This sponge-starter loaf is somewhat sophisticated in a Euro-rustic way; its great looks are amplified by its great taste, courtesy of a slew of buttery walnuts baked into the loaf.
You'll need a spray water bottle and an extra-large zip-top bag, big enough to contain a baking sheet (alternatively, a large sheet of plastic wrap can be used), and two loaf pans. We found the flours called for in this recipe at MOM's stores. Spring water is specified because it is not chlorinated (and therefore will not interfere with yeast development).
Store this bread wrapped in a clean dish towel for the first day, which will help keep the crust crisp; after that, in a zip-top bag.
Serve with cheese or as a sandwich bread.
Make Ahead: The sponge starter needs to sit at room temperature for 8 to 16 hours. The dough needs to rise a first time for 45 to 90 minutes and a second time for 1 1/2 to 3 hours. The unsliced loaves can be frozen for up to 2 months.
Servings: 32 - 38
Yield: Makes two 9-by-5-inch loaves
- For the sponge starter and dough
- 1 cup water, preferably spring water (see headnote)
- 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
- 1 1/4 cups unbleached bread flour or (preferably) organic white bread flour
- 2 tablespoons organic whole-wheat flour
- 2 tablespoons organic rye flour, plus more for dusting
- For the dough
- 1 1/2 cups water, preferably spring water
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 2 tablespoons dark rye flour
- 2 tablespoons walnut oil or light olive oil
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 3 to 4 cups unbleached white bread flour
- 2 cups raw unsalted walnut pieces, 1 cup left intact and 1 cup coarsely chopped
For the sponge starter and dough: Combine the water and yeast in a medium bowl, then add the bread flour, whole-wheat flour and rye flour. Stir to form a thick, puddinglike mixture. Cover lightly with plastic wrap, leaving a little head space. Let it sit for 8 to 16 hours. The starter should become foamy-looking or spongy.
For the dough: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spray two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans generously with nonstick cooking oil spray and place them on the baking sheet.
Spoon the sponge starter into the bowl of a stand mixer, then stir in the water, yeast, rye flour, oil, salt, honey and 2 cups of the bread flour to make a soft mixture. Cover loosely and let stand for 15 minutes. Then, using the mixer fitted with the dough hook, knead slowly on low speed for 5 to 8 minutes, adding as much of the remaining flour as needed to make a soft dough. Halfway through kneading, add the walnuts. (If you like, you can reserve some or all of the 1 cup of intact walnut halves to place on top of the loaves later.)
Grease a large bowl with nonstick cooking oil spray. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Insert the bowl in the large zip-top bag (see headnote), which you will use again later as a proofing tent. Seal to close; let the dough rise for 45 to 90 minutes. It should almost double in size.
Lightly flour a work surface. Turn the dough out onto the work surface and gently deflate the dough, then let it rest for 5 minutes. Divide into two equal portions. Shape each into a compact oblong and place in the loaf pans. Dust with the rye flour. Use a sharp knife to make 3 diagonal slashes, spaced evenly apart, on the surface of each loaf.
Spray the loaves with nonstick cooking oil spray and enclose in the same large plastic bag. Let the dough rise until almost doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 3 hours.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Have a spray bottle of clean water at hand.
Just before baking, gently press any walnut halves you have reserved into the top of each loaf, being careful not to deflate the dough. Dust the loaves with white or rye flour once again.
Place the baking sheet with loaf pans in the oven, then immediately reduce the temperature to 425 degrees. Bake until nicely browned, 35 to 40 minutes, misting the interior of the oven with the spray bottle two or three times in the first 15 minutes of baking.
Remove the loaves from the pans. Let the loaves cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes before serving.
From Montreal baker and cookbook author Marcy Goldman.
Tested by Becky Krystal.
E-mail questions to the Food Section at email@example.com.