Thursday, 18 April 2013

Date and Walnut Bread

A good loaf feeds more than just ones appetite, it nourishes the soul and strengthens the spirit. This date and walnut bread is satisfying, versatile and so much fun to make, with all sorts of mixing, kneading and chopping action going on. I tend to make this as one majestically massive beast, but you can divide into smaller loaves or even individual rolls if you'd prefer. You only need to adjust your cooking time to meet your requirements.

Prep time: 25 Mins (Plus proving time)
Baking time: 25 Mins
12g Fresh Yeast
1/2tsp Caster Sugar
215ml Tepid Water
200g Strong White Bread Flour
100g Wholemeal Bread Flour
1/2tsp Salt
50g Walnuts (Roughly Chopped)
50g Dates (Roughly Chopped)

Let's begin. Crumble the fresh yeast into a large bowl along with the the sugar, then pour in the water and stir around with a little whisk or fork until the yeast has dissolved. Tip in both flours, as well as the salt walnuts and dates, then mix together with a wooden spoon until just coming together. Tip out onto a clean dry surface that has been lightly dusted with flour. I don't usually dust my surface at all, but I tend to find wholemeal flour can be a little sticky to work with initially. Knead the dough by stretching one end away from your body, folding it back on itself, turning by a quarter and repeating. Do this for about 8-10 minutes, until the dough has become smooth and elastic, then dust all over with flour and return to your bowl. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place to prove for 90 minutes.

When the dough has risen to about double in size, coax it from the bowl and return to a clean, dry, floured surface. Give the dough a brief knead to knock the air out. I do this by thinking of the dough as a clock face and pulling each hour towards the middle (so 12 times) and pressing town. Shape the dough into a large fat sausage, pinch each end in to taper and score the top diagonally several times with a sharp knife. Dust the top with a little more flour then leave on your floured surface, covered with your damp tea towel for a further 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7 and lightly grease a large flat baking tray with olive or vegetable oil. You can dust with flour if you don't want to use oil, but I find occasionally this can lead to an excessively floury bottom (and we all know how bothersome that can be). In the bottom of the oven place a tray filled with a little water from the boiled kettle. This will create steam during baking and lead to an improved crust. Carefully transfer your risen bread to the greased tray and bake in the centre of the oven for around 25-30 minutes, until the loaf is dark brown and sounds hollow when tapped. When you are happy it is baked remove from the oven and your work is complete. Congratulations.

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