1.24.2009

i had my doubts

"I've always wanted to learn how to truss a chicken."

Honestly, now: Even after biting into the most succulent bird, have you ever uttered this statement at the table? Has it ever even crossed your mind? Probably not. (Though I suppose I shouldn't underestimate the desires and aspirations of passionate food makers and eaters.)

But what about that warm bread that your host just whisked from the oven and tucked into a linen-lined basket? I think it's fair to say that, time and again, fresh crusty loaves on tables everywhere elicit the same response from admiring guests: "Oh... I would love to learn how to bake bread."














What is it about the prospect of bread baking that entices dinner guests the world over? This is not a question that is difficult to answer: There's the thrill of the first rise. The whispery sigh that the dough releases as it is punched down into the bowl. Pffffffff. And then, there's the aroma that escapes from the oven and drapes itself around every room. Oh, that aroma. But if I had to guess, I would say that it is the tactile act of kneading that captures most of our imaginations: A wooden counter top dusted with flour, a round of soft, elastic dough, and your own two hands. It's intimate. Sensual.

It was, in fact, the promise of kneading that got me regularly baking my own bread a few years ago. Before long, I had the hang of it. And I was hooked. For a long time, the only recipes I attempted were ones that required a thorough massage on my floury counter. I tried using a bread maker a few times when I was in high school. It wasn't for me. Forgo kneading? But that's the best part! Thus, when I came upon a recipe for a bread that entailed no kneading whatsoever, I had my doubts. What kind of a dough refuses kneading? How standoffish.

Lucky for me, I got over it, and decided to give the recipe a shot. My vegan, white-flour-avoiding brother-in-law was grateful. Over the years, the recipe has evolved from its original form. I've added oat flour, walnuts, and the occasional spoonful of ground flax seeds. A loaf with raisins is particularly delicious sliced, toasted, and topped with cream cheese. But since so many of you out there frown on fruited bread, I've left out the raisins today.

Let me be clear about one thing: For a lot of people, this bread will not be a wow. It's not springy or tall - in fact, it's quite dense and low to the ground - which means that it rarely induces moans or sighs as other breads are wont to do. But it is good. Very good. Often, it's exactly what I want, toasted and slathered with peanut butter, or glistening under a thin layer of butter and apricot preserves. The cinnamon in the bread pairs nicely with most Mediterranean style dishes. (As in, anything from this cookbook. Or this one.)

I've been enjoying my latest loaf sandwich style: Two slices, toasted, and layered with sharp cheddar and frisée.

walnut bread sandwich

Here's the recipe, in case you'd like to give it a try. While it may not satisfy your craving for the ultimate bread baking experience, it will hopefully do the trick when it comes to the eating experience.

Cinnamon Walnut Bread
Adapted from VegWeb

2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. oat flour
1/3 c. sugar (You can go as low as 1 heaping tablespoon.)
1 tsp. salt
3 tsp. rapid rise yeast
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 2/3 c. water
1 heaping cup walnuts, toasted and barely chopped (Two passes with a chef's knife is sufficient.)
1 T. oats, for garnish

Optional:
1 T. ground flax seeds
3/4 c. raisins

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast. (It should take about 7 minutes.)

Meanwhile, grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan. Mix the flours, sugar, salt, yeast, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. You can use a stand mixer, but a bowl and a spoon work just as well. While stirring (or allowing the mixer's paddle to do its thing), gradually add the water. Stir in the toasted walnuts and, if you choose, the ground flax seeds and raisins.

Pour the dough (or, shall I say, batter?) into the loaf pan. Cover with a clean dish towel, and allow the dough to rise until it has doubled in size. This should take about an hour, give or take, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.

Using a pastry brush or the back of a spoon, cover the top of the loaf with a bit of water. (The water will serve as an adhesive.) Sprinkle on the oats, and pop the pan into the oven. Bake for approximately 40 minutes. When the bread is done, a toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean.

4 comments:

Richard Draves said...

Jessica, great blog!! Have you tried the "new york times no-knead bread"?
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/081mrex.html?ex=1320642000&en=d5976d62a4577548&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss
It takes advance planning but turns out really well.

Rich Draves said...

Jessica, great blog!! Have you tried the "new york times no-knead bread" recipe?

Jess said...

Hi, Rich! Thanks so much for reading! No, I haven't tried that recipe, but you're the third person this month to mention it to me, so I guess I'd better get baking.

Rosiecat said...

Oh man, this bread sounds really good to me. It must say something about my personality that I'm not at all deterred by your confession that this bread is not a wow. I know it should dampen my expectations, but with peanut butter? Or the raisin version with cream cheese? I could go for a midnight snack right now if one of those options is involved!