adventures in bread-making: pain aux noix

 Oh my.

This is my favourite hand-baked loaf of bread to date.

Bread seems to be getting a pretty bad wrap these days - everyone seems against it - and yet, it has been a healthy staple of so many peoples, for so many thousands of years! Not to mention how beloved it is here in France...  Of course, there's bread and there's bread, but in nearly two years we've lived here  I have eaten a lot of good bread, that is coming from a girl who felt quite miserable in our first weeks here that I couldn't readily find a lovely dark, grainy germanic-style loaf as I could back in Sydney. Really, what did I know? I shamefully reduced "french bread" to white baguettes, croissants and choux pastry - how wrong I was!  Even in the suburb we live in, which is outside of central Paris and fairly low socio-economiccally, there are half a dozen boulangeries each with differing specialities. You see, good fresh wholesome preservative-free bread is celebrated here, expected even.

One of very favourite kinds of French bread is pain aux noix - bread with walnuts - I decided to try making my own wholly sourdough version (I say wholly, because when you buy it here its usually a mixture of sourdough and added yeast) along with wheat flour, a little rye flour, barley malt, water, sea salt and chopped walnuts. I think the whole loaf may have been consumed in less than 24 hours of it being baked... maybe. But bread is best eaten fresh, right?

Time to make: 
-overnight for starter (8-12 hours)
-first rise: 2 hours
-second rise: 1-1.5 hours
-baking: 35-45 minutes
(don't let the long times fool you, its straightforward to make and really very delicious)

You will need:
1/2 cup sourdough starter 50% hydration
1 cup warm water
2 cups good quality wheat flour
1 1/2-2 more cups good quality wheat flour
1 cup rye flour
1 tablespoon malt or molasses, dissolved in a splash of boiling water
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp bicarb soda
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

To begin combine the first three ingredients (starter, warm water and 2 cups of wheat flour) in a glass or ceramic bowl. Cover with plastic-wrap or a damp cloth and let stand in a warm place overnight. Next day stir in rye flour, malt, salt, soda, walnuts and as much of the wheat flour (around 1 1/2-2 more cups) to form a very stiff dough. Knead on a floured surface until smooth, about 10 minutes. Return to bowl and cover, let rise in a warm place for 2 - 3 hours or until doubled in size. Punch dough dough and shape into a round - let rise in a warm place until puffy and enlarged - about 1 - 1 1/2 hours. Preheat oven to hot 220'c. Place loaf on a lightly floured oven tray and slash a cross on the top of the loaf using a sharp knife, sprinkle lightly with water. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes or until loaf is golden and sounds hollow when tapped. 

Enjoy warm, cool, on its own... dipped in olive oil, slathered in butter, it is especially good with cheese!