Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Another European Classic - Pain aux Noix (French Nut Bread)

Sometimes you can just look at a bread, and know, before you even taste it, where it comes from. This is one of those breads. It is a dark brown in color, and with a soft, almost crumbly crumb. The crust is crunchy, and well...crusty. The best part of it is that the nuts of various kinds, chopped coarsely, are mixed into the dough and then baked together. Traditionally, this bread is made with hazelnuts, but truthfully, can be made with any kind, almonds, walnuts or even a mixture. If you want to give an American twist to a Eurpean bread, use pecans. Any way you slice it (pun intended) this bread won't disappoint. It fills the whole house with the most incredible aroma. And after it's baked, if you toast it, it does it again. This bread is also very versatile: the nuts make it perfect for a breakfast bread, but it works just great with smoked meats and mustard too. Please try this bread... you won't be disappointed. BTW, this recipe is adapted from one of my favorite bread baking books of all time, TheBread Bible by Beth Hensperger. A truly remarkable collection of bread recipes containing everything from traditional European breads like this one, to modern quick breads. It's all here and a book well worth adding to your collection.

Here's What You'll Need: (for 2 round loaves)
2 1/2 cups hazelnuts, roughly chopped skinned and lightly toasted (or other nuts)
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cups warm water
2 Tbs. dry yeast
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup warm milk (or water, or unflavored soy milk for non-dairy)
1/2 cup walnut oil (or hazelnut oil)
2 1/2 tsp. salt
about 3 cups AP flour

Here's What You'll Need To Do:

1. Combine about 1 1/4 cups of the nuts with about 1 cup of the whole wheat flour. Mix well to coat the nuts completely. Grind to a rough (not flour-like) consistency in a food processor and set aside.

2. Sprinkle the yeast over 1/4 cup the warm water with a pinch of brown sugar dissolved in. Let it stand for about 10 minutes to activate the yeast.

3. In a large bowl, combine the remaining water, the milk (or soy if using), oil, sugar and salt. Pulse to mix, then add the yeast mixture. Finally add in the nut and whole wheat mixture as well.

4. Add the remaining shole wheat flour and mix to form a soft fairly sticky dough. Then add in the AP flour, 1/2 cup at a time until the dough 'cleans the bowl' but remains soft and elastic. It will be just slightly tacky, and will not stick to your fingers.

5. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes to develop the gluten, then place it in a lightly-oiled bowl, turn to coat, and cover. The dough should rise until doubled, about 2 hours.

6. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces and shape each piece into a round, tightening the surface as you shape it. Lightly spray some oil on the dough balls, and cover with plastic wrap to rest. This will take about 45 minutes.

7. About 20 minutes before baking time, pre-heat the oven to 375 F (190 C). Use a baking stone, if you have one. Just before baking slash the bread with 3 or 4 cuts about 1/4 inch (3mm) deep. Spray water into the oven and pour boiling water into a steaming pan to create a wet environment.

8. Bake for about 45 minutes or until it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a rack.

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