Italian Whole-Wheat Walnut-Raisin Bread

Sunday September 3, 2017

With the close of the California grape harvest comes the fresh crop of dried grapes.  Picked from the end of August until late September in Arizona and California, the fall crop of Thampson seedless and red Flame seedless are ready to be consumed now.  Left on the vine longer than wine grapes or conventional seedless table grape crops grown specifically for raisining, organic raisins are rinsed after harvest in a hot water bath and dehydrated for only a few hours to yield a clean product containing a very high moisture content.  Before adding to batters, dried fruits are plumped in hot water to reconstitute and regain a softer texture.  Raisins keep so well that there is no need to sulphur them in the drying process, but in case the package indicates that suphur dioxide has been used to preserve the color and freshness, do not cover while softening to allow excess to evaporate.

From my latest collection of recipes is this dense-textured whole-grain dough thick with raisins and walnuts, a specialty of northern Italy known as pane allae noci  e uva. Use a fruity Italian extra-virgin olive oil in the dough, fresh ground whole wheat flour, and plenty of moist dark raisins.  The whole grain dough is dense, yet moist and springy, and is risen before the dried fruit and nuts are incorporated.  Please note the technique of patting the risen dough into an oval, sprinkling it with the fruit and nuts, and pressing them in before rolling up.  This gentle incorporation of heavy embellishments is a technique you will use consistently for adding final ingredients to a bread dough.  They will be evenly distributed without laborious kneading or tearing of the delicate dough.

Although Whole-Wheat Walnut Raisin Bread is great sliced with a meal and for exceptional toast, try it as a unique appetizer in the Grilled Cheese in Fragrant Leaves.  If using as a base for broiled cheese appetizers, form the loaves into long, thick baguette-shapes for easiest slicing.

Yield:  3 round or 2 baguette-style loaves

Inredients

2 tablespoons (2 packages) active dry yeast
Pinch of light brown or 1 teaspoon of honey
2 1/2 cups warm water (105º to 115º)
1/2 cup Italian extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup local honey
1 tablespoon salt
4 cups fine-grind whole-wheat flour, preferably stone-ground
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups (10 ounces) dark raisins, plumped in hot water 1 hour and drained on paper towels
3 cups (12 ounces) broken or chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons each  whole-wheat flour and miller’s wheat bran for   sprinkling

Instructions

1.         In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast and sugar over 1/2 cup of the warm water.  Stir to dissolve.  Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

2.         In a large mixing bowl with a whisk, or in the work bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whisk together the remaining 2 cups warm water, the olive oil, honey, salt, and 2 cups of the whole-wheat flour.  Add the yeast mixture.  Beat vigorously until smooth, about 1 minute.  Add the remaining whole-wheat, 1/2 cup at a time.  After adding all of the whole-wheat flour, add the unbleached flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until a soft dough is formed that just clears the sides of the bowl, switching to a wooden spoon when necessary.

3.         Turn out the dough onto a very lightly flour-dusted work surface and knead until a soft, springy dough is formed that is resilient to the touch, adding only 1 tablespoon flour at a time as necessary to prevent sticking.  The dough should retain a smooth, soft quality, with some tackiness under the surface, yet still hold its own shape.  Do not add too much flour, as the loaf will be too dry and hard to work.  Place in an olive oil greased deep container, turn once to coat the top, and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

4.         Turn out the dough out onto a clean work surface without punching it down.  Pat it into a large oval and sprinkle evenly with half the drained raisins and the walnuts.  Press the nuts and fruit into the dough and roll it up.  Pat it into an oval once again and sprinkle evenly with the remaining raisins and nuts.  Press in and roll the dough up again.  Divide the dough into 3 equal portions or in half and shape into 3 tight round loaves or 2 baguettes, each about 14 inches long, gently pulling the surface taut from the bottom on both.  Combine the 2 tablespoons each whole-wheat flour and bran and sprinkle on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.  Place the loaves on the prepared pan.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled, 45 minutes to 1 hour.  Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven at 400º, with a baking stone if desired.

5.         Using a serrated knife, slash the loaf or loaves quickly with two parallel lines and one line intersecting no deeper than 1/4 inch.  Place the baking sheet directly on the stone or on an oven rack and bake until the loaves are brown, crusty, and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, 35 to 40 minutes for the rounds and 25 to 30 minutes for the baguettes.  Remove to a rack to cool completely before slicing.

Grilled Cheese in Fragrant Leaves

Fresh fig leaves may be substituted for the grape leaves.
Yield:  8 servings

Ingredients

1/2 to 3/4 pound hard cheese, such as Fontina, Gruyère, smoked Cheddar, or 1 pound fresh goat cheese

16 to 24 fresh grape leaves, washed and patted dry

1 loaf Italian Whole-Wheat Walnut-Raisin Bread, thinly sliced

Instructions

1.         Prepare a charcoal fire in a grill.  Cut or slice the cheese into thick slices that can easily be wrapped in the grape leaves.  Place a piece of the cheese in the center of the leaf on the side of the leaf that has heavy veins.  Fold the base of the leaf over the cheese and then wrap completely in the leaf.  Use a second leaf, if necessary to encase the entire surface.  Carefully secure with a toothpick.

2.         Place the wrapped bundles on the grill rack 4 to 5 inches above the coals.  Grill, turning once, just until the cheese melts, about 5 minutes total.  To serve, present each guest with 2 bundles of cheese to unwrap and spread it while warm on the slices of fresh bread.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2017

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.


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