I haven't always been confident with yeast. The thought of working with something that's alive, that grows, that expands, that could die if not treated carefully, it a petrifying thought for someone who has a reputation for being an accidental assassin when it comes to tending herbs and pot plants.
But yeast is sturdier than you'd think. All it requires is time and a little TLC.
It was Not Quite Nigella's scrumptious post that drew my attention to this delicious recipe. By the time I'd realised I had all the ingredients in my pantry (and yes, admittedly I do have a very well-stocked pantry!), I was already making plans to undertake some baking.
I used mozzarella cheese, not the tasty cheese that Not Quite Nigella used in her adaptation, mainly because that's what I had in the fridge. I also use bread improver, rather than purchase the more expensive bread flours. You can find bread improver near the flour in larger supermarkets - the packet I buy is bright yellow and is made by Lowan. I also reverted the oven temperatures to what Nigella Lawson recommends in her original recipe in "How to be a Domestic Goddess".
The bread. Wow. I was incredulous that it tasted so good. And I had made it. The crust is slightly chewy, the interior a dense but soft fluffiness, like a snuggleworthy quilt. I brought along this loaf to a picnic and I could have quite happily eaten just this, and nothing else.
Keep the bread wrapped in a tea towel and it will stay fresh for 2-3 days. I spread some of the end slices with gorgonzola, and the creamy sharpness of the cheese against the slight bitterness of walnut was such a great combination my next batch will be plain and served with a thick slather of blue.
Maple Walnut Bread
3 1/2 cups wholewheat plain flour
1 cup plain flour
1 Tablespoon bread improver*
1 Tablespoon of salt
1 Tablespoon instant yeast
1 1/3 - 1 2/3 cups warm water
4 Tablespoons maple syrup
3/4 cup walnut halves
1/2 cup mozzarella grated (optional)
Combine the flours, bread improver, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Add the warm water and the maple syrup. Knead together for a few minutes or until the dough comes together. Use an electric mixer with a dough hook if you have it. A KitchenAid is even easier.
Allow the dough to rest for about 20 minutes. Gradually knead in the walnuts and continue kneading until the dough feels reasonably smooth and elastic.
Shape the dough into a ball and place into a large lightly oiled bowl. Rotate the dough a few times so it's oiled all over. Cover with cling film and allow to rise for 1-2 hours in a warm area (I put mine in the laundry). If it's a very cold day, you can often help it along by placing the bowl in a warm water bath in the sink, making sure the water is not too hot (test with your elbow).
When the dough has doubled, punch it down to release the air, and then knead for a minute or two. If adding cheese, flatten the dough into a rectangular shape and sprinkle it along a line across the middle. Roll the dough up into a rounded loaf or Vienna-style shape.
Place the loaf onto a baking tray lined with a baking sheet and cover with a tea towel, allowing it to rise again for about 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 220C / 425F.
When the dough looks puffy, make three diagonal slashes and place in the oven. Bake at 220C / 425F for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 190C / 375F and bake for about another 20 minutes. Check to see if the bread is cooked by tapping it on the underside and listening for a hollow sound.
Cool on a wire rack and enjoy warm or cool. Store in a tea towel away from heat or sunlight to maintain freshness.
* Bread improver can be found in larger supermarkets. Look for the yellow packet made by Lowan's near the cornflour in the baking aisle. If you can't find bread improver, substitute the plain flour for strong bread or baking flour (00 strength).
After the final prove
Fresh from the oven
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Baking: Irish soda bread
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1/31/2009 12:06:00 am