The Baker: French Walnut and Onion Bread

Sunday June 3, 2012

photograph courtesy of Melissa Placzek

This has been oh such a favorite bread of mine for decades, as well as one of the first country breads I tackled.  Containing walnuts and onions, it has a full developed flavor and aroma that is delightfully addictive.  It is a recipe adapted from one by the late British food writer Jane Grigson in her wonderful book Good Things, published in the 1960s; I use a dash less yeast. James Beard included it in his beloved small volume Beard on Bread, with the title Jane Grigson’s Walnut Bread From Southern Burgundy, an area known for good food in the hearty style of the cuisine bourgeoise. It could be nicknamed pain lyonnaise, as onions are characteristic of the cooking of Lyons.

Jane Grigson in her kitchen...the down to earth diva of vegetables and British culinary art

“This recipe comes from the delightful cookbook called Good Things by an English writer, Jane Grigson, who has a fine palate and the ability to evoke vivid pictures of food. It makes one of the most attractively flavored and textured breads I have eaten in a long time. If you can’t find walnut oil, you can use fruity olive oil. Baked in intriguing, small, round loaves, it is light and has a pleasant crust, delicious ‘nose,’ and a delicate onion flavor. It is good with broiled or roasted meats, or with some cheeses, notably goat.” ~James Beard

Serve with a large salad vinaigrette seasoned liberally with plenty of Dijon mustard. This is a delicious bread and diners have more than one slice so have some nice sweet butter for spreading.

Makes 4 small loaves


  • 2 cups warm milk (105º to 115º)
  • 1 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon (1 1/2 packages) active dry yeast or 1 tablespoon SAF dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup fruity olive oil or walnut oil
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon gluten
  • 3 to 3 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped to equal about 3/4 cup
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts


Step 1: Mixing the Dough

In a small bowl or one-cup liquid measuring cup, pour in 1/2 cup of the warm milk.  Sprinkle the yeast and a pinch of the sugar over the surface.  Stir to dissolve and let stand at room temperature until foamy, about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl using a balloon or dough whisk, or in the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine remaining 1 1/2 cups milk, remaining sugar, oil, salt, and 1 cup of all-purpose flour.  Beat until smooth, about 1 minute.  Add the yeast mixture and beat vigorously 1 minute longer.  Add remaining cup of all-purpose flour, the gluten, and the bread flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until a soft, shaggy dough that just clears the sides of the bowl is formed, switching to a wooden spoon when necessary if making by hand and switch to the dough hook, if making with the electric mixer.

Step 2: Kneading

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until firm yet still springy, 1 to 3 minutes for a machine-mixed dough and a hand-mixed dough 3 to 5 minutes, dusting with flour only 1 tablespoon at a time, just enough as needed to prevent sticking.

Step 3:  Fermentation

Place the dough ball in a greased deep container, turn once to grease the top, and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise at room temperature until double in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Step 4: Shaping the Dough and Final Proof

the humble onion

Lightly grease or parchment-line a metal or ceramic baking sheet.  Turn the dough out onto a work surface and pat into a thick rectangle.  Sprinkle with the onions and walnuts.  Fold over the dough and knead gently to distribute.  Divide into 4 equal portions and form into 4 tight rounds.  Place the loaves on the baking sheet and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Let rise until double in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Step 5:  Baking Off

Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 400º, with a baking stone or ceramic tiles placed on the center rack.

Bake in the the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden brown and loaves sounds hollow when tapped on the bottoms with your finger.  Transfer the loaf to a rack to cool before slicing.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2012

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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