Week Twenty-Eight: Breads With Nuts
In the bakeshop, nuts are certainly a common ingredient. Classically speaking, almonds and hazelnuts are the darlings of the confectionary world, but in American home cooking, you’ll most often find pecans and walnuts. The reason for this is obvious: almonds and hazelnuts are commonly grown in Europe, whence cometh our classic pâtisserie. In North America, however, pecans and walnuts are far more abundant, making them cheaper and more widely available.
And so, when you see a bread recipe that involves nuts, I’d wager it calls for pecans or walnuts 95% of the time. Not only that, but most nut breads are quick breads, the common term for chemically-leavened breads. What about all those other nuts out there, pistachios, macadamias, and pine nuts? What about yeast-leavened breads? Why won’t anyone think of them?! So this week, I hope to provide you with some new and fresh takes on nut breads, making mostly yeasted breads, or some slightly unusual quick breads when appropriate.
The nut I’ve chosen to work with today is the hazelnut. Yes, it was mainly because that’s the nut I had in most abundance in my freezer, and it was too late to run to the store; but it’s also because I love the flavor of hazelnut. (Those two facts may or may not be related.) Of course, we’re all aware that hazlenut + chocolate = a match made in heaven, so it seemed nothing short of foolish to stray from that pairing. But I wanted to add a little edge to that combination, some flavor that’s a bit unexpected.
After a throwing an over-the-top ice cream sandwich party this weekend, I happened to have some homemade sauces left over: caramel, chocolate, and berry. The chocolate and caramel sauces, while delicious, would’ve been a bit expected with hazelnut. But the berry sauce – now that’s interesting!
Berries and chocolate go quite nicely together, as evidenced by the classic chocolate-covered strawberry, and the myriad chocolate-covered-what-have-yous on the market today. Hazelnut and berry is an equally good, if slightly less well-known match; try looking for “hazlenut + berry” recipes sometime, they mostly look amazing!
So I had my flavors: chocolate, hazelnut, and berry. A bit grudgingly, I decided the best medium to incorporate all those together was in a quick bread, not the least because the berry flavor was in sauce format. [A quick note: this berry sauce was unbelievably easy and quick to make, and is wonderful for any application; but if you would rather not go to the trouble, you can use whole fresh or frozen berries instead. I've given instructions for substitutions below.] I also added a little black pepper to the mix to give a nice little kick to everything, as I love berries and black pepper together!
This bread baked into a slightly purple-tinted, close-crumbed bread that was quite easy to slice. It ended up being moist, but not so moist that it fell apart as soon as you touched it, a welcome attribute. The crust was properly under-crisp, as becomes a quick bread, and turned a deep brown.
As for the overall flavor, I’m sad to say that it was simply okay. It was good, but wasn’t quite as soignée as I had hoped. Perhaps there was a bit much chocolate, which muddied the bright berry flavors, or perhaps the earthy hazelnuts weighed things down as well. I’m not really sure why, but it just didn’t do it for me.
It didn’t come out badly at all, but if I’m going to eat slightly purple bread, it had darn well better taste more refined than this did. I may or may not give this one another shot sometime, but I think it needs more work than just one or two re-dos; I think it needs a total re-think. In fact, these flavors may work quite well together (they sure did on a spoon!), but perhaps in a more strict pastry format, rather than a rustic quick bread. I’ll keep you updated if anything changes with this one!
Hazelnut Chocolate Berry Bread
Makes one 9×5 loaf
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted, skinned, and chopped
3/4 cup chocolate chips, or chopped chocolate
1/2 cup berry sauce (recipe follows), or 6 ounces fresh or
frozen berries of your choosing (see note 2 below)
1. Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease one 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. In a bowl, whisk or sift dry ingredients (flour through black pepper) together. Set aside.
2. In another large bowl, whisk the eggs until blended. Add the oil, milk, and vanilla, and whisk until incorporated. Add the dry ingredients and gently combine until just moistened (some lumps and flour streaks are okay).
3. Add the hazelnuts, chocolate, and berry sauce (or whole berries). Fold together gently until incorporated.
4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Smooth the top, and bake at 375° F for about 40 minutes, or until browned and fully baked. When done, the top will feel firm when pressed lightly. Let cool briefly in the pan before turning out onto a wire rack to cool fully. Serve warm.
Quick and Easy Berry Sauce
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1 cup blueberries (thawed if frozen)
1 cup blackberries
1/3 cup red currant preserves
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1. In a medium bowl, smash blueberries until broken up and juicy.
2. Purée blackberries in a food processor or blender. Strain into the smashed blueberries, removing and discarding any seeds.
3. Add the preserves and lemon juice, and mix until smooth and combined.
1. To toast nuts, place in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake at 350º F for 10 to 15 minutes. To skin hazelnuts, the common method is to place them in a towel and rub until the skins fall off. I find this stains my towels, and prefer to use a plastic netting, such as brussels sprout or other vegetables are sold in. Place the nuts in the netting, hold or tie the open end shut, and rub over the sink until the skins have all come off. Some skins may remain; this is fine.
2. If using fresh berries, give them a quick toss in flour to coat before stirring into the batter along with the nuts and chocolate. Frozen berries need no advance preparation, and should be used unthawed.