Ever since my family returned from our summer in Switzerland, I’ve been meaning to try some Swiss baking techniques. Swiss baked items are often simple but delicious, relying on excellent ingredients rather than complicated techniques. Almost every bakery in French-speaking Switzerland seems to make a version of this bread: a whole wheat loaf with lots of walnuts baked into it, and I really got addicted to it while we were there. After combing the web and taking suggestions from a few different recipes, I’ve come up with a pretty decent approximation of pain aux noix. A couple of disclaimers before we start:
- My sense is that part of the Swiss bread mystique lies in the enormous variety of flours that they use, and I’ve simplified this down to just whole wheat and white flour. If you have access to European bread flours, go crazy with them!
- I use recipes more as an inspiration than an exact formula, so these directions are written in that spirit. I’ve described some of the more intuitive concepts (i.e. how moist the dough should be) for those who prefer a more precise approach!
Yeast mixture ingredients
Another disclaimer: I would assume that most Swiss bakeries make this bread with sourdough instead of yeast, so that’s an option too. My husband is a sourdough baker but I’m too impatient for the time it requires (normally including an overnight rising). If you use a good, energetic yeast, you can produce a completed batch of this bread in under 4 hours.
- 1/4 cup very warm tap water
- 1 packet (approximately 2 teaspoons) active dry baking yeast. I use Hodgson Mill single-serving packets, available at Whole Foods for about 25 cents each.
- A pinch of sugar
- 2 cups whole wheat flour. I use Whole Foods organic whole wheat flour. Whole wheat bread flour is hard to find, but if you have some, I would use it.
- 2-3 cups cups white bread flour. I use King Arthur unbleached white bread flour.
- 1 teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)
- Between 1/2 and 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, depending on how walnutty you want the bread.
- 1 1/4 (one and one quarter) cups warm tap water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Directions: feel free to modify if you have a preferred dough-making technique!
First, make the yeast mixture. Pour the 1/4 cup very warm tap water into a bowl, the sprinkle the yeast and sugar on the water and stir to combine. Wait about 10 minutes and the yeast mixture should be frothy and bubbly.
To make any bread, you can either use a heavy-duty mixer like a Kitchen Aid (that’s what I do) or mix it by hand in a large mixing bowl, using a dough whisk (that’s what my husband does). If you have strong arms, the $15.00 dough whisk is a pretty good substitute for a stand mixer! Here’s a dough whisk on the King Arthur website.
While the yeast mixture is starting to bubble, pour the 1 1/4 cups warm water and the 2 tablespoons olive oil into your mixer/mixing bowl. If you are using a mixer, use the paddle attachment (not the dough hook) for this phase. Stir to combine, then dump the bubbly yeast mixture in and stir some more. Add the salt, the 2 cups of whole wheat flour and the walnuts, and beat/stir vigorously for a minute or two to combine all of the ingredients.
Then start adding the white bread flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, mixing continuously. The exact amount of flour will vary, depending on the humidity level, temperature, etc. You want the dough to be fairly wet as bread doughs go. Add just enough flour so that the dough does not stick to your hands when you squeeze it. If you’re using a mixer, at some point during this process the dough will become too heavy for the paddle attachment and you’ll want to switch to the dough hook. If you’re mixing by hand with the dough whisk, just keep using that.
Once you have the dough at the right consistency (repeat: don’t make it too dry; add flour just until the dough does not stick to the bowl or your hands), knead it for about 10 minutes, either by hand or using the dough hook on your mixer. Then, form the dough into a ball, roll it in flour (you don’t need to grease the bowl if you do this), place it back in the mixer/mixing bowl, cover it with a plastic bag or a thick towel and let it rise until doubled in size, approximately 2 hours.
When the dough ball has doubled in size, punch it down, knead it a couple of times and shape it into a loaf, multiple loaves or rolls. Roll each loaf or roll in flour before putting it in a pan or on a baking sheet. I cut my dough in half and make two balls which I put into two greased, 7-inch springform pans. I am Teflon-phobic and use Kaiser bakeware tinplate pans, but you can also just put parchment paper on a baking sheet and not use a bread pan at all. Once the dough is shaped into a loaf/loaves/rolls, let it rise until doubled in size again, approximately 45-90 minutes.
During the last few minutes of the second rise, preheat your oven to between 435 and 450 degrees fahrenheit, depending on how crusty you want the finished bread to be. If you like a softer crust, go with the lower temperature. If you like it really crusty, crank the oven up. Baking time will vary depending on the size of your loaves: rolls could be as short as 20 minutes and one big loaf could take 50 minutes. My springform loaves take about 35 minutes. To tell if the bread is done, you can either stick a knife into the center and see if it comes out clean, or (to feel like a real Swiss baker), rap the top of the loaf like you’re knocking on a door. If the loaf sounds hollow, it’s done.
Here’s a finished loaf that I made to take to a friend’s house. Mmm!