Basil and Toasted Walnut Bread

By • July 6, 2010 • 22 Comments



Author Notes: Here’s a bread that’s fragrant with wheat germ, pecorino romano and coarsely chopped fresh basil, and studded with toasted walnuts. Enjoy! - AntoniaJamesAntoniaJames

Food52 Review: Baking bread may seem like a daunting task, but this recipe produces a very light, flavorful loaf of bread. The carefully written, step-by-step instructions are easy to follow and do not require any equipment, the dough is mixed and kneaded by hand. I tried 2 variations, one with walnuts, and one with pine nuts. I also substituted ½ cup of ground golden flax for the wheat germ, resulting in a slightly darker appearance in the sliced bread. In both cases, I used just 3 cups of bread flour, as directed, being careful to maintain a soft, supple dough. After two 1-hour rises the bread baked within 50 minutes. The bread has a great fresh basil taste with the nuts providing a nice counter taste, and heartiness. It made for a great sandwich with thinly sliced, grilled chicken and roast asparagus. - ECmtlA&M

Makes 1 good-sized loaf

  • 3 tablespoons warm water (no warmer than 112 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • 2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons honey + several drops for proofing the yeast
  • 2 tablespoons fruity olive oil, plus a bit more for brushing the loaf before baking
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup toasted wheat germ (not the sweetened kind, please)
  • ½ cup pecorino romano, finely grated
  • ¾ cup coarsely chopped walnut pieces (Or 1/2 cup pine nuts, if you prefer.)
  • 2 cups loosely packed basil leaves, coarsely chopped to make about 1 cup (See note below.)
  • 3 cups bread flour plus more, if necessary, for kneading
  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, for toasting the nuts.
  2. If using active dry yeast, or instant yeast that you're not entirely certain is fresh, proof the yeast with the lukewarm water (3 tablespoons) in the bottom of a large mixing bowl. Let it sit for at least five minutes, or until foamy. If you're using instant yeast that you can trust, you can skip this step, but make sure to add those 3 tablespoons of water to the rest of the ingredients, as noted below.
  3. TO MAKE THIS WITHOUT A STAND MIXER: Add to the large bowl in which you proofed the yeast (once it's foamy), 1 cup of room temperature water, honey, salt, wheat germ, cheese and one cup of flour. Stir well. Some experts suggest that you beat the dough all in one direction.
  4. Add a second cup of flour and stir to incorporate. Add more flour, a few tablespoons at a time, until it becomes too difficult to stir.
  5. Dump the contents of the bowl on the counter, scraping all of the flour and other bits of dough from the bowl and add whatever flour is left of the remaining cup. Knead for a minute or two, just to bring it all together, then let the dough rest for 25 minutes.
  6. While the dough is resting, toast the walnut pieces on a baking pan on the top shelf of your oven for about three or four minutes, but watch carefully, lest they burn. Remove the walnuts from the pan immediately to allow them to cool. Turn off your oven.
  7. Put your two thumbs together on top of the ball of dough and pull apart to make a large hole in the dough. Add the olive oil, close the dough over the hole as best you can, and start kneading. Some will drizzle out. Don't worry about it. Just knead for about five minutes, or longer if necessary to make a smooth, supple dough. (You add the oil after letting it rest to allow the water to hydrate the flour fully, giving the gluten created by mixing the two the best opportunity possible to form.)
  8. Continue to knead the dough, adding the walnut pieces in thirds. Then knead in the chopped basil leaves, adding a few tablespoons at a time. Let the dough rest for two or three minutes, then knead it for a few more minutes.
  9. TO MAKE USING AS STAND MIXER: Add all of the remaining ingredients except the oil, the walnuts and the basil to the bowl of you mixer. Using a dough hook, mix for about three minutes, stopping every 30 seconds or so to scrape down and push the ingredients into the center. Set your timer for 25 minutes.
  10. While the dough is resting, While the dough is resting, toast the walnut pieces on a baking pan on the top shelf of your oven for about three or four minutes, but watch carefully, lest they burn. Remove the walnuts from the pan immediately to allow them to cool. Turn off your oven.
  11. After the dough has rested for 25 minutes, put your two thumbs together on top of the ball of dough and pull apart to make a large hole in the dough. Add the olive oil, close the dough over the hole as best you can. Turn your mixer onto medium speed, still using the dough hook. Knead for about five minutes. Don't worry if the oil drizzles out. It will eventually be incorporated. (You add the oil after letting it rest to allow the water to hydrate the flour fully, giving the gluten created by mixing the two the best opportunity possible to form.)
  12. Turn off your mixer, pull back the dough hook and, using the same motion to create a hole in the dough, add 1/2 of the walnut pieces. Push the dough back together, and start kneading again on medium speed. Repeat with the rest of the walnuts, adding the chopped basil at the same time. Knead on medium speed until fully incorporated -- 3-4 minutes. Remove the dough hook, shape the dough into a ball, and cover the bowl with a damp tea towel. The dough should be nice and slick. If it isn't, drizzle a bit more oil into your mixing bowl, put the dough ball in and flip it over to coat, and cover lightly with a damp cloth. Let the dough rise for about an hour. Then continue with step XX, below.
  13. After the first rise, gently punch it down, shape it into a loaf (and put it into an oiled pan, if you plan to bake it in one) or a boule, or baguettes, brush it well with olive oil, and let rise for another hour.
  14. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. At the end of the second rise, cut a few slashes with a sharp serrated knife or a grignette, and very lightly brush with olive oil once more.
  15. If using a loaf pan or a pizza stone, bake for 50 to 55 minutes. Cover loosely with foil after about 25 or 30 minutes if any exposed nuts are getting too brown. If you've shaped the dough into baguettes, bake for 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the diameter of the baguettes. (This bread makes great crostini!)
  16. Allow it to cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting.
  17. Enjoy!! ;o)
  18. Note: To chop the basil, I roll together 6 or 8 at a time, as if cutting a chiffonade, but cut the roll once lengthwise, then crosswise into 1/8 inch wide strips.
Jump to Comments (22)

Tags: bread, delicious, pesto, pesto

Comments (22) Questions (0)

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over 3 years ago TiggyBee

Thanks AJ, you're my bread making guru! I made this today and it's fan-freaking-tastic. I truly appreciate it!! : )

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about 4 years ago gingerroot

AJ, I am also in awe of your bread baking skills...and considering I could live on bread and cheese alone (okay, wine and some green veggies too) your recipes inspire me to try my hand at bread making. This is a beautiful loaf!

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about 4 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Wow, that's quite a compliment. I'm glad you're inspired to try breadmaking. I hope you do! It's really not that difficult. Like anything worth doing, you have to do it a few times, prepared to make a few mistakes without getting discouraged. Good luck!!

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about 4 years ago dymnyno

I am such a bread person...and I love the fact that you make bread every day. Each time you post a new recipe I think that I should try making bread myself. But, it seems like such a mountain to me!!.....do you deliver?

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about 4 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Yes, you really should try it, especially because you're so creative. I have about five or six basic variable ingredients that I play with in creating new combinations, so every day's bread is different from that of the day before. All taste great! It's just not that hard once you realize that (1) no recipe for bread -- at least the kind I make -- can be exact, given the differences in ingredients and environment from kitchen to kitchen, and (b) your success will come from learning to judge what the dough needs, before it goes into the oven, and in learning from your mistakes. So go for it!! ;o)

Hib_kitchen

about 4 years ago MyCommunalTable

Now this sounds great and it would go with anything. I just love bread.

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about 4 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thanks! The loaf I made a earlier this week disappeared almost instantly, and the fans have been clamoring for more. The boys (including Mr. T) just stood there in the kitchen eating slice after slice, plain. One of them hoarded a few slices for a sandwich. He toasts everything (even freshly made bread) for sandwiches, and when he toasted this, the smell in the house was out of this world. I hope you try this! ;o)

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about 4 years ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

This looks fabulous - can we all come to your house for a bread workshop?

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about 4 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thanks for your kind words . . . . you can come to my house, any time! Any breadbaking workshop would have to be a sleepover (now that would be fun, wouldn't it?!!), because I couldn't let you all go without showing you how I make sticky buns for breakfast. Hmmm. Maybe I should post that recipe. ;o)

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about 4 years ago aargersi

Abbie is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Yes you should! Although it's probably better I don't know how to make sticky buns, I already have lumpy ones! Ha ha!!! Allright we Austinites need a road trip to the left coast!!!

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about 4 years ago Heena

This looks beautiful. I'm a little scared of bread baking, but think I'll give this a try as soon as the weather shows some mercy. Also, thanks for your suggestions with my basil panna cotta - it was a success. I've updated the recipe with changes and pictures.

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about 4 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Thank you, but please, don't be scared of breadmaking. It's not that hard really, and dough (at least the kind I make) is actually very forgiving. You just need to be able to identify problems with the dough before it's baked. And even I on occasion make a brick . . . . which is usually just re-purposed, by turning it into croutons, bread crumbs or savory bread pudding. So do, please, try it. Make bread as often as you can, and soon, it will become second nature. ;o)

Sunshine_in_my_glass

about 4 years ago Heena

Thanks for the encouragement. Soon. As soon as the weather lets up : )

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about 4 years ago drbabs

Barbara is a trusted source on General Cooking.

It was 102 here today so I won't turn the oven on, but when it gets more temperate, I'm definitely trying this!

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about 4 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Yes, I can see how one wouldn't care much for bread baking in 102 weather. When I finished my hike/run in the Redwood Forest near my home the other day after work, it was 55 degrees, with a foggy wind blowing. All the produce is about a month late, or so the farmers' market people tell me. Stay cool! ;o)

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about 4 years ago healthierkitchen

Was just in the Bay area and am very envious of your lovely weather. Much too hot here in DC. I'm on board with some of the others...I think this is the recipe that will get to try bread baking once it cools off a little!

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about 4 years ago lapadia

YUM...excellent, your recipe is similar to a rosemary french bread recipe I have. Will be making your this as soon as my shoulder heals (fractured it).

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about 4 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Oooh, rosemary French bread. That sounds so good. Sorry about the fractured shoulder. Must be cramping your style significantly! I cannot imagine. Get better soon! ;o)

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about 4 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Yes, it actually is very much like a pesto loaf, but the flavors retain their integrity, and the bread isn't quite as green . . . Also, the wheat germ adds a nutty background flavor. I've been a lot more aggressive in my use of wheat germ in my breads lately. It's amazing how, in sufficient quantities just to be noticeable, it can transform a simple loaf of bread. ;o)

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about 4 years ago slulibby

ok--well i am making some Amish cinnamon bread this week. Is wheat germ something that I could add to that? Do you think it would work in a sweet application?

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about 4 years ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Yes, by all means! It would be heavenly. I'd substitute 3/4 cup of toasted wheat germ for 1/2 cup of the flour. You might need a bit less flour, depending on the moisture level of the flour, the wheat germ and your environment. Good luck!! ;o)

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about 4 years ago slulibby

This almost sounds like a pesto loaf? It tastes savory, correct? I bet it's great with pasta