Thursday, April 15, 2010

Walnut-Apricot Bread

People often ask me how I come up with the unusual flavors in some of my breads. Sometimes I'm trying to create a particular flavor profile, and sometimes it's a matter of being creative with what I have on hand. In this case, someone had given me a bag of raw walnuts and seeing them on the kitchen counter got me thinking about ways to use them up.

Bread was the obvious answer, but what sort of bread? I wasn't in the mood for sweet, sticky, chunky, nutty rolls. When I thought about the flavor of walnuts, I decided they would add an interesting flavor component to a loaf of bread without overwhelming it. Since I didn't want obvious hunks of walnut, I decided to grind them to a paste.

Rather than adding sugar, I decided that a natural sweetness would be nice. I had Turkish apricots left over from something else, and the combination sounded appealing to me. I used exactly 14 dried apricots, because that's what I on hand had at the time. As with the walnuts, I decided that I wanted them incorporated into the dough as completely as possible, so they went into the food processor with the walnuts.

The resulting bread has a beautiful mahogany crust, and a subtle walnut flavor. It's not sweet at all; perfectly appropriate plain, with a little butter, or for a sandwich. I think it's particularly tasty with cream cheese, and it would make a great base for an appetizer with cream cheese and thin slices of cucumber.

Walnut-Apricot Bread

1 cup lukewarm water
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) yeast
2 1/2 cups bread flour, divided
1 cup raw walnuts
14 dried pitted apricots (I used Turkish)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the water, yeast, and one cup of the bread flour.

Put the walnuts, apricots and olive oil into your food processor, blender, or other capable device, and process it until it is a mostly smooth homogeneous mixture. This should make about a cup, but a little more or less is fine.

By the time the walnut mixture is smooth, the flour mixture should be bubbly.

To that, add the rest of the bread flour and the salt, and knead with the dough hook until it begins to come together.

Add the walnut mixture, including all the liquid that may be separating from the walnuts. Knead until the mixture has incorporated fully into the dough and it starts becoming smooth. Stop the mixer and let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes before continuing.

After the rest, continue kneading with the dough hook until the dough is smooth, shiny and elastic. Remove the bowl from the mixer, form the dough into a ball. It shouldn't be sticky at all at this point. Put the dough ball back into he mixer bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it rest until doubled in size, about an hour and a half.

Sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Take the dough out of the bowl, knead it briefly, and form into a tight ball. Place it, seam-side down, on the baking sheet. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap and set it aside to rise until doubled, about 30-45 minutes.

When the dough has doubled, slash the top. Be decorative if you want, or just slash an "X" in the top or make parallel lines or a square - whatever you prefer.

To recreate the slashes I made, first make the large X in the top of the bread going almost to the base of the dough, then make short slashes in-between the long ones. Use small, sharp scissors to make tiny snips around the short slashes.

Bake for 40-45 minutes. Check the dough after 15 minutes, and rotate the pan if it's rising or browning unevenly. If it seems to be browning too fast, turn the oven temperature down to 325.  

The crust will be a deep brown, and the bread should sound hollow when tapped.

This recipe also appeared on Serious Eats.