There was a time when I made bread often. My daughter was a mere tot, and I found myself spending a lot of time in the kitchen. Initially, I’d started with simple doughs, such as pizza or focaccia, then graduated to more dense, hearty sandwich breads and rolls. My trusted Kitchen Aid mixer would start to fatigue from several minutes of hard labor, however I enjoyed its convenience and reduction of hands-on time. At some point, I transitioned to kneading by hand, and developed a love for the tactile communion with flour, yeast and water . I had a physical sense of when the dough was properly kneaded. I’d become lost in the activity as the minutes sped past with little awareness other than what I was feeling beneath and between my fingers.
The elements of bread making are finding their way back into my life, and not without coincidence. Most mornings, I spend time reflecting and meditating to gain a bit of ground before getting captured by the day’s activities. There is a book I refer to frequently, Heal Thy Self: Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine, by Saki Santorelli. A passage I read recently spoke to the Author’s love of baking, and how baking can be both humbling and liberating. It made me think of the contrasting simplicity and attention that bread making requires. He likens the bakery to a crucible, “hot, containing, pressurized outwardly; hot, containing, pressurized inwardly”. A timely piece, as I find myself moving with elements that are somewhat beyond my control. Shortly thereafter, I was sifting through the NYT and discovered Martha Rose Schulman’s recipe for a yeasted loaf with apples.
You can find the link, here
Evolution: Honeyed Pear and Walnut Bread
And so,I found myself with a yearning to make bread. The sweetness of whole grain loaf, heady, yeast-y and studded with apples was the catalyst, however I wanted to provide influence in my own creative way. I dreamt up crunchy bosc pears, contrasted with bitter walnut and sweet honey. I gave the dough plenty of time to develop flavor by starting with a pre-ferment, or sponge.
And I waited.
And I shaped.
And I coaxed.
And I waited a bit longer.
Until finally the dough emerged a golden crown of pure heaven.
This bread is delicious simply toasted and spread with fresh cheese and honey. It can also pair nicely with prosciutto and fontina or gorgonzola.
Enjoy, and much love.
Honeyed Pear and Walnut Bread
1 c rye four
1.5-2 c whole wheat flour
1.5 c white flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 c honey
1 1/4 c warm water
1 packet (2.5 tsp) yeast
2 tbsp butter; room temp
1 c walnuts
1 1/4-1/2 c bosc pear, chopped
- Make a sponge: combine water, yeast honey and white flour in a large bowl. stir to combine, then cover with a damp towel and let rest for ~1 hour or so.
- Add rye flour, walnuts, butter, salt and 1 cup of the whole wheat flour to sponge; stir and/or knead down, adding additional flour as necessary until the mixture is no longer sticky. Turn onto a flat surface and knead for several minutes, until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.
- Set in an oiled bowl, cover with damp towel or plastic wrap and allow to rise for about ~1-1.5 hours. I like to pop it in the oven with the pilot light; it sets a nice ambient temperature for coaxing the fermentation into gear.
- Deflate dough by punching down; fold in chopped pears. Knead into a round and then return to a neutral spot to rest again until doubled in size; ~2 hours.
- Deflate dough again and shape into a neat round and set on parchment or floured kitchen towel for another 1.5-2 hours until dough redoubles in size.
- As dough is entering the final rise, adjust oven rack and set a pizza stone or cast iron skillet in the center. Turn heat to 450 degrees and allow stone or skillet heat for ~40 minutes.
- Turn dough onto skillet/stone; slash decoratively, brush with milk and place in oven. Spritz oven with a bit of water to create a steam environment.
- In 15 minutes, spritz again and turn heat to 400 degrees.
- Bake for a further 25 minutes, until deep golden brown. Remove from oven and tap bottom of round; it’ll sound hollow if it is done.
- Wait (patiently!) for a good 30 minutes as dough cools on rack before slicing.
- Store, wrapped in cloth or a paper bag on counter for 1-2 days. To preserve some of the bread for later, simply bundle in layers of plastic wrap and store in the freezer.