Sourdough walnut bread

We used to buy loaves of walnut bread from the Fabrique bakery nearby… and I say “we used to” because through trial and error I have developed a recipe which produces loaves that are even tastier than theirs. So we won’t buy this anymore!

Sorry, Fabrique! We still buy your cardamon buns (for now 😏).

This bread is moist, fluffy, slightly tangy, and most importantly of all… it is quite walnutty.

I like it with a bit of olive oil and salt, butter or a nice cheese. Frankly, it doesn’t really need lots of accessories. It is quite flavourful on its own.

Ingredients

  • 540g [strong] white flour (I used Shipton Mill’s)
  • starter:
    • an active sourdough starter (I used Dan Lepard’s mighty white starter), plus
    • up to 230g wholemeal flour to create the starter (I used Hodmedod’s YQ wholemeal flour)
  • 350g warm water
  • 2 tsp fine sea salt
  • oil
  • 50-100g walnuts

You’ll also need:

  • a big roomy bowl to mix things in
  • a banneton or a bowl to prove things in
  • a dutch oven big enough to contain the loaf
  • baking paper (this makes things SO MUCH easier)
  • something to slash the dough

Preparation

This bread is made over two and even three days (depending on how long you want to rest the loaf before baking).

  1. The day before, prepare the walnuts and the sourdough starter.
  2. The next day, mix, folding, shaping and maybe baking.
  3. Alternatively, rest on the fridge overnight, and bake the next day.

It sounds a bit tedious but it actually doesn’t require that much involvement from you. Most of the time is spent with the dough sitting on a bowl 🤓

Day 1:

For the walnuts

Weigh the walnuts in a bowl and add enough water to cover them. Cover with a lid.

For the sourdough starter

In another bowl, add a few spoonfuls of your active sourdough starter. For the sake of simplicity let’s assume you added 30 grams of starter.

At the end, we want to end with 460 g of starter, so we will top the 30 g with 430 g of equal parts of water and wholemeal flour: 215 g water and 215 g of flour.

Mix everything very well, and cover with a lid.

Day 2:

The next day, drain the walnuts with a sieve, but do keep the liquid, which will have turned into a dark liquor full of walnut oils.

A sieve draining walnuts, and a jar with walnuts liquor
A sieve draining walnuts, and a jar with walnuts liquor
Walnuts "liquor"
Walnuts “liquor”

Then, add the 540g of white flour to the big bowl.

Add up to 350g of the walnut liquor; if you run short, top it with water.

Add the starter and the walnuts, and mix everything together very well.

Cover and leave for about 20 minutes.

Add the 2 teaspoons of salt. Mix everything well, until you stop feeling the “crumbs” of salt, and leave for about 15 minutes.

Kneading and folding

It’s now time for some light kneading, using a bit of oil to avoid everything sticking to your hands. Placing your hand on the side and under the dough to release it, stretching it lightly and folding the dough back towards the centre, then turning the bowl a little until you’ve done a full turn. Then leave it for another while (~20-30 minutes) and repeat this a couple times (this video is a good demonstration of the movement you want to perform).

Wait 45 minutes.

It’s time for blanket folding: oil the counter surface, place the dough on it, shape it a bit like a rectangle and fold it in: imagine it is divided in thirds, and you fold a third from left to right towards the centre, then another third from right to left, covering the previous folded area. Turn the dough 90 degrees and do the same with “up” and “down” (which are now right and left). Each time you finish a fold, you should lightly press down with your fingers to seal it.

Place the dough back into the bowl, turning it round before so it lands with the seam side down.

Wait 45min – 1 hour before repeating this, once or twice.

Note: I sometimes forget about the bread or get busy with other things, but I’m here to tell you that it’s absolutely fine if it takes you longer, specially in cold weather.

Shaping

Shape the dough and place it in your banneton or bowl.

If you’re using a banneton, flour the dough and the banneton very abundantly with rye flour. It’s a quite wet dough, so if you don’t do this, it’s going to stick to the banneton and you’ll hate yourself. If you’re using a bowl, you can use a generous portion of baking paper, with extra room to lift the dough from the corners.

Cover the top with a lid or something to prevent opportunistic creatures from touching your precious loaf while it proofs.

You should proof until the dough has grown in volume by about half. This can take a variable amount of time, depending on how cold your kitchen is (if warmer, things will progress faster).

Trick: take a picture so you can have a reference of how tall the loaf was before it started proofing.

If you need a bit more of flexibility, you could let the dough prove for a few hours at room temperature, and then place it in the fridge to proof overnight at a lower temperature while you sleep. It will keep growing in volume, but slowly. And it also seems to develop an interesting depth of flavour.

Day 3, or when ready to bake

Turn the oven to 220ºC fan/240ºC, and place your dutch oven pot in it so it gets very hot as well.

With our oven, it takes about 30 minutes to get to that temperature (looking at a thermometer, and ignoring the oven’s thermostat).

Proved walnut bread loaf, scored and ready to bake
Proved walnut bread loaf, scored and ready to bake

When it finally reaches the goal temperature:

  • score the top of the bread with a very sharp knife,
  • take the dutch oven pot out of the oven, and remove its lid
  • take the dough out of the bowl, lifting it by the four corners of the baking paper
  • very carefully to avoid burning yourself, place the dough in the Dutch oven
  • put the lid back on
  • and put the pot back in the oven
  • bake for 30 minutes
  • then remove the lid and bake for a further 15 minutes or until the crust has a nice golden-brown colour
  • take out of the oven, and wait for it to cool down a bit before removing it onto a grill, so the bottom doesn’t get soggy with condensation, but watch out when lifting from the corners, as the paper might tear: try picking it a bit lower than you picked it before.
Baked walnut bread loaf, hot off the oven
Baked walnut bread loaf, hot off the oven

Since the bread was proofed in a relatively narrower bowl, it came out quite round, like a football (from above)…

Walnut bread loaf, very round and with a brown crust
It is very round and has a nice brown crust

… or a rugby ball (from the side)!

A very round walnut bread loaf, like a rugby ball
It’s very round… like a rugby ball!

It was hard to resist cutting onto the bread until it had fully cooled down!

The crumb is moist and aerated, and it also has a nice brown colour, thanks to the “walnut liquor”.

The crumb of a walnut bread loaf, showing brown colour and walnut pieces
The crumb

Since it’s a quite big loaf, I slice three quarters of the bread into ‘toaster friendly’ slices, place them in bags, and then in the freezer.

That way it will not go stale, as any time you want some bread you only need to take as many frozen slices as you want, and place them in the toaster. You don’t want to let such a thing of beauty go stale…

Walnut bread slices
Sliced, ready to freeze

Alternative: with plain flour

The universe’s way of telling me to go and experiment with flours was by people panic-buying all the strong white flour in supermarkets when the new lockdown kicked in. I could only buy plain flour: the decision had been made for me.

So I made the bread again, following the same steps as above, except I used plain white instead of strong white flour.

It actually even opened and expanded more than before!

A loaf of walnut bread made with plain flour instead of strong flour
A loaf of walnut bread made with plain flour instead of strong flour

The crumb has slightly smaller holes, and the structure is still quite regular:

The crumb of a walnut bread but made with plain flour instead of strong flour - the holes are a bit smaller
The crumb of a walnut bread but made with plain flour instead of strong flour – the holes are a bit smaller

Note: the white bits are flour, from the crust.

Other than that, I didn’t really see much of a difference. It is marginally less springy.

Maybe something else to try would be to replace the white with another type of flour—perhaps spelt? all wholemeal flour? rye? Or maybe replace the walnuts with other nuts… hazelnuts? almonds? pistachios? Or replace them entirely with something else altogether, like dried fruits: cranberries, prunes…

All sorts of options are possible!

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