Recipe – Sweet Stout and Walnut Bread

Making bread sounds so much like something your grandmother did in the days before YouTube taught us how to do things. Well, the miracle of the internet has empowered us, and anyone with access to water and flour is ready to make bread. Now, I am perhaps assuming you have the manual dexterity and wherewithal to perform the menial tasks of dough folding and shaping. If you are concerned that your dough-skills are a bit rusty, I suggest watching some of the excellent videos available from Ken’s Artisan Bread.

This bread uses a pre-ferment that incorporates part of the bulk bread, and is known as a poolish. One benefit of using a bread made from a pre-ferment is that less mechanical action (kneading) is required in order to finish the dough. Making bread is much about taking the various forms of protein-rich masses known as gluten and forming them into networks that are designed to strengthen the dough and trap all of the delicious aromas inside the loaf as it bakes. The two main protein classes that the gluten is comprised of are known as glutenins and gliadins that function something like thread and spindle, allowing the dough to expand and relax and impart toughness and flexibility. Yeast does much of the work as it converts the sugars in the dough into carbon dioxide that allows the dough to rise (the leavening agent), along with a host of fragrant chemicals that give the delicious flavours to the bread. The temperature we keep our dough at affects yeast production, as does the amount of sugar available. Making bread is easy, but you probably need to bake a few loaves before you feel comfortable with more complicated recipes such as this one. Despair ye not! – if you follow the steps you will be making excellent bread and probably never visiting the baker’s again. It took me 4 loaves before I was convinced that my bread-buying days were behind me.

For the poolish

125 g white flour
125 g whole wheat flour
250 g sweet stout beer
pinch of dry baker’s yeast

Carefully weigh out and mix the flour and yeast into a large container. You will want to have one large enough so that your mixture can triple in volume. 1.5 to 2.0 L should suffice.

Add the stout. I selected a sweet, but not smoky stout that I thought would pair well with the walnuts and whole wheat. Blend the mixture by hand or with a spoon to give a thick batter that you will leave covered with plastic overnight to develop, approximately 12 hours. During this period the poolish should roughly triple in volume. We are using a small amount of baker’s yeast because the yeast in the beer will also contribute to the fermentation.

Sweet stout bread

For the bulk dough

250 g white flour
125 g water
10 g salt
1.5 g baker’s yeast
60 g crushed and toasted walnuts

In the morning, pour 125 g of 40ºC water around the corners of the container to loosen the poolish. Transfer the poolish into a large mixing bowl filled with the flour and salt and begin to blend by hand. When well mixed, add the yeast and walnuts and continue kneading for 5 minutes to incorporate the ingredients. Dipping your hands in warm water several times will keep the dough from sticking to your hands and will assist in a nice, homogeneous mixing of the yeast.

Cover the mixing bowl with a wet cloth and let sit for 15 minutes before folding the dough. This should take up to a couple of minutes depending on how skilled you are, but you should feel the dough becoming elastic as you pull it with your fingers. Stretch the dough well as you fold, but not to the point of breaking. Let sit another 30 minutes before applying a second fold, then leave the dough to rise for 2 to 4 hours (depending on ambient temperature) to rise to between 2 and 3 times the volume.

Remove the dough to a dusted work surface, shape the bread with lightly floured hands and transfer to a proofing basket to let sit for approximately one hour. When you can push a floured finger into the dough and it doesn’t immediately spring back, it is proofed and ready to bake. Transfer to your cooking surface (I used a pizza stone) and slash the top of the dough with a sharp knife. Bake at 450ºF for approximately 10-15 minutes, then add a tray with water to your oven and bake at 400ºF for another 30 minutes.

Alternatively, cook in a dutch oven at 475ºF for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and cook for 20 minutes until the top of the loaf is a crunchy brown with a hint of blackening.

Remove to cool on a rack. I love to eat this bread when it is still warm from the oven with some slices of comté or gruyere cheese, or with a hot and hearty carrot or pumpkin soup. Any other pairings you can think of?

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