I love to bake. Let me rephrase that: I love to bake bread. I’ve easily baked thousands of loaves, and I continue to love everything about it. Adding yeast to water and watching it come alive. Seeing a dough come together. Watching it proof (rise). Removing the plastic covering and smelling the risen dough will never cease to make me draw a deep breath as my eyes slowly close and my head tips back. Handling the dough, deciding how I’m going to shape it. I would defy the most hardened soul not to be moved by the aroma of break baking. And I love coming up with new flavor and texture combinations. Perhaps best of all is introducing people to the wide world of great bread. This one was motivated by people who tell me that they used to love to bake bread – in their former lives – but they just don’t have time. This is a fairly easy one to find time for, especially of a weekend afternoon.
Lusty yeastiness and a portion of tender all-purpose flour almost render this a quick bread. You can have it on the table in about 2 hours. The colorful effect of the toasted walnuts and fresh sage have to be seen to be believed. And if your house is for sale, bake a batch just before the open house. People will follow their noses straight to your door. Alternatively, prepare for neighbors to come sniffing around to see what you’re up to.
By all means take the few minutes required to toast the walnuts. Their flavor will be much improved, and you know how walnuts can kind of take on the texture of pencil erasers when you bake with them? Whatever you’re planning to make, always toast them first, and that won’t happen. And the cheese is the crowning touch. It’s also a good indicator that the bread is done and ready to come out of the oven. When it bubbles out of the crust in all its browned goodness, pull it out and cut a slice!
If an entire loaf is more than you think you can use up, think about cutting it in half, double-wrapping one in plastic, and freezing it. Alternatively, there’s a good chance you know someone who would enjoy a hunk of fragrant, fresh bread. I’m often neck-deep in favors owed, and I find that food is always appreciated. There’s nothing like seeing someone smile when you knock on a door.
20 ounces warm water
2 tablespoons active dry yeast (or 1 tablespoon instant)
1 glug of honey
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sea or kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 large sage leaves, minced
1 cup walnut pieces, toasted
1 cup Fontina cheese, 1/2” cubes
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Scatter the walnut pieces over the parchment. If they’re large, first chop them up a bit on a cutting board. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until they’re nicely fragrant when you open the oven door. Remove from oven and allow to cool while you scale your ingredients and begin mixing.
- Measure water, yeast, and honey into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Don’t have a mixer? Don’t despair. See #12 below. Whisk them together.
- Add the bread flour, all-purpose flour, salt, and olive oil. Mix on low speed. By the time the ingredients come together and look like a good dough, your nuts should be cool enough to add. Don’t worry if the dough has a bit of a “foot,” a portion that sticks to the bottom of the bowl. The addition of the nuts and sage will solve the problem.
- Add the nuts and sage. Let bread continue to knead until they are well incorporated, about 4-5 minutes. Don’t worry if they don’t appear evenly distributed. The step where the cheese is added will take care of everything.
- Turn dough out of bowl and either oil or spray it. Return dough, turning it over once. Cover tightly with a piece of plastic and allow to proof at room temperature until doubled, about 45 minutes.
- While dough is rising, cube cheese.
- When dough has finished its first proofing, lightly flour a work surface. Gently turn dough out on it. Pat your hands in some flour and begin tenderly patting your dough out into a circle about 12” in diameter. Scatter the cheese cubes over the surface, avoiding the edges. Now, imagine that you’re folding four edges of the circle towards the center, effectively creating a square. Do that. Then fold the 4 points of the square to the center. Your cheese should be completely enfolded in the dough. Carefully turn the dough over and use your hands to gather the edges into a ball again.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment. Set the dough on it and drape it with your piece of plastic. Let proof again until doubled, about 45 minutes.
- About one half hour into the proofing time, preheat oven to 375 degrees. If you use a baking stone, set it in the oven when you turn it on. Just before placing bread in oven, remove the plastic and slash it decoratively with a serrated knife held at an acute angle. Some of the cheese should bubble out dramatically while baking.
- If using a stone, simply lift the sheet of parchment with the bread on it and slide it onto the stone. Otherwise, set the baking sheet in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, rotating bread 180 degrees at the halfway point.
- When done, remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing. Definitely serve warm!
- To mix and knead by hand, follow directions through Step 3. Stir ingredients until you no longer can. Turn your dough out on a generously floured surface. Dip your hands in some flour, and begin kneading. When dough has come together, scatter the nuts and sage on your work surface, set the dough on top of them, and begin kneading them in exactly as if they were flour. Pick up the instructions again with Step 5, and follow through Step 11.