The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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wild walnut raisin bread

I do love bread! It really is the staff of life, don't you think?

As far as I'm concerned, every day is bread day. We invariably have buttered toast each morning for breakfast. Sandwiches are not uncommon for lunch. Bread is often the starch we choose to go with dinner. (A crusty French-style loaf is wonderful with stews and soups; cubes of older bread make great stuffing for roast chicken or croutons for salad; corn bread is a must with chilli; one really can't have palak paneer without naan or chapatis!) And if there's no dessert made and someone neeeeds dessert? Cinnamon toast!

Even though we like so many different kinds of bread, when I heard that Zorra (kochtopf) had chosen an open theme for World Bread Day 2007, I didn't have any difficulty deciding what bread to feature. I knew exactly what I wanted to bake: walnut raisin bread with wild yeast.

And how did I come to this decision to bake walnut raisin bread? In September, my sister-in-law sent me some of her bread recipes, including her favourite: "walnut raisin bread" from Beth's Basic Bread Book by Beth Hensperger. I had already had an idea that I was going to have to try making walnut bread after reading about it in Nancy Silverton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery but realizing that raisins could be added clinched it. I really liked that it was a multigrain bread as well. This is right up my alley - especially for the fall! There's something about the cooler weather that calls for a stronger bigger tasting bread.

There was only one small hitch. My sister-in-law's recipe calls for commercial yeast. Nancy Silverton's recipe appears to be quite complex, requiring 3 days of preparation! (I do like her book but it really doesn't seem to be aimed at the kind of home baker I am. It's all I can manage to remember to mix the starter one day before baking! Same day bread is really more suited to my scattered temperament....) But again, I really wanted to use my wild yeast that I captured using the recipe in Piano Piano Pieno by Susan McKenna Grant.

So I winged it once more for how to make the alteration from commercial yeast to wild yeast. I'm still fighting a bit with how much to allow the bread to rise (I'm pretty sure that I am letting it over-rise) so the resulting bread was a little bit on the flat side. But still I was pretty pleased and I can really understand why it is my sister-in-law's favourite bread. I only wish she lived closer so I could take a loaf over to their house next time I bake this recipe!

wild walnut raisin bread

By itself, the bread has a decided sour aroma - not overpoweringly so but I would like to lessen it. With sweet butter, the sourness disappears completely and the other hidden flavours of the bread stand out beautifully. There is a nuttiness not just from the walnuts and a sweetness not just from the raisins. It really is stellar bread and imagine how good it's going to be when I remember to turn the oven on early enough so it doesn't over-rise!

It is equally wonderful for dessert with cheese. And day-old bread can be sliced thinly, drizzled with olive oil and made into crostini. Slather the toasts with herbed olive-oiled goat's cheese. It's almost so good this way that I have an urge to make a loaf specifically to be kept over for a day just to make crostini!

Here is the Wild Bread with Walnuts and Raisins recipe.

About Baking the Bread: Thirty minutes before you are going to bake, turn the oven to 450F.

At the time of baking, spray the top of the risen loaves liberally with water.

Note that I do NOT throw water or spray the hot oven before putting the bread in to bake. This just lowers the temperature of the oven and could possibly damage parts of it. (I've heard of the glass door or the light breaking.)

Put the bread in oven and immediately turn the oven down to 400F. Bake the bread for a total of 40 to 50 minutes or until the internal temperature is between 210F and 220F. (I use a meat thermometer.) Half way through the baking, turn the bread around to account for uneven heat in the oven.

check internal temperature

Remove to cool on a rack. Wait til the bread is cool before cutting it. It is still continuing to bake inside! If you wish to serve warm bread, reheat it after it has cooled completely.

To reheat unsliced bread, turn the oven to 500F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread in the hot oven for ten minutes.

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World Bread Day 2007 (Photo Sharing)

Zorra (Kochtopf) is hosting World Bread Day (WBD) again this year and is inviting food bloggers to join with her in another celebration of bread. Any bread fits the theme: yeasted or not, plain or fancy, homebaked or storebought. The deadline for posting for WBD 2007 is Tuesday, 16th October 2006 (There is short grace period: only until Wednesday, 17 October 2007). For complete information on how to participate, please see:

Also, if you haven't already, do take a look at

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World Food Day 2007

On a more serious note, please note that today is also World Food Day. Not too long ago, I talked about hunger. But it cannot be stressed enough that unlike us privileged few, there are many in the world who go hungry. Please remember to do what you can to end world hunger.

See more about World Food Day on Floydm's blog.

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(edited to fix formatting... I'm having a devil of a time with "rich-text" -ejm)

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ejm

hand kneading

When people hear that I make virtually all our bread, they nod in approval and invariably ask what kind of bread machine I have. Here is how the conversation generally continues:

Me: No, I make it by hand. I don't have a bread machine.
They: No bread machine??
Me: No, all by hand.
They: (awestruck) Wow... that must be hard... and take a long time...
Me: No, not at all!
They: (incredulous) ...really?

Yes, I always knead by hand (except once when I made the mistake of using our food processor to make $35 bread ...not a good idea...). The choice to hand-knead is not necessarily because I'm a luddite. I just don't happen to have an electric mixer large enough to accommodate the amount of dough. And I'm too cheese-paring with counter space (and my wallet) to get one. Besides, it's much easier to wash my hands than it would be to wrestle with a mixer to take it apart, clean off sticky dough and then wrestle it into its storage area.

When I first started baking bread on a regular basis, my favourite book was The Italian Baker by Carol Field (it's still one of my favourite books...). In almost every recipe, Field has instructions for preparing dough by hand, by food processor, by electric mixer. But for one of the rustic breads in her book, pane Pugliese (p.122), Field suggests not to even try to knead by hand as it's just too sloppy. Don't even try?? But we WANTED that bread!! We NEEDED that bread!! (no no, don't worry. I won't say it... I just can't bring myself to say "so I knea...")

So I took the plunge and started hand kneading even the slackest of dough. Not only was it exhiliariarating, but it worked out just fine. More than fine. That bread is one of our favourites.

And then T gave me Maggie Glezer's wonderful book Artisan Baking Across America, in which she describes a fantastic way to deal with slack dough (Acme's Rustic Baguettes). She suggests to knead for a short time initially, let the dough autolyse and then finish developing the dough by stretching and folding three times after the initial kneading. The method is slightly more time consuming because you have to be available to do the stretching and folding. But it makes hand-kneading slack dough much much easier AND the resulting bread turned out better too.

I use Glezer's method to knead all slack doughs now, including the wild yeast bread I have just recently started making.

Anyone who has hand-kneaded regular bread dough would agree that it's pretty easy to knead using only your hands. But slack dough requires a slightly different trick. And it isn't as difficult as it might seem....

Use a wooden spoon to stir the wet dough until it looks like porridge; cover the bowl and let it rest for about 20 minutes to allow the dough to autolyse*. Scatter a dusting of flour on the board (I use a flour wand) and pour the dough onto the board. Don't worry that it still looks like porridge. Wash and dry the rising bowl.

A dough scraper is very helpful - read "essential" - when kneading slack dough. Use it to clean the board, fold the dough in half and give it a quarter turn as best you can. Use your other hand to stretch the dough upwards, give it a twist as you are lowering the dough and using the scraper to turn the slop over. A big advantage is that the hand holding the scraper stays quite clean. (And if you put a tea towel under the board, the board won't slip around on the counter.)

kneading slack doughkneading slack dough

Slack dough still resembles porridge after hand-kneading for 5 to 10 minutes. Fear not. Just use the dough scraper to maneuvre the sloppy mess into your clean rising bowl (please do not oil the bowl; it is unnecessary). Scrape your hand off as best you can and cover the bowl. Let it rest on the counter for 20 to 30 minutes. (Note how the dough scraper has pretty much completely cleaned the board.)

After the dough has rested, it's time for its first turn. From now on, your motto should be "gently, gently".

Scatter a dusting of flour on the board (I use a flour wand) and pour the dough onto the board. Don't worry that it still looks like porridge. Wash and dry the rising bowl.

dough scraper and slack dough1st turning

Slip the dough scraper under the right side of the dough in preparation for gently folding the dough in half. After it is folded, gently pat away any excess flour. Slip the dough scraper under the bottom side of the dough in preparation for gently folding the dough in half again. Fold and continue to the left and top of the dough. (four folds) Use the dough scraper to maneuvre the dough back into the clean rising bowl. You'll see that it looks a little less porridge-like and that the dough scraper has pretty much cleaned the board. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest in a draft-free area on the counter for another 20 to 30 minutes.

just before 2nd turning
After the dough has rested, it's time for its second turn. Scatter a dusting of flour on the board and pour the dough onto the board. You'll see that it already looks less like porridge. Wash and dry the rising bowl.

Gently fold the dough in the same way as before starting at the right side and working around all four sides. Gently pat the excess flour off. Put the folded dough back in the clean rising bowl to rest for another 20 to 30 minutes.

second turningpat off excess flour

One more time, after the dough has rested, it's time for its third turn. Scatter a dusting of flour on the board and pour the dough onto the board. It is still quite loose but looks much more like dough. Note how the dough just pulls away from the bowl as you pour it onto the board. If it sticks, use a (clean) finger or rubber scraper to gently pull the dough out onto the board. Wash and dry the rising bowl.

Gently fold the dough in the same way as before starting at the right side and working around all four sides. Once again, gently pat the excess flour off.

third turningafter 3rd turning

By now the dough will look smooth but will still be quite soft. Use the dough scraper to gently put the dough back into the clean rising bowl (you really don't want to disturb the bubbles that are beginning to form). Cover and allow it to rise in a draft-free area on the counter to about double (another couple of hours or so, depending on the temperature of the kitchen).

Once the dough has doubled, gently (but I didn't really have to say "gently" again, did I?) release the risen dough onto the, this time, generously floured board. Use the dough scraper to divide the dough into two and shape into two rounds. Place on parchment paper covered peel. Placing cookie cutters on the shaped dough as it is rising etches a design on top of the bread. Flour the rounds and cover with plastic. The cookie cutters also help to keep the plastic from sticking to the dough. Allow to rise in a draft-free area on the counter til just doubled.

wild bread
When the shaped bread has doubled, liberally spray with water and bake at 400F in a preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes. To make sure the bread is fully baked, check that the internal temperature of the bread is 210 to 220F - around 100C. (I use a meat thermometer.) Place the baked bread on a footed rack and allow to cool completely before cutting. The bread continues to cook as it cools.

* According to Merriam Webster, autolyse (also autolyze) is "to undergo autolysis". And autolysis?

autolysis [...] breakdown of all or part of a cell or tissue by self-produced enzymes -- called also self-digestion

On answers.com, there is an entry from Food and Nutrition (Oxford University Press):


autolysis The process of self-digestion by the enzymes naturally present in tissues. For example, the tenderizing of game while hanging is due to autolysis of connective tissue. Yeast extract is produced by autolysis of yeast.

And here is what Wikipedia has to say:

Autolyse is a period of rest allowed for dough to relax. After the initial mixing of flour and water, the dough is allowed to sit. This rest period allows for better absorption of water and allows the gluten and starches to align. Breads made with autolysed dough are easier to form into shapes and have more volume and improved structure.

And finally, in Artisan Baking Across America, Maggie Glezer wrote:


The term autolyse [...] was adopted by Professor Raymond Calvel, the esteemed French bread-baking teacher and inventor of this somewhat odd but very effective technique. During the rest time, the flour fully hydrates and its gluten further develops, encouraged by the absence of: compressed yeast, which would begin to ferment and acidify the dough (although instant yeast is included in autolyses lasting no longer than 30 minutes because of its slow activation): salt, which would cause the gluten to tighten, hindering its development and hydration; and pre-ferments, which would also acidify the dough. The flour's improved hydration and gluten development shorten the mixing time, increase extensibilty (the dough rips less during shaping), and ultimately result in bread with a creamier colored crumb and more aroma and sweet wheat flavor.

 (edited 2 October 2007 to fix spelling error)

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