Sweet nuttiness

Artisan bread is making a comeback whether the carb-free cavalry like it or not. For a while I truly feared for the future of bread as gluten became a dirty word and wheat was regarded as a hazardous substance in health-conscious households. The resurgence of bread as a respectable item on a balanced diet owes a great deal to the Great British Bake Off and its 'rising' popularity.

Since I started baking my own bread I have found it increasingly hard to eat the factory-manufactured variety. I think I probably own every bread-making book published in the last ten years and some more. They all demonise commercially produced bread and once you have made your own bread at home I am sure you will agree. Not only has homemade bread been better for my digestive tract (IBS well under control), it tastes so much better.

Since the global outbreak of C-19 some food ingredients have become harder to source and procure (in the UK). White flour and yeast are like like gold dust at the moment. Wholemeal flours seems to be less scarce so if you can spare the yeast this recipe should fulfil your desire for an indulgent bread treat that is quite easy to knock up.

It is not a very wet dough which makes it easier to handle if you are not a seasoned bread maker. As a result it is quite a densely structured loaf but it packs quite a lot of flavour in a small slice. With bread you always have to balance texture with form. The wetter a dough the lighter and more open its texture but it is harder to shape. To get an elegantly shaped bread you need a stiffer dough but this produces a more dense texture.

Line a baking tray and preheat the oven to its hottest setting (yes that is correct, the hottest it can get)


500g wholemeal bread flour

330 ml milk (full fat is best but you can use skimmed)

2 tbs honey

1.5 tsp salt

7g active dry yeast (you can use instant as well or 15g of fresh yeast)

100g hazel nuts chopped (reduce to 50g if you don't want nuts in every mouthful)

100g dates chopped

This recipe uses active dry yeast which needs to be activated with liquid. Heat the milk till its just slightly warmer than tepid. In a separate bowl pour about 50 - 100ml of the warmed up milk (3 -4 tbs) and sprinkle the yeast on top, then cover with cling film and leave it for 10-15 minutes until the yeast starts to bubble (this indicates it is alive and raring to go). Add the rest of the ingredients into a bowl. When the yeast starts to foam give it a stir to make sure it is mixed with the milk. Then pour it over the other ingredients and mix by hand or use a stand mixer with dough hook to knead the dough. Continue using the mixer for 5 - 8 mins till the dough has a smooth consistency. If making by hand empty the loosely mixed dough onto a smooth surface and knead by hand for at least 10 minutes.

Wholemeal flour has less gluten which makes it slightly harder to tell if the dough is ready (white flour dough comes together and has a smooth skin that indicates readiness). When the dough starts to stick to itself more than your fingers or the sides of the bowl and has a smooth and bouncy consistency it is likely to be ready. If you're a starter and find it hard to tell when the dough is ready then all you need to know is that kneading in the mixer or by hand for 10 - 15 mins should do the job. When the dough is well kneaded add the dates and nuts and knead (mix) till they are distributed through.

Put the dough in a large bowl, with enough space for it to expand without touching the top, and cover it with cling film and a tea towel and leave it in a draft free area. Do not put it in an overly warm place because you don't want the dough to rise too quickly. Slow rises develop flavour. Leave the dough to rise for at least 2 hours. The dates and milk in will slow the development of yeast so it will take that long for the first rise. If you leave the dough in a cooler place or the fridge it may need more time to rise. When the dough is doubled in size you are ready to go to the next stage of shaping it.

Tip the doubled-in-size dough out of the bowl onto a smooth surface and knead it for a minute or so to knock out the air. Then divide the dough into 3 equal portions. Using your hands roll and stretch each portion out into a 35 cm strand. Join the three strands, tucking the join under and plait the dough into shape, tucking the ends in as well. Move the plaited loaf to a well greased or lined tray. Cover the dough with a plastic sheet brushed with oil to prevent sticking to the dough and leave it to rest for an hour. The dough should again double in size. After an hour put your oven on to pre-heat for 15 minutes.

Place the tray in the oven and reduce the heat to 220C (Gas 6/7 depending on your oven) and bake for 20 minutes (turn it around halfway through to brown evenly). After 20 minutes turn the loaf over to bake for 5 - 10 more minutes till the underside is brown. the bottom should sound follow when you tap it. Remove the loaf from the oven and let it cool completely before eating it.

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