Breakfast Breadcrumbs

After a revelatory experience with a batch of buttermilk-infused white bread, I decided to keep going. I was on a roll, a loaf run, a trail of bread crumbs. (Okay, okay, I'll stop.) Aside from my excitement level that was running on a bread-adrenalin high, I wanted to see what it would be like to bake bread two consecutive days in a row.

Breakfast of champions: Raisin-walnut bread. (Kim O'Donnel)

With a soft crumb that made me nostalgic for Pepperidge Farm's "Very Thin White Bread" (white paper lining wrapped inside plastic bag), the buttermilk white was a bit tangy by its lonesome, but I loved it with jam, and saw promise in its toastability. Yesterday's lunch was one slice folded over, bookending a piece of leftover roast chicken -- a pairing that was reminiscent of a steamed Chinese bun -- sweet, soft and well, maybe too soft for everyday use.

That mindful discovery is perhaps one of the great things about making bread. Don't like your loaf? Betcha five bucks someone else will, a gift that most gluten-eating creatures would cherish. Alternatively, allow your loaf to stale and then whiz it into bread crumbs for later use. Then move on. There's a bread recipe for every day of the year, for perhaps the rest of your life.

After my run with something new, I yearned for something more familiar, a tried-and-true fave that would sing, "Good morning, sunshine!" to me.

The answer was an Italian-style walnut-raisin bread made with mostly whole-wheat flour, also from Beth Hensperger's "The Bread Bible." Typically, I shy away from whole-wheat breads, as I find them too dense, but this version is tender and mild, with a softer crust and that hit parade of raisins and walnuts, which means breakfast is ready.

Although scrumptious all by its lonesome (even stale!), this baby, I've discovered is a great partner with cheese. A little gorgonzola dolce, perhaps? Even a spreadable goat cheese would be a dreamy topper.

One baking note: When adding the fruit and nuts, do make sure you press into the dough. I learned the hard way and had lots of flyaway filling when I sliced into a previous loaf. Also, think smallish. For some reason, this recipe doesn't do as well when dough is shaped into large loaves. I'm not sure why.

With a few loaves in my bread box, I'm off the dough hook (at least for a few days) and tomorrow's post will be wildly different.

P.S.: I received a few comments about gluten-free loaves. Your concerns are being heard. Stay tuned in weeks ahead.

P.P.S.: If raisins make you gag, tell me what you wanna learn how to do. I'm open to all kinds of dough possibilities.

Italian Walnut-Raisin Whole-Wheat Bread
From "The Bread Bible" by Beth Hensperger

2 ½ cups warm water (105-115 degrees)
2 tablespoons (2 envelopes) active dry yeast
pinch light brown sugar or 1 teaspoon honey
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup honey
1 tablespoon salt
4 cups fine-grind whole-wheat flour, preferably stone ground
1 ½ -1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 cups (10 ounces) dark raisins, plumped in hot water 1 hour and drained on paper towels (KOD note: I've reduced amount to 1 ¼ cups and did not feel cheated of fruit)
Scant 2 cups chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons whole-wheat flour, for sprinkling
2 tablespoons, wheat bran, for sprinkling

In a small bowl, pour in ½ cup of the warm water. Sprinkle yeast and sugar over the surface of the water. Stir to dissolve and let stand at room temperature until foamy, until 10 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl (or in the work bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine remaining 2 cups warm water, olive oil, honey, salt and 2 cups of whole-wheat flour. Add yeast mixture. Beat vigorously until smooth, about 1 minute. Add remaining whole-wheat flour, 1/2 cup at a time. Add unbleached flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until a soft dough that just clears the sides of the bowl is formed. Switch to a wooden spoon when necessary if making by hand.

Turn dough out onto a very lightly floured work surface and knead about six minutes, until soft and springy yet resilient to the touch, dusting with flour only 1 tablespoon at a time as needed to prevent sticking. Dough should retain a smooth, soft quality, with some tackiness under the surface, yet still hold its shape. Do not add too much flour, or loaf will be too dry and hard to work.

Place dough in a greased deep bowl or container. Turn once to coat the top and cover with plastic wrap (KOD note: I also cover the bowl with a kitchen towel.) . Let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 2- 2 1/2 hours.

Grease or parchment-line a baking sheet. Sprinkle whole-wheat flour and wheat bran on the baking sheet.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface without punching it down. Pat it into a large oval and sprinkle even with half the drained raisins and half the walnuts. Press nuts and fruit into the dough and roll dough up. Pat dough into an oval again and sprinkle it evenly with remaining raisins and walnuts. Press in and fold dough in half, sealing ends.

With a dough cutter, divide dough into 2 or 3 equal portions. Shape into 2 tight right round loaves or 2 baguettes about 14 inches long. Gently pull surface taut from the bottom.

Place loaves on prepared pans. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 45 minutes-1 hour.

Twenty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using a serrated knife, slash the loaves quickly with 2 parallel lines and one intersecting line no more than ¼ inch deep.

Place baking sheet in oven and bake until loaves are brown, crusty and sound hollow when tapped with your finger, 35-40 minutes for round loaves, 25-30 minutes for baguettes.

Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely before slicing.

By Kim ODonnel |  January 10, 2007; 10:15 AM ET Bread , Breakfast
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Kim- Thanks for these posts. I have been in a mood to make bread for a couple weeks now, but haven't gotten the time together to do it. You are giving me added drive. Maybe this weekend.

As for this recipe, I'd guess that raisin haters could substitute dried cranberries, dried blueberries or other dried fruits instead of the raisins, and substitute almonds or pecans for walnuts (allergic to walnuts). Would it work to substitute a dried fruit mix into this? I used to love the diced dried fruit mix that Sunkist or Dole or whomever sold... apricots, apples, golden raisins, some other stuff. Not sure if the texture of reconstituted dried apples would cause a problem in this bread, though. What do you think? I have a number of excellent quick bread recipes with fruit in them (the apple bread recipe from the Penzey's spice catalog is AMAZING, though not exactly skinny).But I have not tried yeast breads with fruits, or dried fruits.

What about English muffins?

Also -- what is the difference between granulated yeast and "cake" yeast. I have a couple recipes from Dearest's late mother that call specifically for a "cake" of yeast, not granulated, and I've never tried it (or even seen it, though he tells me he remembers getting it for his mom from the refrigerator section of the grocery store).

Keep the great ideas coming!

Posted by: Occasional baker, but pretty good | January 10, 2007 11:08 AM

This is very similar to a delicious quick bread I've made for years. Instead of yeast I use baking powder and baking soda (1 tsp. each). Instead of olive oil, I use melted butter, but all other ingredients are the same -- buttermilk, whole wheat flour, nuts and raisins. It's great as an afternoon snack with coffee or tea. Surpisingly it's called 'Lola's Whole Wheat Bread' and I found it in a celebrity cookbook. Lola was Robert Redford's wife.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | January 10, 2007 11:46 AM

I love bread. I love baking bread. And I have made some GREAT door stops ;)

I have started to add 1/4 cup of soy flour for part of the flour or substitute silken tofu for part of the fat in bread, scone and bisquit recipes and they last for a few extra days in my bread box. I'm thrilled.

So, what is it about bread making that makes us feel so good?

Posted by: Columbia MO | January 10, 2007 11:54 AM

For a 'good morning sunshine' bread, what about something citrusy? I have a quick bread recipe from Joy that uses orange peels (VERY good... but some people have a hard time getting over the idea of a rind in the bread... their loss, I guess...) But what about regular bread with a citrusy feel? That would be very sunshiny on a cold, dreary morning, I'd think... and would smell GREAT while baking, huh?

Posted by: Need some sunshine! | January 10, 2007 12:08 PM

Kim - do you have any good cinnamon raisin bread recipes. The Central Market in Austin has a really tasty one, but I have never been able to reproduce that. Thanks.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 10, 2007 2:49 PM

You have posted my all-time favorite bread recipe. Beth H's walnut raisin whole wheat bread is so amazing and even those who usually don't like raisins or nuts in their bread love it. I hope others give it a try.

BTW, Beth Hensperger's book has never failed me. Try the Pain de Campagne - great sourdough-type country loaf. Its worth the 4 days it takes to make, I promise!

Posted by: breadlover | January 10, 2007 4:40 PM

But savories (olive, rosemary, potato dill) or other sweets (cranberries, figs, dates) are all good alternatives. Thanks for thinking of us non-raisin people. Also, when I have old bread I think bread pudding or strata.

Posted by: Raisins DO make me gag | January 11, 2007 10:23 AM

Kim, you do know that Pepperidge Farm still makes the Very Thin bread, right? My kids love it. They've just introduced (or maybe my local Giant just started carrying) the Very Thin bread in whole wheat, in addition to the white variety.

It's great to toast and eat with pate. I'm making myself hungry now...

Posted by: cariusocm | January 11, 2007 3:58 PM

I'm not sure if it's to late for you to see (and answer!) this, but as a first-time bread maker, I'm not sure if this statement - Turn once to coat the top and cover with plastic wrap (KOD note: I also cover the bowl with a kitchen towel.) - means to actually cover the dough with plastic wrap (meaning it touches the dough) or just cover the bowl with plastic wrap. And advice? Thank you! I can't wait to try this out this weekend!

Posted by: kc | January 17, 2007 3:07 PM

KC: I try to make the rounds as often as possible, so no, it's never too late for me to see your comments. Good question about the dough. You want the dough to breathe and expand, so the plastic should go over the bowl rather than hug the dough. Let me know how it goes for you!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | January 17, 2007 3:11 PM

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