Pain aux Noix
A few weeks ago I got an e-mail with the title “Walnut Bread Memories” from a person whose name was unfamiliar. At first I was reluctant to open it. But I get the occasional message from a patron of my now long-gone bakery, and we made a walnut bread there that had a following. Maybe there was a connection. My hunch was right. It was a former customer hoping for a recipe for the bread. I haven’t made it for years but I dug out the recipe and of course used extra-virgin olive oil instead of the flavorless vegetable oil we used at the bakery.
1-1/3 cups lukewarm water
1 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup (2 ounces) delicate or medium extra-virgin olive oil
1-3/4 cups (9 ounces) unbleached bread flour
1-3/4 cups (9 ounces) whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1-1/4 cups (4 ½ ounces) walnut pieces (Reserve 6 attractive pieces for decoration and coarsely chop the rest.)
Sprinkle the yeast over the water in the bowl of a 5-quart stand mixer and set aside until it becomes creamy. Add the oil, both flours, and salt. Using a dough hook, mix on medium speed until the flour is absorbed. If any flour at the bottom of the bowl remains dry, judiciously add water to moisten it. Mix until the dough just comes together; it will still look rough.
Turn off the mixer, cover the top with a kitchen towel, and let the dough rest for 20 minutes.
Remove the towel, add the chopped walnuts (not the nuts for decoration) and knead with the dough hook on medium speed until the dough forms a ball on the hook and is elastic, 2 to 3 minutes.
Remove the bowl from the mixer, remove the dough hook, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Leave at room temperature until the dough doubles, 2-1/2 to 3 hours.
Line a 12-by-18-by-1-inch baking pan with parchment paper.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and punch it down. Divide it into halves. Knead the pieces a few times and shape them into rounds. Cover them with a kitchen towel and let them rest for 10 minutes. Form each round into a triangle as follows: Turn the dough over onto the work surface. Pat it to a thickness of about 1 inch. Fold the left side over to the center so it comes to a point at the top and is thicker at the bottom. Do the same with the right side of the round. Fold up the bottom to make a straight line. Turn the triangles over and place them on the baking pan. Cover the triangles with a kitchen towel, then slide the pan into a large plastic bag. Shake the top a few times to introduce air and tie the ends closed. Leave at room temperature until the dough doubles, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
Position racks on the lowest and middle levels of the oven. Place an empty baking pan on the lowest level and a baking stone on the middle rack. Preheat the oven to 425°F for 45 minutes.
When the dough is ready, bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil.
Take the baking pan out of the plastic bag and remove the towel. Place a ruler down the middle of the triangles and lightly sieve the loaves with flour. Remove the ruler. Run a wet finger along the unfloured strip to moisten the dough. Push 3 of the decorative nuts into the unfloured strip of each triangle. Cut away the parchment paper close to the risen dough. Transfer one triangle, still on the parchment, to a peel or rimless baking sheet.
Slide the triangle onto the baking stone using a quick into-the-oven-and-out motion. Repeat with the other triangle.
Wearing oven mitts, immediately pour the boiling water into the empty pan in the bottom of the oven and close the door. Be careful—this will cause an immediate burst of steam.
Bake until the loaves are browned and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom, 30 to 35 minutes.
To remove the loaves from the oven, put the tip of the peel under a loaf and use the same into-the-oven-and-out motion to transfer the bread to the peel, then remove it from the oven. Repeat with the other loaf.
Remove the parchment paper and cool the loaves on a rack.