Rosemary can be a difficult herb because the multitude of volatile oils in its slender leaves are so strong that combining it with anything else can cause flavors to clash horribly. Still, I love the fragrant piny smell and flavor, and I’ve found that it pairs well with crisp autumn apples as well as with whole grain bread.
So one day it finally occurred to me: why not make a yeasted whole grain bread using apple cider as the liquid and adding rosemary to deepen to flavor into something appropriate for fall and winter? And while I’m at it, why not add walnuts for texture and richness?
I adapted the pain aux noix recipe from The Breads of France (2nd edition) to fit this vision, and since I couldn’t wait long enough for this year’s fresh batch of cider, I used organic apple juice instead.
When I pulled the first loaf from the oven, the heavenly perfume of these perfectly mingled flavors nearly bowled me over – and only the steaming heat coming off the loaf kept me from diving in then and there. But once I was able to sample it, I discovered a moist, tender crumb as well as a slightly tangy bite (from using no sweetener other than the apple cider or juice) that added character to the rich flavor.
Though I originally intended this recipe to go with any number of vegetable soups, you’ll find that this bread, toasted (or French toasted!), makes an excellent addition to your breakfast plate as well.
Rosemary-Walnut Cider Bread
2 1/2 c apple cider or juice (boiled, then cooled to 105-115 F)
1 pkg (or 1 T) dry yeast
1/2 c nonfat dry milk
2 T butter, room temperature
2 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh minced rosemary
1 c wheat germ
4 1/2 c whole wheat flour, approximately
1 c English walnuts, crushed
Glaze: 1 egg + 1 T milk
Sprinkle the dry yeast in a large bowl and add warm cider. Stir in dry milk, butter, salt, and rosemary. Blend wheat germ into wet ingredients. Add whole wheat flour, 1/2 c at a time, until batter is thick and difficult to stir. Add the walnuts before the batter becomes too stiff. Let it rest 3-4 minutes while large flour particles absorb their fill of moisture.
Cautiously add additional flour to make a mass that can be lifted by hand from the bowl. (Don’t add too much flour; dough will stiffen up and you won’t be able to knead it!) Turn ball of dough onto work surface dusted with unbleached flour. Knead for about 6 minutes, banging the dough down hard on work surface occasionally to loosen up the dough. Cover dough with a clean linen towel and leave at room temperature until dough has doubled in bulk (a little over an hour).
Place dough on work surface and push it into a large flat oval. Divide dough into 2 equal parts (or the number of loaves desired). Let dough rest 5 minutes before shaping. Shape each piece into a ball, tucking the cut surfaces under the ball. Flatten the ball slightly with a gentle pat of the palm. Place on greased baking sheet and repeat with other pieces. Cover boules and leave them at room temperature to rise again for approximately another hour.
Preheat oven to 380 F 20 minutes before baking. Brush loaves with egg-milk glaze and slash the top of each with 3-4 shallow cuts with a razor blade or VERY sharp knife. Place baking sheet on middle shelf of the oven and bake for 35 minutes. Halfway through the bake period, turn baking sheet around to equalize oven temperature on the loaves. Loaves are done when dark brown and sound hollow when tapped (on bottom). Place loaves on metal rack to cool.