Brown sugar and walnut loaf
The recent cold snap I wrote about last week became a week of heavy snow. For some reason, people in the UK are caught out every time it snows, despite the fact that it’s a pretty guaranteed annual event. On the first day of this most recent snowy period, the public transport system ground to a halt, leaving people stranded, the roads were gridlocked with people leaving work early in a blind panic about being unable to get back home and the weather became headline news.
After a driving home from work during what turned out to be the worst of the snow fall, I was a resolute that I wouldn’t be leaving the house again for a few days, succumbing to the mass snow panic. By refusing to leave the house, I was forced to bake with what I had in the fridge and cupboard, which meant I had no eggs, milk and butter, as I only buy these in when I know in advance I am going to be baking.
I therefore thought on my feet, use the limited ingredients I had in my cupboard and adapt a recipe for Honey Bread from the fantastic Home Baked by Hanne Risgaard. The book is is beautifully written, by someone who is hugely knowledgeable about organic flour, traditional Nordic cuisine and the romance and science of modern artisan baking. It also features stunning photography of bread and pastry, together with the idyllic scenery of Denmark.
I am a big fan of the spontaneous in cooking and find that the choices you make when making something up on the spot, generally as a result of realising you’re short of ingredients part way through a recipe, work out pretty well. This spontaneous baking session also gave me my first opportunity to use a new set of measuring spoons, which I’ve been meaning to buy for months. One of my most prized possessions is a set of stacking dolls, including their original Russian receipt, which I used to play with as a child and later inherited from my Grandmother. When I stumbled upon a set of beautiful matryoshka measuring spoons, I bought them immediately to act as a little reminder of my Grandma every time I cook.
The spontaneous ‘cupboard loaf’ turned out great. It was a complete doddle to make and the bread had a wonderful rounded sweetness from the brown sugar, with the toasted walnuts giving it a great texture and nutty flavour. If the snow hadn’t have hampered me, I would have rushed out to get some really strong and acidic blue cheese, like Stilton or Danish Blue, to enjoy with it. Then again, without the snow, the bread would probably never have been baked.
Makes one loaf
80g or two and three quarter oz walnuts
250g or eight and three quarter oz plain flour
80g or two and three quarter oz dark soft brown sugar
150ml tepid water
10g (approximately two teaspoons) baking powder
5g (approximately a teaspoon) salt
Preheat the oven to 180°C (fan oven)/ 200°C/ 400 Fahrenheit/ Gas Mark 6 and line a baking tray with baking parchment
Roast the walnuts in the preheated oven for around five minutes. You want them to toast, turn a couple of shades darker, become fragrant and a little crunchy, all without burning. They catch quite easily so keep an eye on them. Crumble the roasted walnuts into the flour to give a varied texture of nut rubble. If you have some, feel free to replace 80g or two and three quarter oz plain flour with whole wheat flour for a more nutty flavour and earthy texture.
Add the sugar into the water and stir to dissolve. As this recipe uses baking powder as a raising agent, the temperature of the water is not important for leavening but it will dissolve the sugar. The moisture in the dough activates the alkali and acid present in the raising agent, producing carbon dioxide which is captured in the dough as little air bubbles, making the loaf rise. As this process isn’t temperature dependent, baking powder is great to use on a cold winter’s day.
Add the sugar and water solution and the salt to your crumbled walnuts and flour, working quickly with your hands to form the dough. Shape into a ball, flatten into a disk like loaf, approximately five centimeters or two inches high and forty centimeters or fifteen inches across and sprinkle with a little more flour. Place the loaf onto the lined baking tray and press down on the loaf using a metal cutter or a knife, without cutting all the way through, to make a characteristic cross mark. Bake in the center of the preheat oven for thirty to forty minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Allow to cool for at least twenty minutes before cutting yourself a slice.