A pink sky, a dry road, and the whir of a freshly lubed chain follow me up Hillside Road. I wonder about dinner. Walnuts, I remember, and stop at Fairways. The store’s bulk section is ho hum. Lately I’ve shopped for nuts, grains, spices, and interesting flours at the health food store in Sidney. I found dried lavender and the surprisingly elusive whole-wheat pastry flour.
My bag is heavy with the nuts and all the other bits and tins I suddenly remember upon entering a grocery store. I dismount at the top of the hill and watch birds fly from the crooked deck. I love our neighbourhood with its mismatched houses and quiet streets tucked between busy throughways, and, of course, the slightly dodgy Quadra Street Village, home to the excellent Caffe Fantastico and James’ Caribbean Café. I love that I’ve finished with children and chalk for the day. In my apartment, on a shelf, a mass of inflated dough waits for me to push it down, turn it onto a floured board, and knead walnuts into its sticky skin before patting it into two round loaves for the final rise.
Kneading bread at six thirty a.m. before beginning a day teaching middle school may very well be a symptom of insanity. But there I am, hazy with flour and sleep, rising with the yeast (clever, huh?). I leave the dough to lift while I spend my day at school. Later, five o’clock p.m., I feed it walnuts and give it one last squeeze. The final rise finishes at six. Into the oven and at seven o’clock we have fresh bread. Life is good.
This is Flo Bracker’s recipe. I haven’t changed it. Haven’t even tried cutting the fat. It’s just that perfect.
1 package active dry yeast
1/2 cup hot water
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 cup walnut oil (I use olive)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp salt
2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 cup walnut pieces, toasted
Sprinkle the yeast and a pinch of sugar over the hot water in a large bowl. I test the water on my wrist, it should feel quite warm. Set aside for 15 min to proof. It should be a bit bubbly when done.
Add the lukewarm water (it should feel a bit cooler than your wrist), sugar, oild, unbleached flour, and salt to the yeast mixture; mix until wall blended. Add the whole wheat flour. Do this bit by bit. You may need more or less. It depends on the dough and the day. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, about fifteen minutes. My rule is you can never over-knead. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning it to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 2 to 4 hours. On the aformentioned day, I left my dough to rise for over eight hours. I left it at a low room temperature, probably about 17 or 18 degrees celcius. Typically, for the regular rise, I put the dough in the over, after I've warmed it just a little.
After the dough has doubled in bulk, punch down. Work briefly and gently with your hands to press out bubbles and deflate it. On that floured board, knead in the walnuts until evenly distributed.
Grease a large baking sheet (I simply cover one with parchment paper) and sprinkle it with cormeal. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a round loaf. Plach the loafs on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the tops with kosher salt and a little cornmeal. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about one hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 and bake for 45 minutes. The loaves should be light brown and sound like a hollow tree when you knock their bottoms.