Autumn Apple Walnut Bread (extended edition)

Becca and I have been watching the new Snoop Dogg & Martha Stewart show, Pot Luck Dinner Party (great show!). Even a crazy show like that one adhere’s to the unwritten laws of TV food shows: never show the mess. As the child of a foodie, I have grown up aware of two contrasting worlds – the pre-measured, clean-surfaced, fast-paced world of the television sound stage kitchen, and the chaotic, cluttered, utterly messy world of a real kitchen in a real household lived in by real people. I have always felt that cooking shows do a disservice by creating a false narrative of cleanliness and order, and so…

I thought I’d honor the end of the first year of this blog, by welcoming you fully into the process of creating a bread recipe from scratch, messy kitchen and all. I have compiled a photolog of the journey that culminated in this Autumn Apple Walnut Bread recipe. Welcome to the madness that is my life behind the apron…

The original idea…

I was talking to my friend Alicia who described a dish she had made recently: a sweet potato and chipotle pepper dish made with heavy cream. That’s it – just those three ingredients. I made a mental note to explore that combination as the basis of a bread recipe. When I got home, I found that we had two sweet potatoes just on the verge of getting wrinkly – a good start. No luck on the heavy cream, however. But, I did have some Bulgarian yogurt – that would do. Since I recently made a recipe with chipotle pepper, I grabbed some ancho pepper instead (just to mix things up).

Damn. That refrigerator is a mess. Just the way I like it, thank you.

And then my plan started to unravel. I was feeling lazy and didn’t want to cook the sweet potatoes first – it would take 30-40 minutes to cook and perhaps just as long to cool. I didn’t want to add an hour of prep time, so I looked around the kitchen to see if there were any ingredients that might provide more instant gratification.

For you young ‘uns who aren’t familiar with old time radio, you won’t understand the reference to Fibber McGee and Molly in the photo captions. That saddens me so much, I am placing this link right here in good faith that you’ll trip over it and listen to an episode…

None of the ingredients I had before me were “going ding” as my Mom used to say, so I opened the fridge one more time. That’s when I saw the Granny Smith apples and I knew I had my winners: apples and walnuts – a perfect autumn combination. Yay!

I forgot to mention that I cleaned the kitchen before I started. That’s important because a large part of baking is the cleaning (which you never see on cooking shows nor in the recipe instructions). I also spent 15 minutes of futzing around finding ingredients… that’s already 30 minutes of “kitchen time” and we haven’t even started prepping. I’m telling you this because I hope you get comfortable with idea that time spent in the kitchen can be filled with relaxing, creative, thoughtful moments.

Sorting out the ingredients

When I am trying out a new idea, I usually make a half-batch or what I think of as a “hand batch” since I will often make it by hand while also making a full batch of a tried and true recipe in the mixer. For example, over Thanksgiving I made a full recipe of Sesame Cheddar Bread in the Kitchen Aid mixer and a hand batch of Goat Cheese Chive Bread. If I bomb a hand batch, I don’t feel as bad about the loss of the ingredients as I would if I ruined a full recipe. And… I changed my mind. I’m going to use the mixer (see bit above about feeling lazy). No hand-batch today.

The first step of a simple yeast bread recipe is to soften the yeast in warm water:

  • 1 scant tablespoon or 1 (¼-ounce) package active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped super fine into walnut meal

Once I start adding the ingredients, I will soon need to put the dough on the counter for kneading. Right after that, I will place it in a bowl to rise. Knowing that these two steps follow back to back, I want to be ready. First, I fill the big blue bowl with hot water. When I’m ready to put the dough in to rise, the water will have warmed the bowl to a perfect rising temperature. I also sprinkle the counter with flour (see the next set of pictures).

  • ½ cup non-fat Bulgarian yogurt
  • ¼ cup barley malt
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ½ cup müesli
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 cups unbleached flour

Couple of notes…

What is the difference between diastatic and non-diastatic barley malt?
  • The kind of barley malt I used has no enzymes. I swapped out sugar with the barley malt largely out of curiosity because I hadn’t used any before.
  • I can’t remember the last time I actually measured salt with a spoon. A “palm” is just shy of a tablespoon…
  • The müesli was a last-minute addition just to add texture. No recipe has ever been made worse by adding müesli.

Mixing the dough

After the ingredients have mixed thoroughly, I add a little more flour (half cup to a cup) until the dough is cooperative enough to let go of the paddle. Once the dough hook attachment is in place, I begin to add the flour a quarter cup at a time. All of my Mom’s yeast bread recipes say the exact same thing at this point: Gradually add flour, ¼ cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. 

This is where I wax nostalgic and start channeling my Mom’s spirit. In a mild southern drawl, repeat after me… “Don’t measure the flour. Learn to add it by feel.” That’s right, the recipe will give you a range (3-4 cups, 5-6 cups, etc.) which is vague enough to make a Type A baker clench in panic. But because there are many factors that influence how dough absorbs flour – humidity and elevation chief among them – it doesn’t make sense to put a specific amount. Learning to add flour by feel is especially helpful when making a recipe from scratch.

Dough is a trickster – it will tease you and make you think it is ready when it really isn’t. Here’s what will happen… You’ll follow the instructions by adding flour a quarter cup at a time. At a certain point, you’ll notice the flour “pull away” from the side of the bowl. But wait! Let the mixer run for half a minute more. The dough was just joshin’ you. It will start to settle and become tacky again, sticking once more to the side of the bowl. If you take the dough out now, you’ll have a sticky mess on the counter.

Add another quarter cup of flour. The dough will absorb the flour, but won’t pull away… so, you might be tempted to add yet another – but be careful. Don’t be fooled like others before you. Dough is fickle. Patience is the way to win this match. Add the flour a tiny bit at a time now, perhaps with a tablespoon. When the dough pulls away the next time, you’ve probably reached a good consistency to transfer the dough onto the counter.

If you commit to making more than one batch of bread in your life – I’m willing to bet that you’ll start to get the hang of the whole “add the flour by feel” thing by your third round. Once you gain the confidence to feel the dough, you can start making your own original breads without concern for using exact measurements. I believe in you! You can do this!

Cleaning, cleaning, cleaning…

The 60 minutes of the first rise need not be the doldrums of your home bread baking journey. Au contraire! Grab a Stella Artois from the fridge, holler over to Alexa to spin up some Gabe Dixon, and start cleaning in style. I clean the kitchen at least four times during an average baking session. Once to clean my prep area, the next during the first rise to clean the counter and any dishes I’ve used, third is the oil cleanup from shaping the dough, and then once the pans have cooled I do the final clean which usually involves a lot of cutting board crumbs (if the recipe is a success!).

I know some folks hate cleaning the kitchen. Perhaps most. But it has become such an important aspect of my bread baking ritual that I have come to enjoy the rhythms of clean, prep, clean, shape, clean, bake, clean. I know I probably won’t convince anyone here that cleaning can be a part of some sort of spiritual awakening. But it can. Seriously. Think “wax on, wax off”…

Shaping the dough

After the first rise, you shape the dough. This can involve placing elaborate rolls in muffin tins, long loaves in baguette pans, simple round loaves placed on parchment-lined cookie sheets, or as you can see here, a selection of different sized loaf pans. One of the subtler arts of home bread baking is determining how much dough to put in a given vessel. A good rule of thumb is that if the dough has risen aggressively (more than doubled during the first rise), leave some space in the pans. If you are unsure, go free-form and simply place the dough on parchment-lined sheets. Better to have short or round loaves than collapsed muffin-top loaves that expand out beyond the top of the pan.

Into the oven with you! (and why not make some apple butter)

Ten minutes before the end of the second rise, pre-heat your oven. Slit the tops of the loaves – about a quarter inch deep. Place them in the oven and dance a jig because you are a crazy creative bread alchemist who knows the secret of turning dough into bread. And that, my friend, is pretty darn cool.

How can you tell when a bread is done baking?

While cleaning up, I didn’t have the heart to toss the remaining apples. I decided to experiment with creating an apple butter. Over Thanksgiving, we amassed a small fortune in butter pads. So, I grabbed the pads from the fridge, unwrapped them all, and tossed them into the Nutribullet along with the chopped apple. I mixed in some confectioner’s sugar to sweeten it up. And then I split the butter mixture in half: one to stay sweet – and the other to get spicy. I added ancho chile pepper to the apple butter until I achieved a pleasing level of sweet and spicy. Honestly, it was a work of pure accidental genius. The ancho pepper apple butter (say that ten times fast) enters the mouth sweetly and then, in the time it takes you to clear your mouth and swallow, the pepper is dancing delicately on the back of your tongue. Success!

Celebrating your awesome self

If you’re still with me, then you deserve to celebrate your accomplishment by sharing it proudly with anyone who has taste buds. I’m serious. Bread is for sharing – no loaf hoarding allowed. Don’t hesitate for a single second to be excited about the yumminess of your own bread creation. You are an artisté (you even have a fancy accent over the ‘e’). Give a loaf to a neighbor to say “thanks for being you.” Bring some into work and drop a note to your department letting them know that you are proud of the work they do – and oh, by the way, there’s fresh homemade bread in the break room. And for goodness sake, take pictures of it and share them on your social network of choice. Life is too short not get excited about everyday magic, especially when it is wrought from your own hands. You are pretty amazing, you know that?

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Autumn Apple Walnut Bread

A medium-hearty loaf perfect for the Fall. Opa loved his Saturday morning egg sandwich on it. Becca and Tynan polished off almost a small loaf each. Even Sawyer (who is texture-averse) gave a thumbs up. Definitely give this one a go...

Prep Time 2 hours
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Servings 2 loaves
Author Mark Oppenneer

Ingredients

  • 1 scant tablespoon (or 1 ¼-ounce package) active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water about 110 degrees
  • 2 Granny Smith apples peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup walnuts however you want them
  • ½ cup non-fat Bulgarian yogurt
  • ¼ cup barley malt
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ½ cup müesli
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 4-5 cups unbleached flour

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, stir yeast into water to soften.
  2. Add apples, walnuts, yogurt, barley malt, salt, salt, müesli, coconut oil, and 2 cups flour. Beat vigorously for two minutes.

  3. Gradually add flour, ¼ cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the side of the bowl.
  4. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead, adding flour a little at a time, until you have a smooth, elastic dough.
  5. Put dough into an oiled bowl. Turn to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise until doubled, about one hour.
  6. Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface and divide and shape as you wish (I halved it and then thirded one of the halves - for one large loaf pan and three small ones). Shape dough and place into a well-greased pan or baking sheet. Cover with a tightly woven towel and let rise until almost doubled, about 45 minutes.
  7. About 10 minutes before baking, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  8. Just before baking, cut slits across the top of your loaves about ¼-inch deep.
  9. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the loaves reaches 190 degrees.
  10. Immediately remove bread from baking sheet and cool on a rack.

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