In honor of their one-year anniversary the Bread Baking Babes chose Carol Field’s Pane ai Cinque Cereali con Noci (Five-Grain Bread with Walnuts), adapted from The Italian Baker by Carol Field, for their February recipe. When I realized that I had all of the 5 flours in my baking drawer - oat, rye, brown rice, whole wheat, and all-purpose - I decided to try my hand at baking it (and thus be a "Buddy" of the BBB's this month!). You can (and I recommend that you do!) find the recipe and step-by-step photos at the host kitchen's site: My Kitchen in Half Cups.
There is something about bowls that I find irresistible. I have a wide assortment of sizes, colors, and silhouettes of bowls. A deep drawer filled with nests of mixing bowls. Cupboard shelves overflowing with serving bowls, cereal bowls, soup bowls, condiment bowls. And on and on.
All of my big bowls are stored up on the tops of my kitchen cabinets. While they are always visible, I tend to forget that they are up there. When I was getting ready to bake this bread, I looked up and saw the perfect dough-mixing bowl, a purple-glazed one that I found last year at an antique store in rural Central New York. As I stirred, I wondered how many other breads had been made with that bowl. I was having such a nice meditative time mixing this bread...
and then kneading it on the counter.
For the bulk rise I transferred the dough to an 8-cup glass measuring bowl because I love seeing the bubbles forming inside the dough, and the markings help me figure out when the dough has doubled. That bowl, an old Pyrex one, was owned by the original builders of the house we now live in. (When we bought the house from them, I also purchased some of the furniture and kitchenware.) I know that Kay was a marvelous baker, and I wondered if she ever made bread. More thoughts, following the rhythms of the dough.
As my bread was rising L. and her son J. arrived at my door. J is a very active and curious 18 year-old boy, and he and L. were fascinated by the bread. This was only my second real kneaded bread, so I was trying to pay attention/figure out the recipe while at the same time explaining bread-making, yeast, rising, etc. Also under consideration/discussion: cleanliness standards of canning factories, my computer, the radio controlled plane hanging from our rafters, the counter-mounted air switch for my garbage disposer... this was one very inquisitive teen! Not under discussion: this crazy food blogging habit of mine.
Somewhere in all that I forgot to check the recipe's baking temperature. I ended up popping the loaf into the oven at the oven's default setting - 350 degrees. About 15 minutes later I realized my mistake and turned it up to the specified 400 degrees. Aargh. Despite that, the loaf baked up well. I left it in the oven until it reached 195 in the center, which I think was around 55 minutes or an hour (mostly I relied on the temperature). I sort of wonder if my loaf would have had some oven spring if not for the oven-temp mix-up?
Even though this bread was oceans away from J.'s preferred bread flavor - Hawaiian sweet bread - I insisted he taste it. If you're going to hang around and watch the dough rise twice and bake in the oven you pretty much need to judge how it turns out, right? They also stayed long enough to see me prepare flambeed cognac-prunes for my (upcoming post on Tuesday) TWD chocolate cake! (To our collective disappointment, the cognac burned in demure little flamelets rather than in a giant fireball.) Anyway, I'm not sure if L. and J. really liked the bread, but they were polite enough to say they did.
I have no doubts, on the other hand, about the honesty of my book club. They have gotten used to giving me frank appraisals of my baking efforts, and for my part I've given up worrying about hectoring them for opinions - and even quotes. It turns out that this bread was an enormous hit at book club, where I served it with two kinds of cheese: goat cheese, and English five counties cheese. Even though there were three cakes there (this was our pre-Lenten bash, very important in a Catholic book group) - including the very sexy chocolate (prune) cake - the bread was just as big of a draw.
I loved it with the English cheese, some of the others enjoyed it with the goat cheese, and a few - like my husband - liked it plain so much that they didn't want to put any cheese on it at all! Just one person decided to save her carb allotment for cake(s) only.
The walnuts were indeed the star of the bread but not in a stand out, showy way. These are walnuts as I've never experienced them in baked goods. In sweet breads and quick breads, they tend to be quite separate in taste and texture. In this bread, while the walnuts was discernible in a quietly authoritative way, at the same time they blended with the well-knit tastes of the 5 flours. It's like the grains lent a wonderful supporting nest that the walnut flavor sort of settled into.
I will make this bread again and again, and I will always have a little thought for the first time I baked it, when I experienced the the extremes of contemplating life and having life appear on my doorstep with its often chaotic and distracting moments. Which are really the essence of living. As is bread!