Pane di Noci / Pain aux Noix / Walnut Bread
You are sure to find this kind of bread wherever there is an abundance of walnuts, like in some parts of the Piemonte region in Northern Italy and in the Dordogne region of France, among others! The blend of bread and walnuts has impressed me since I was a child spending some of my summer vacation at my relatives’ farm. There, I witnessed my aunt Angiolina eat often, for dessert, a piece of bread and a few walnuts grown on the farm.
For the last 4-5 years I have been nurturing a wonderful batch of sourdough starter (“la madre” or ‘mother’ in Italian), so that I use some of it in ALL my breads, instead of dry yeast. I am totally converted to the magic of sourdough! By using the sourdough, I have to modify the quantity of flour and amount of liquid in most recipes, but I find the task very simple. I found this particular recipe in The Italian Baker by Carol Field (1985), although I modified it some because of the sourdough. I am giving you the regular recipe and the modifications with sourdough in parenthesis:
- 2 cups of walnut pieces, plus 4-6 perfect halves for the ring loaf
- 2 teaspoons or 1 package active dry yeast, or 1 small cake fresh yeast (I use 11/3 cups active sourdough)
- ¼ cup honey (I use 1 tablespoon, since I don’t like my bread too sweet!)
- 11/3 cups warm water ((I use 1 cup)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour (I use 2 ¼ cups whole wheat, 1 cup unbleached white flour)
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
Toast the walnuts; chop them to coarse crumbs with a knife or in a food processor.
Stir the yeast and honey into water in a large mixing bowl; let stand until foamy. Combine the flour, salt and walnuts and stir 1 cup at a time into the yeast mixture. Mix until the dough looks brownish and coarse. Knead for 8-10 minutes. The dough should be soft, moist and fairly dense, but easy to work, although not elastic. (I mix the sourdough with salt, warm water, honey and the flour and walnuts mixture as described above, with similar results).
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover tightly and let rise in a warm place until doubled, at least 1¼ hours.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. WITHOUT PUNCHING IT DOWN OR KNEADING IT, shape it gently into a log and join the end to make a ring. You may place the ring in an oiled ring mold with 4 to 6 walnut halves set in the bottom, so that when the bread is baked and turned out of the mold the nuts are on the top.
Cover the dough and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour (my dough does not quite double, as it is denser and a bit heavier!)
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake for 10 minutes; reduce the heat to 350 F and bake 40 minutes longer.
Enjoy! Buon appetito! Bon appetit!