March 18, 2009

Fruits and Nuts

This past weekend we went to the beach...Doran Beach in Bodega Bay to be exact. There's nothing quite like a nice smooth piece of driftwood to chomp on...if you're a dog.

The bread baker's dog and I live within driving distance of the Pacific ocean in California, a place know by some as the land of fruits and nuts. I'm of the nutty persuasion myself, having decided many years ago, long before it was 'green', to recycle, to use water wisely, to live in a passive solar home, to grow my own veggies and fruits and, yes, nuts. I also have chosen to take the road less traveled in the work world, working for much of my working life in slightly alternative medical situations with no benefits beyond a regular paycheck (for which I am grateful) and the knowledge that I'm helping people who need my help.

Here's hoping that some of the current trends toward self sufficient living, locavore-ism, economic eating and so on will encourage more people to bake bread. You can have an artisan loaf that you have made, which sometimes is reason enough to bake. You know exactly what is in your bread and if you want, you can attempt to use mostly local ingredients. You can tailor the bread to be what you want to eat that day. If you use sourdough starter, your loaf will stay fresh longer...sandwich bread for the whole week!

These loaves are full of dates and walnuts. The dates come from a far warmer climate than here, but the walnuts come from the tree out back. Together they create a toothsome loaf (I've always wanted to use the word toothsome). The semolina flour was some I happened to have on hand since I was planning on making fresh pasta. It adds a smoothness to these lovely braids.

One of these loaves will go to a friend who is coming by today. She is not the least bit fruity or nutty, but is sweet, just like the dates. I think she will enjoy some freshly baked bread.

Date Walnut Semolina Braid
makes two medium braids or one large braid

1 cup sourdough starter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 cup lukewarm milk (not over 100 degrees F) – I used reconstituted condensed milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
¼ cup lukewarm water
1 egg, slightly beaten
4-5 cups all-purpose flour
Note: Flour amounts vary depending on moisture of the flour and of the kitchen
1 cup semolina flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup date pieces – if using whole dates, cut each one into six or eight pieces
1 cup chopped walnuts
Glaze: 1- 2 tablespoon(s) milk
Sanding sugar - optional

Combine the sourdough starter, maple syrup, milk and butter. Set aside.
Combine the water and active dry east in a small bowl. Stir and let sit for 15 minutes.
Stir the egg and the proofed yeast into the milk mixture and put in a mixer bowl. If you have a large stand mixer use it.

With a spoon or whisk, stir one cup of the flour and the salt into the milk mixture. Attach the dough hook and on lowest speed continue to add flour, including the semolina flour, until a shaggy mass forms around the dough hook. Continue to add flour, about a half cup at a time as the mixer kneads the dough and the dough cleans the side of the bowl. At the end you may need to add the flour a tablespoon at a time. Stop adding flour when the dough no longer sags down into the bowl bottom. Continue to knead with the mixer for another 5 minutes. While that is happening, oil a large bowl. If not using a stand mixer, turn out on a floured surface when it is too hard to stir the flour in. Knead the rest of the flour in. Knead with mixer or by hand until dough is smooth and elastic.

Place dough in an oiled bowl, turn over to oil both sides. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 ½ hours.

Grease a baking sheet or line with parchment or a silicone mat. Set aside.

Turn risen dough out onto a floured board. Knead for a minute to release trapped gas. Spread dough out on a flour surface. Evenly distribute the dates and walnuts over the surface.

Roll the dough up like a jelly roll, then fold the roll in half. Cut the rolled up dough into two even pieces. Set one piece aside. Divide remaining piece into three even pieces of dough. Shape each piece into a long ‘snake’, about 12inches long.I sometimes twist the snakes a bit, too, before braiding.

Place the three strands side by side on the prepared pan. Starting at the middle, braid the three strands, then turn it and braid the other side. Tuck the ends under. Repeat with the second hunk of dough. Cover loosely and leave loaves to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Brush the loaf with the glaze using a pastry brush. Optional – sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake until golden, for about 40-45 minutes. Turn out onto a rack to cool.


  1. Wow lovely bread! Lucky dog :D
    The braiding makes it look a bit like Challah.

  2. Beautiful dough! Thanks for the glimpse of Doran Beach!


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