I do love walnuts. In ice cream, with apples, or in this gorgeous walnut bread. As with all good loaves of bread, you will need to be patient with this one. You will need to mix together a poolish the evening before you plan to bake.
The crumb of this bread is airy because of the hydration level of 75 %. The crunch of the walnuts gives it a nice textural contrast. It will take some practice to work with this dough in case you’re new to bread baking.
If you’re still a little inexperienced, just lower the hydration level to about 65 %, using a total of 325 g of water. You can also bake it in a bread tin if you have problems to shape the dough to hold its structure while baking.
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Roast your walnuts the evening before
I highly recommend you to buy fresh walnuts for this dish and roast them yourself in the oven. Yes, I know this is a lot of work. Especially cracking them all open. But the results are well worth it. Pre-roasted walnuts from the supermarket are often rancid and don’t have a pleasant taste.
It’s best to roast them the evening before you plan to bake while preparing your poolish. The poolish consists of 50 % whole wheat and 50 % water. You will only need to add a tiny amount of fresh yeast. The poolish will give your bread more flavor and keep it fresh for longer.
I know that especially American people might dislike it, that all my recipes call for fresh yeast. But I do think it is essential. In my personal experience, fresh yeast gives the bread a better flavor, texture, and rise.
How to assemble the dough for walnut bread
The final dough is very simple to assemble. Just combine all the ingredients except the walnuts and knead the dough until it is smooth and doesn’t stick as horribly. I recommend using a stand mixer with the dough hook attached for this task. However, it is no problem to do it by hand.
The walnuts should be incorporated into the dough after kneading. You don’t want to crush them into a kind of coarse flour. I like to have them in large chunks inside my walnut bread.
You need to let the dough rise until it has tripled in size. This strongly depends on the temperature in your kitchen but 2-3 hours is a rough estimate.
During this time, you will need to fold the dough to stabilize it. To fold the dough, grab it from underneath with your wetted hand. Stretch it and fold the dough over itself. Repeat this process 3-4 times and wait for half an hour before applying the second fold.
How to correctly proof your dough
After rising, deflate the dough and shape it into a round ball. Place in a proofing basket or round bowl that is lined with a kitchen towel and leave it to proof. This process can take anywhere from 30-60 minutes. Your dough is ready when it is just barely stable enough to hold its shape. It shouldn’t collapse when you put it onto your counter.
As with my spelt bread, this walnut bread is baked in a Dutch oven. Bake it with the lid closed for 30 minutes before removing it. That way it will rise better and get airier.
Resist the temptation to cut into your bread before it has cooled down completely. You don’t want it to end up dry. It’s perfect with just a little butter on it and goes great with either sweet or savory toppings.
The day before you plan to bake, combine the whole wheat flour, water, and yeast in a small bowl. Use your spatula to incorporate all the water into the flour so that no dry spots remain. Cover the bowl and let the poolish sit at room temperature for 2 hours. Then, place it in the fridge and let the poolish ferment for 24 hours.
Autolyse the rest of the flour:
The next day, in a large bowl, combine the rest of the flour with 250 g water. Mix briefly with a wooden spatula, so that no dry spots remain. Leave the dough to hydrate (‘autolyse’), covered, for 30 minutes.
Add the poolish, salt, and yeast to your dough. If using a stand mixer, knead the dough on the low setting for 8 minutes followed by 1 minute on the high setting. If kneading by hand, knead the dough until it has firmed up and becomes less sticky. After kneading, incorporate the roasted walnuts into your dough.
Cover the dough and leave it to rise at room temperature until it has tripled in size, about 3 hours. While rising, the dough needs to be folded 2 times. Do this 30 and 60 minutes after you have finished kneading the dough. Lightly wet your hands and fold the dough over itself 3-4 times.
Once the dough has properly risen, take it out of the bowl and transfer it to a floured work surface. Fold the dough inwards to create a smooth surface. Rotate the dough with the palm of your hands to create a smooth ball that has enough tension to hold up its shape. Place the dough, seam side down, in a small proofing basket or bowl that roughly fits the size of the dough. Make sure to line the bottom of the bowl with a kitchen towel that is generously dusted with potato starch so that your dough won’t stick.
Preheat your oven to 475 °F (245 °C). Place a large Dutch oven inside your oven and leave it in there for at least half an hour to get hot.
Proof and bake your bread:
Leave the dough to proof until ready to bake. This took me about 60 minutes at 68 °F (20 °C) room temperature. You can verify if your dough is ready by poking it with a floured hand. If the indentation springs back slowly and incompletely, the dough is fully proofed. If it doesn’t spring back at all, your dough is over-proofed. In that case, deflate the dough and shape it into a dough ball again. Leave it to proof a second time and be careful not to overproof it again. Under-proofed dough will spring back immediately and completely.
Shortly before baking, take the Dutch oven out of your oven and place the proofed dough into the center of the Dutch oven, seam-side down. Score the top of the loaf in a criss-cross pattern with a bread knife. You can also invert the dough into your Dutch oven seam-side up. That way, you don’t need to score it. Cover the Dutch oven with the lid and place in the oven. Let the bread bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Then, remove the lid from the Dutch oven and let the loaf brown for about 20 minutes, or until the color of the crust is to your liking.
Once fully baked, take your bread out of the oven. Lightly spray the outside of the hot loaf with water and leave the bread to cool for at least 1 hour before slicing it.
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