Walnut & raisin sourdough

This is, I think, a very special bread, with a deep savoury flavour punctuated by bursts of juicy raisins amid the crunch of walnuts. I was given tasters of this bread at a local bakery the other day and immediately fell in love with it (although I was less in love with the price!), so I couldn’t wait to try to recreate this bread at home.

The small amount of rye flour adds a nice flavour without the final bread being at all dense; it actually has a light interior which goes well with its very crisp exterior.

As with all good breads, a great cheese (at room temperature) with perhaps a chutney would be a fantastic accompaniment: simplicity at its best! However, thinly sliced, spread with butter (it has to be butter!) and topped with smoked salmon and just a little thinly sliced pickled cucumber, this bread will make very fine open sandwiches.

This bread lends itself particularly well to rolls, baguettes and small bâtards but full-sized loaves are equally good here.

I made and added a walnut paste to the dough at the initial mixing stage so that in addition to getting the frequent chunks of walnut in the bread, the dough itself has a light walnut flavour to it. I soak the raisins in a little boiling water for about an hour or two to plump up a little and so that any raisins that find themselves poking out of the dough during baking do not burn (one of my pet hates!).

As ever, the timings for the rises are not exact and depend on the warmth of the room and the level of sourness you want in the final bread: a slower rise will develop a more sour flavour with excellent depth (the fridge will retard the rise very well in this respect).  However, for each rise I wait until the dough is almost double in volume which could take anything from 5-6 hours in a warmer environment to about a day or so in the fridge – but I am not precise here: as long as it rises and becomes light and puffy then I am happy!

My notes on making and working with sourdoughs are here. I have also given guidelines for making a non-sourdough version below the recipe.

Recipe: walnut & raisin sourdough – makes 2 loaves or many bâtards

For the dough:

  • 550g strong white flour
  • 50g rye flour
  • 250g active sourdough starter
  • 380-420ml water
  • 12g salt

For the walnut paste:

  • 150g walnuts
  • about 100ml water

To flavour the bread:

  • 150g walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 150-200g raisins, soaked in boiling water for an hour or so and drained well, squeezing out excess moisture

(1) Make the walnut paste: blend the walnuts and most of the water together until it comes to a fairly smooth paste. Add more water if needed.

(2) Mix the flours, starter, walnut paste and enough of the water to bring together to a soft but not unmanageable dough. Cover and leave for about 45 minutes.

(3) Sprinkle over the salt and knead into the dough. Knead for about 15 minutes until it becomes smooth, silky and elastic. Put in a bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise for several hours until almost doubled in size. You can knead for less time and stretch and fold the dough at roughly hourly intervals if preferred, or just leave the dough to do its thing!

(4) Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and work in the chopped walnuts and the raisins. The dough may well become quite sticky but persist and it will all come back together. Knead for a few minutes and then split into 2 equal pieces. Shape as you wish: you can get 3 medium-sized loaves from this dough or split some of the dough into 80-100g pieces for rolls or bâtards.

(5) Cover the dough with clingfilm and leave to rise until almost doubled in size, ideally in the fridge for up to 24 hours or so. When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to its highest setting and place a solid roasting tin on the base.

(6) Turn the risen shaped dough onto floured baking trays, slash the surface with a sharp knife or razor and place in the oven. A jug of cold water should also be poured into the roasting tin to create steam in the oven, and a few sprays of water onto the inside of the oven door helps this further. Close the door and bake for 10 minutes before turning the oven temperature down to 200C(fan) until the bread it cooked – this could be up to 30 more minutes for loaves or 10-15 more minutes for smaller rolls or bâtards.

For a non-sourdough version:

Make up the initial dough with a total of 725g flour (650g white; 75g rye) and between 400-450ml water instead of the starter. Incorprate the walnuts and raisins as in the recipe above.

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