The seeds sprouting tomorrow are sown today.
This is true for the bread baker as well, when the bread planned includes a preferment, like sourdough starter (lievito naturale or pasta madre), for which a bit of advanced planning is needed.
I enjoy baking a variety of breads, yet if I were to choose one bread to carry with me on a deserted island, this walnut raisin sourdough boule would be the one: it has a crisp crust and soft crumb (crosta croccante e mollica soffice), a nuanced sour note, a sweet note thanks to raisins and a crunchy note thanks to walnuts. It carries centuries of tradition yet looks and tastes modern, it is simple yet provides a complex eating experience. It is the epitome of nourishing.
It does take a bit of advanced planning, but wouldn't you want to take out of the oven something as beautiful as the boule in the photo?
One inspiration for this bread was a recipe for Hazelnut and Currant Sourdough in How to Make Bread by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou, which includes interesting recipes and a relaxed approach to baking bread hat resonates with me. Much as I like hazelnuts (nocciole), I found their flavor overpowering in bread, hence my preference for walnuts. What I got from the recipe is the amount of flour, sourdough starter and salt. Everything else comes from my taste, my experience and things I learned at the San Francisco Baking Institute.
Important: this bread uses a starter that requires some advanced planning. The raisins should also soak overnight.
For the preferment
- 30 g sourdough starter (refreshed previously, if stored in the refrigerator)
- 60 g water
- 60 g King Arthur Flour all-purpose flour (this is the flour I always use to make bread)
For the raisins
- 60 g raisins
- 125 ml lukewarm water or tea
For the dough
- 60 g walnuts (see below)
- 140 g preferment (sourdough starter) prepared in advance with the ingredients listed above
- 260 ml water at 85 F / 30 C
- 0.4 g / 1/8 teaspoon instant yeast
- 40 g stone-ground whole-wheat flour (I use locally grown and milled Hollis wheat)
- 35 g sprouted whole-wheat flour (the one I use is also from KAF)
- 300 g King Arthur Flour all-purpose flour, plus as needed to shape the bread
- 6 g fine sea salt
Prepare the preferment and the raisins
12-16 hours before starting to make the bread, prepare the preferment: weigh the ingredients in a 2-cup container, stir well with a fork, cover and let ferment at room temperature in a draft-free place. (Adjust the timing as needed for your starter and your room temperature so that by the time you start making bread the preferment is bubbly active.)
Place raisins in a small bowl and pour over them the liquid of choice. Cover the bowl and let rest overnight, until the raisins are needed.
Prepare the walnuts
If your walnuts are freshly cracked, toast them lightly in a dry pan, shaking the pan often.
Otherwise, in her “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone”, Deborah Madison gives instructions on how to treat walnuts to improve their flavor when they aren't freshly cracked, and make them less irritating for people who are sensitive to their skins. Bring a pan of water to a boil, add walnuts and let them stand for one minute, then drain them and absorb the excess moisture with a towel. Finally, spread the walnuts on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat and place them in the oven preheated to 300 F / 150 C until they have dried out, 15-20 minutes. Remove them from the oven as soon as they are dry. (I do this for 6-8 oz. / 170-225 g walnuts at a time, since I use walnuts often in my recipes. Store walnuts in the refrigerator.)
Prepare the dough
I start making the bread early in the morning, so I am sure the boule will be baked and thoroughly cooled by dinner time.
Chop prepared walnuts with a knife. Drain the raisins.
In a bowl, mix preferment (sourdough starter), water and instant yeast. The small amount of yeast I use helps keep the leavening process within a predictable time frame in the cool environment of our house.
Add the flours and stir with a wooden spoon or a dough whisk.
Add walnuts and raisins and stir until a shaggy dough forms. Sprinkle salt on the surface.
Cover the bowl and let the dough rest 5 minutes. In the meantime, oil well a plastic tub with lid where you will transfer the dough when fully mixed.
Wet the spoon (if using it) and mix dough until it is homogeneous.
Transfer the dough to the oiled tub. With wet hands, letter-fold the dough and then flip it to oil the surface. This is your time 0. Cover the tub and let rest for 45 minutes.
This very nice video on The SF Baking Institute website describes and shows a couple of important techniques I apply to bread dough.
- Stretching and folding: as Mac says in the video, the stretching part is of fundamental importance in gluten development
- Pre-shaping and shaping rounds (useful for later)
The video is not long, but if you don't have time to watch it in its entirety, you can start at 4':30" and watch about 8 minutes until Mac shows how to shape a boule.
- A) Stretch and fold the dough in the tub along both sides.
- B) Cover and let rest for 45 minutes.
Repeat A and B two more times, at which point you will be at time 3 hours.
Check gluten development by stretching a corner of the dough to make a windowpane. If you don't get a windowpane, let dough ferment a little longer.
Shape the bread
Lightly flour your working surface and transfer dough onto it. Use a bench scraper to help you move and turn the dough.
Gently pat dough to flatten it into a thick circle and degas. Fold corners of dough towards the center, flip (so it is seam side down) and pre-shape into a boule on an unfloured section of your working surface, which offers some resistance (see video at 8'). Move the round towards you, then back with a slight rotation, all the while tucking dough underneath. Bring a bit of tension to the dough, but not as much as you will later, during shaping.
Let pre-shaped round rest for 20 minutes, covered (I leave it on the kneading board and cover it with the plastic tub turned upside down).
In the meantime, generously flour a lined round bread basket or similar container (my brotform is unlined, so I have a square piece of cloth that I flour and use to line it). Flip the dough (so it is seam side up) and flatten lightly, then fold corners of dough towards the center. Flip (so it is seam side down) and shape into a boule on an unfloured section of your working surface, which offers some resistance (see video at 12'). Move the round towards you then back with a slight rotation, all the while tucking dough underneath. Bring tension to the dough, but do not overdo or the surface will tear.
Gently flip the dough and place it seam side up into the prepared basket. Cover (I use a clean shower cap for this) and let dough rest until doubled in size (also, until a dimple made on the dough with your fingertip persists), in my case 3 to 4 hours, depending on the room temperature.
Prepare the oven
You can bake this bread on tiles and use your preferred method for creating steam in the oven, or you can use a lidded 5-Qt cast-iron Dutch oven. I have used both methods with success and will describe the latter method here, which is easier and works well.
Place the lidded cast-iron Dutch oven in the cold oven. Preheat the oven to 475 F /245 C.
Bake the bread
When the dough is ready to be baked, cut a piece of parchment paper large enough so that you can take hold of it by the corners and use them to help you lower the dough into the Dutch oven and later to retrieve the bread from it. Lay the parchment paper onto the back of a baking sheet. Flip the dough onto the parchment paper, lift basket and peel away liner.
Score the surface according to your preference. I got the star-shaped scoring you see in the photo from the recipe for White sourdough in How to Make Bread by Emmanuel Hadjiandreou: With scissors, cut the points of the star all around the top of the boule.
Take the Dutch oven out of the oven and remove the lid. Pick up the parchment paper and lower the shaped dough into the Dutch oven. Put the lid on and place the Dutch oven back into the oven. Turn the oven temperature down to 425 F / 218 C.
Bake for 15 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for an additional 15 minutes. At this point, check the bread's internal temperature: if it is 210 F / 99 C, it is ready. Otherwise, continue baking for another 2 minutes, then check again. In my case, it takes 32 minutes for the bread to bake.
Carefully extract the bread out of the Dutch oven using the parchment paper flaps to lift it up. Place on a rack to cool. Restrain your desire to go at the bread with your knife: let it cool completely, at least two hours, then slice and feast on it with all your senses.
This bread is simply magnificent. The balance of ingredients is perfect, in my opinion.
Resist the temptation to add more raisins or more walnuts: you want to taste bread first and foremost. The additions have a supportive role and should not steal the show.
You can serve this bread with anything: a bowl of soup will love it, cheese will be thrilled to be paired with it, salame, prosciutto or bresaola will be its best friends. It is perfect to fare la scarpetta and above all, it enchants when tasted solo.
I am sending this bread to the June edition of Panissimo, a monthly event created by Barbara of Bread & Companatico and Sandra of Indovina chi viene a cena? and hosted this month by Valentina of Non di solo pane.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the pane al lievito naturale con uvetta e noci audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]