June 30, 2016

Walnut and Sour Cherry Bread

It's raining and raining. What to do? Bake a bread!

I like baking with fresh baker's yeast. It is immensely gratifying to handle: the smooth and supple texture of the yeast, its scent, and the way it crumbles in your hands and then starts to bloom when moist. I also like the slightly sour-creamy taste of yeast in my bread. So here we go with a simple bread to which dried sour cherries, walnuts and rosemary have been added. Nothing overly extravagant or in any way innovative, yet deeply satisfying.

This bread is made by using a starter or pre-ferment called a poolish. That means that around a quarter to a third of the amount of dough used in total will be started in advance, and added to the rest at a later stage. The advantage of doing so is that the bread will acquire an overall more interesting taste and crumb.

A poolish is made by mixing the same amount of water and flour with a bit of sugar and a little yeast, and then set aside to start blooming. The trick here is to let it rise for about an hour at room temperature, then keep it in the fridge overnight where the yeast will continue to do its work, however at a much slower pace. The next morning, the poolish is added to all other ingredients and the proving process begins anew.


Walnut and Sour Cherry Bread (one loaf)

For the poolish
1 heaped tsp honey or brown molasses sugar
200 ml warm water
10 g fresh yeast
200 g wheat flour
1 tsp rosemary, chopped finely (optional)

For the dough
20 g fresh yeast
100 ml warm water
200 g wholemeal spelt flour
100 g wheat flour
2 tsp salt
50 g dried sour or tart cherries (see tip)
1 handful of walnuts (see tip)
1 tbsp olive oil mixed with a tbsp of warm water



On the day before baking make your poolish by mixing the honey or molasses into the warm water, and then crumbling your fresh yeast into it. Wait for say 10 minutes until the yeast shows signs of activity by beginning to froth; pour the liquid over the flour into which you have sprinkled the finely chopped rosemary. Mix everything well and let it rise for an hour. Then cover with cling film and put the poolish into the fridge.


The following day, take the poolish out of the cold and let it reach room temperature. Next, add the remaining 20 g of fresh yeast to the remaining 100 ml warm water, stir and wait for a while. Then add your two remaining flours, the salt as well as the poolish. Knead the dough very well for about five to seven minutes which I do with a trusted heavy duty stand mixer. At the end, toss in the cherries (no need to soak them in advance) and give a quick last turn so that they get mixed well into the dough. Leave the dough to rise for about one hour or until doubled in size.


In the meantime line a loaf or bread pan with baking paper. Then gently fold the walnuts into your dough without knocking the air out of it. Place the dough into your loaf pan and leave it for the secondary fermentation or proofing, i.e. the second rising of the dough, for say another half an hour or a bit longer. Just before baking give the top of your bread loaf a quick wash with the oil-water-mix.


Place the loaf pan into the preheated oven—210°C (410°F)—and bake at high heat for fifteen minutes, then reduce the heat to 180°C (360°F) and bake for a further 50 minutes. About five to ten minutes before the bread is finished take the bread out of the baking form and pop it back into the oven "naked": that will colour the bread nicely on all sides. After the complete 65 minutes of baking you can check whether your bread is done by knocking on the bottom of the loaf—it ought to ring hollow. Let it cool completely before cutting and eating. Very good with almond butter and black cherry jam.


You can replace the dried sour cherries with any other dried—preferably tart—fruit you like such as cranberries or tart apricots for instance, or you could also make good use of figs. And in place of the walnuts you might also go for pecans or hazelnuts.