by Wolfgang Puck
Pecan and Walnut Bread
A Good Loaf of Bread for the Holidays
Everybody needs a good loaf of bread for the holiday season. You can use it in so many ways. Slice it thinly and toast it to serve with cheeses before or after a meal or as part of a buffet. Cut slightly thicker slices to toast for breakfast, served with butter and jam. Make it into sandwiches, filled with leftover ham or turkey. Cube leftover, slightly stale loaves to use in stuffings or in sweet or savory bread puddings.
Baking bread is actually fairly easy, especially if you have one of the stand mixers found in the kitchens of more and more avid home cooks today. (You can also make it the old-fashioned way, by hand, though you should be prepared to knead the dough diligently and vigorously to bring it to the smooth, elastic state that an electric mixer achieves with so little effort on your part.) For the recipe I share here, which yields plenty of bread for the season, you'll also need three 9-by-5-inch loaf pans.
But what home-baked bread requires most is time and patience. After the task of kneading, the single most important stage in making bread is letting it rise -- once after you've mixed and kneaded the dough for the first time, and then again after you've shaped the individual loaves. During this crucial period, the gases given off by the yeast expand the dough's microscopic network of elastic gluten to increase the volume of the dough, developing its texture. Skimp on the time, and your bread will turn out dense and hard like a brick.
Wait patiently while the dough slowly rises at warm room temperature, however, and you'll have bread with a beautiful, tender texture. You'll know the bread has risen enough when it looks like it has doubled in volume -- first in the mixer bowl and then in the individual loaf pans.
Once you get accustomed to such basics, you can start having fun with your breadmaking. My Pecan and Walnut Bread recipe offers you the perfect opportunity to do just that. Its combination of two of the most popular holiday nuts adds wonderfully festive touches of flavor and texture. If you like, toss the nuts with a little cinnamon sugar before you mix them into the dough. Or add a generous handful or two of golden raisins, dried cherries, or dried cranberries, as well.
The results will be so good that you may find the bread disappears quickly. Fortunately, you now know how easy it can be to bake another batch. Wrap any extra loaves in aluminum foil and then in colorful paper or cellophane to offer as gifts. It's so much fun to share something delicious you've made yourself during the holidays.
Pecan and Walnut Bread Recipe
Makes 3 loaves, each 9 inches
1-1/3 packages (1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon) active dry yeast
3 cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon honey
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
3 cups rye flour
1-1/2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary or thyme leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
3-1/2 ounces unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
1-1/2 cups chopped pecans
1-1/2 cups chopped walnuts
Pecan and Walnut Bread Recipe Directions
Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of lukewarm water.
Put the remaining water, the honey, both flours, the salt, the rosemary or thyme, and the butter in a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix for about 5 minutes. Add the dissolved yeast and continue to knead in the mixer for about 10 minutes, until the dough looks smooth and elastic and comes away from the sides of the bowl and comes together into a ball. Add the pecans and walnuts and continue to knead briefly just until the nuts look fully incorporated.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and take out the dough hook, scraping any pieces of dough back into the bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp kitchen towel and leave at warm room temperature until the dough approximately doubles in volume, about 45 minutes.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. With clean hands, knead the dough briefly, pushing it down and away, then folding it back on itself and giving it a quarter turn, just until it deflates and any air pockets have been removed.
Butter and flour three 9-by-5-inch loaf pans. With a sharp knife, carefully cut the dough into 3 equal pieces and shape each into a cylinder 9 inches long. Place the cylinders in the prepared pans. Put the pans on a tray, cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel, and leave to rise at warm room temperature until the dough as at least doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
About 20 minutes before the loaves are done rising, position the oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Bake the loaves until they look nicely browned, about 20 minutes. Then, reduce the temperature to 325 degrees F. and continue baking about 25 minutes longer, until the loaves are a deep brown color and a loaf carefully tipped out of its pan sounds hollow when tapped on its bottom. Remove all 3 loaves from the pan and transfer to wire racks to cool.
To serve, use a serrated bread knife to cut into slices 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick and toast as desired.
Pecan and Walnut Bread Recipe
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