Stoneground Foster’s Mill — Alkor”
The Perfect Sandwich: Apple Blue Cheese & Onion Confit on Grilled Walnut Bread.