There's a nip in the air, and a soup in my belly. Three girls I work with have had to make emergency mid-morning tight-purchasing trips in the last week. Our tomato plant needs to be harvested daily; Strictly is back on TV. My scarves have been rescued from the shadowy recesses of the wardrobe and let loose in public again. In the immortal words of Pinterest - It's Fall, Y'all!
And even though I know that the death of summer should be a sad thing, I just can't resist the urge to fall headlong into the new season. I LOVE Autumn. In my head, I'm already striding through crunchy brown leaves and cuddling up with a cup of mulled cider and the papers. Shopping trips for holiday clothes have seen me come back no better equipped as far as swimming costumes are concerned, but proudly sporting a maroon corduroy mini skirt and an elbow-patched tweed jacket. Strictly and Downton are already set to series-record, and a bunch of blowsy, mustard-yellow dahlias is splaying all over the dinner table. If I had pencils to sharpen for the new school term, I'd be sharpening.
Autumn also means a return to proper food. I've been vaguely wanting to make more bread for a while but I could never summon up the urge in summer - too busy getting mini milks out of the freezer and chasing the sun around the garden with a deckchair. This weekend, though, you couldn't keep me out of the kitchen. And nothing seemed more perfect for the change in seasons than this brown, nutty bread.
It's one of Nigella's and even though the very centre of my loaf needed a few more minutes (I fear Paul Hollywood would have stared at me with ice-blue eyes and prodded the dough with a disappointed finger), it was still a winner. Sweet and nutty, with a proper crust and a proper crumb, this is definitely Autumn food - and definitely worth doing again.
Although bread making is a faff - all those comings and goings, punching and proving - my beloved KitchenAid means that it's never actually difficult. And it's just so satisfying to bring a loaf out of the oven and say "I did that". Never mind the B&Q ads, home made bread is where it's at. The bonus is that you get to eat the evidence.
If you need further convincing, just look at the picture below. Home made bread, home made butter, melt-tastic. It's practically a whiff of bonfire smoke and carpet of brown leaves in bread format. What better way to welcome the new season of good telly?
Maple Walnut bread
Adapted from Nigella's How to be a Domestic Goddess
- 500g wholemeal bread flour
- 150g strong white flour
- one tablespoon of salt (this felt like an awful lot - the finished bread didn't taste salty, but next time I'll still do less)
- one 7g sachet of easy blend dried yeast
- 300 to 400ml of warm water
- 4 tablespoons of maple syrup
- 50 to 100g chopped pecans or walnuts (she suggests the former, we only had the latter)
- a teeny bit of sunflower oil
Stir together the wholemeal and white flours, salt and yeast in a big bowl (or the bowl of your freestanding mixer). Measure out 300ml of water and mix with the maple syrup. Then pour wet ingredients into dry and mix it all into a rough dough, adding up to 100ml more water if you need to - I did. Knead for a couple of minutes then leave for twenty.
After twenty minutes, sprinkle in the nuts then knead until it feels smooth and elastic - just about five minutes in my KitchenAid. Lightly oil a bowl and add the ball of dough, turning it over in the bowl so that the dough has a light coating of oil too. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rise, either for 1-2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 220C. Punch the dough down with your fist, knead it again for a minute or so then plonk it on a baking sheet, shaping it into a loaf. Cover with a tea towel and leave for half an hour, then slash the top three times diagonally with a sharp knife. Bake for 15mins, then turn it down to 190 and give it another 20 or so. She says to test if it's done by rapping the bottom, but I can never tell if it sounds hollow or not, so just guess. Mine could have done with a bit longer, but it still tasted ace.