Sunday, September 19, 2010

What about my Kneads?

When the weather starts getting cool enough to turn on the oven without causing myself bodily trauma, Harry starts to fear (or hope?) that he’ll come home to huge piles of breads and other baked goods. While it’s true that I get up a lot more energy for heat-intensive and complicated kitchen wonders as the days get colder and shorter, I haven’t gone too crazy with the baking just yet. I’ve still got the whole autumn and winter ahead of me after all.

Even when it’s hot I make the occasional loaf of bread, so now I’m making a loaf or two a week. I’m also still trying to burn some of those bread calories by kneading my loaves by hand (except when I make pizza crust or the no-knead breads I talked about here.) My dad always said that if you cut your own firewood, it warms you twice: once while you’re cutting it and once while you’re burning it. If that’s the case, then bread might give a triple dose of heat: one when you knead it, one when you bake it, and one in the form of carbohydrate calories that give your body fuel. (But if you use that fuel to knead more bread, I guess that’s back down to twice heated.)

Not only am I kneading recipes by hand, wrist and arm, but I’ve also been taking back the timing, judgment, and stirring by converting my books full of bread machine recipes into conventionally baked recipes. It’s not that I have anything against bread machines (except perhaps the shape of most bread machine loaves.) It’s just that I wore mine out long before I got to try all the recipes I wanted to, and I never got a new one.

Recently I made one of those bread machine recipes from The Bread Lovers Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger. It’s a soft white loaf made with buttermilk, nuts and nut oil. In the book, it’s called “California Nut Bread,” and was designed to be made with any nut and corresponding nut oil you like. Since I often have nuts and nut oil on hand, not to mention several types of flour, I usually make this when I have extra buttermilk languishing in the refrigerator (how do you know when that stuff goes bad, anyway?).

I’ve fiddled with this recipe a bit over the years (taking decent notes for once), and I’ve enjoyed it most with walnuts and walnut oil. I’ve also, perhaps out of guilt, added just a bit of whole wheat flour, which bumps up the WFQ* without changing the texture much. Speaking of texture, the buttermilk in this bread makes it soft and chewy, while the crunchy nuts form a nice contrast. The flavor of those nuts is enhanced by the walnut oil, so that it permeates the whole loaf. The toasty nuttiness compliments the tanginess from the buttermilk.

I like slices of this loaf plain or slathered with butter or just about anything sweet or semisweet. It also makes great French toast, which is good because then I have motivation to save some of the loaf for another day rather than just eating it all. I hope you like it too, and will add it to your own list of kneads.

*WFQ: Whole Food Quotient

Walnut Buttermilk Bread
Based on a recipe in The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger

Since buttermilk tends to curdle when heated, I prefer to proof the yeast in warm water and allow the buttermilk to come to room temperature before using it in this dough.

Here, as with most yeast breads, I use a “mini-starter” method, where the yeast and some liquid is mixed with some of the flour and allowed to stand and develop for a while before the kneading process. I find that this method helps produce consistently good loaves.

¼ cup warm water (about 100 F)
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (1 envelope)
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
¼ cup walnut oil
½ cup whole wheat flour
2 ½ cups bread flour, divided
1 teaspoon fine salt
3 ounces coarsely chopped walnuts (about ¾ cup)
Nonstick spray or oil for the dough and the pan

1. Combine the warm water, yeast and brown sugar in a large bowl. Let stand 5 minutes or until the mixture is foamy.

2. Add the buttermilk, walnut oil, whole wheat flour and ½ cup bread flour. Mix well. Cover with a towel and let stand at least 15 minutes and up to 30 minutes.

3. Stir in the salt and ½ cup more bread flour. Turn the wet dough out onto a kneading surface (you can also knead the dough in a heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook.) Knead until very smooth and elastic, adding as much of the remaining bread flour as you can, or more if necessary. You want a dough that just avoids sticking to the counter (or the mixer bowl) while you knead. This will take about 10 minutes.

4. Flatten out the dough and spread the walnuts over it. Roll up the dough and knead about 1 minute more, or until the walnuts are evenly distributed.

5. Form the dough into a ball and place in a large bowl. Spray the top of the dough with nonstick cooking spray. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the dough. Cover with a towel and let stand 1 hour or until roughly double in size.

6. Gently deflate the dough and form into a new ball. Let stand about 5 minute. Shape into a loaf. Spray an 8-inch x 4-inch bread pan with nonstick cooking spray. Place the shaped loaf in the pan, cover with a towel and let stand about 1 hour, or until completely risen and puffy.

7. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 F. Bake the risen loaf at 375 F for 30-35 minutes or until it tests done. (The most accurate way to test is to measure the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer. The bread should be about 200 F in the middle.)

8. Remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Other recipes like this one: Stout Chocolate Cherry Bread, Chocolate Orange Bread

One year ago: Beet and Carrot Burgers

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