Food Talk

Cooking and Baking with Walnuts

Oh, was that just TOO cheery? Do you get the ‘blahs’ after the holidays end? Most people do. I know that I usually feel a bit let down, although it could just be exhaustion. Holiday times are fun but there is usually a lot of extra cooking and cleaning involved. Sounds counter-intuitive, but I find that it helps to spend some time in the kitchen trying new techniques, new ingredients or using that new bit of kitchen gear that ‘Santa’ gave me. I also like to try recipes that I’ve never made; they seem new even when made with familiar ingredients.

Walnuts are an old standby ingredient; a pantry staple. Lots of goodies, like brownies and bundt cakes and chocolate chip cookies, have walnuts as sort of a secondary ingredient. For some fun in the New Year, I went looking for recipes where walnuts are either the star ingredient, or an essential one.

Why walnuts? Well, they are usually easily available no matter where you live. The fresher your nuts are, the better, so purchase them where the turnover is high.

A little history: The walnut is one of the world’s oldest source of edible nuts. Petrified walnut shells dating back to the Neolithic period…8,000 years ago…have been found in France. The Romans got the walnut trees (among many other things) from Greece and the Greeks got them from Persia. The Romans took them when they colonized and planted them throughout the Roman empire as early as 100 years BC. They considered walnuts food fit for the gods.

They even have some health benefits. Fresh walnuts contain Vitamins C, B1, B2, B5, B6 and E They are low in sodium and most of their oil is polyunsaturated. Some consider walnut oils to be healthier to cook with than vegetable oils.

So let’s cook and bake with walnuts. There might be a few surprises, too. Some recipes will be put at the end…and I encourage you to try at least one of them.

When the Daring Bakers made Cinnamon Rolls and Sticky Buns over a year ago, it was the only challenge I missed out of the 22 challenges there have been since I joined. So to start out the day, let’s use the sweet roll dough from that challenge, punch it up with sourdough starter if you have some, then fill and shape it to make Walnut Bear Claws for breakfast.

Since my local bakery used to add figs to their filling, I decided to try it, too. As you can see, my shaping skills need work, but boy did these taste wonderful! Here the walnuts add flavor, texture, and a warm, nutty taste that goes so well with the sweet yeast dough. When the filling was just made, but before it was baked, the cinnamon really was the assertive taste. Once they were baked, I really noticed the walnut flavor, then the figs. They didn’t even really need any icing.

One of the original Daring Bakers, Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody recently posted a wonderful cheese spread on her Northwest Noshings blog. I started with her recipe, but really made the walnuts the star of the Cheddar Ale Spread. When we served this over the holiday the spread was quickly consumed and there were lots of questions about the ingredients. The lightly toasted walnuts are tiny by the time the spread has whirled around the food processor, so its flavor is a strong and wonderful counterpoint to the cheddar.

Use some extra chopped walnuts for garnish and you add more walnut flavor and extra texture to each bite.

For dinner we find walnuts acts as the both flavor and thickener in a simple but savory, rich sauce for poached chicken breasts in Circassian Chicken.

This dish is usually served cold in Turkey, but we warmed it up since it’s been cold and rainy around here. If you serve some flatbread with it, you can scoop up every bit of the delicious, walnut rich sauce. If you have never tried this one, you owe it to yourself to do so.

Looking for an easy snack to make? How about Hot & Spicy Walnuts to nosh on?

These go together quickly and are a hit with the guys, so if you make ‘em, make plenty for the snack table for while they are watching which ever game is on. Gave some to Grandma for Christmas and she plans on crunching on them while she drives to visit more of the family. As you can see, they make a great gift.

Hope that you found a thing or two to make with walnuts. Now that you have read about them, bet you’ll notice lots more walnut rich recipes as you go through cookbooks, magazines, and food blogs.

Enjoy your time in the kitchen!

If you do try these and enjoy them, drop me a note at plachman AT sonic DOT net, OK?

XOXOXO Elle of Feeding My Enthusiasms blog

RECIPES

Walnut Bear Claws
(based on the dough in Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, my own filling recipe)
Days to Make: One (1)Active/Resting/Baking Time: 15 minutes to mix, 3 1/2 hours fermentation/shaping/proofing, 20 – 40 minutes to bake
Recipe Quantity: Eight(1) – twelve (12) large rolls or twelve (12) – sixteen (16) small rolls

Making the Dough
Ingredients:
6 1/2 tablespoons (3.25 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 tablespoons (2.75 ounces) shortening or unsalted butter or margarine
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon lemon extract OR 1 teaspoon grated zest of 1 lemon
3 1/2 cups (16 ounces) unbleached bread or all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast*
1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk, at room temperature OR 3 tablespoons powdered milk (DMS) and 1 cup water
*Instant yeast contains about 25% more living cells per spoonful than active dry yeast, regardless of the brand. Instant yeast is also called rapid-rise or fast-rising.

Step 1 – Making the Dough: Cream together the sugar, salt, and shortening or butter on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a large metal spoon and mixing bowl and do it by hand).

Note: if you are using powdered milk, cream the milk with the sugar, and add the water with the flour and yeast.

Whip in the egg and lemon extract/zest until smooth. Then add the flour, yeast, and milk. Mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball. Switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes), or until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. You may have to add a little flour or water while mixing to achieve this texture. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Step 2 – Fermentation: Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

Walnut Filling
1/3 cup unsalted butter
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup diced dried figs
1 cup lightly toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Melt and simmer for about 2 minutes the butter and brown sugar. Stir in the figs and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring as needed to keep fruit from sticking. Remove from heat and stir in the walnuts, salt and cinnamon. Cool slightly before using.

Step 3 – Form the Buns: Mist the counter with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Divide dough in half. Roll out one half on a floured board into a 9-by-18-inch rectangle. Sprinkle half of the walnut filling over the dough. Fold outside third of dough toward center. Fold dough once more to make three layers. Pinch ends of dough to seal. Cut into nine 2-inch sections. Make four 1/4-inch cuts through the open side of each section.

Place on greased baking sheets and shape into bear claw by separating the four cut sections and curving slightly. Repeat procedure with remaining dough and filling.

Let rise, uncovered, until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden.

If desired, combine egg yolk with water and brush the tops of bear claws then sprinkle with some chopped walnuts. Drizzle on glaze.

White Fondant Glaze
Sift 4 cups of powdered sugar into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of orange extract and 6 TBSP to 1/2 cup of warm milk, briskly whisking until all the sugar is dissolved. Add the milk slowly and only as much as is needed to make a thick, smooth paste, liquid enough to drizzle.

Cheddar Ale Spread
A variation of Peabody’s recipe on Northwest Noshings

8 oz cream cheese
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 ½ cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
2 TBSP heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup flavorful beer or ale (I used Sierra Nevada Pale Ale)
2 TBSP chopped fresh parsley
1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped

Combine the cream cheese, mustard, Cheddar, cream, cayenne, and salt in a food processor. Process for about 30 seconds, add the beer or ale, and continue processing until very smooth. Pulse in the parsley and walnuts until just dispersed. If you like a smoother texture, process until the nuts are as smooth as you like.

Put into a decorative dish or crock. Can be garnished with more toasted, chopped walnuts.

Can be stored in fridge for up to 4 days. You will want to take it out an hour before serving if you do refrigerate.

Circassian Chicken
from Monday Night at Narsai’s by Narsai David and Doris Muscatine

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 cups chicken broth
1 ½ cups shelled walnuts, lightly toasted
½ cup chopped onion
3 slices white bread (I used whole wheat rolls)
½ teaspoon paprika…Hungarian sweet if you have it

Heat the broth in a skillet. Place the chicken breasts in the broth, cover the pan, and simer for 10 – 15 minutes, or until the meat firms up and loses its translucent pink color.

Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and set it aside to cool. Boil down the liquid in the pan until it is reduced to 1 ½ cups and set it aside to cool.

In a blender or food processor puree the remaining ingredients with the reduced broth unitl it is smooth. When the chicken is cool, nap it with the puree and sprinkle it very lightly with paprika.

To serve warm, reheat the chicken in the sauce just long enough to warm it through.
Serves 6

Hot & Spicy Walnuts
from The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook
These are only mildly spicy …to kick it up a bit, add extra cayenne pepper.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon celery salt
1/8 teaspoon celery salt
½ teaspoon seasoned salt
1 ½ cups unsalted walnuts
1 tablespoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Melt the butter in saucepan. Add the Worcestershire sauce and spices, but not the walnuts or sea salt.

Stir to blend and simmer for a minute over low heat. Stir in the nuts.

Spread the nuts in a single layer on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake 15 – 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so.

Remove from oven and sprinkle with the salt. Stir to distribute the salt.

Cool and serve or store in an airtight container.

Makes 1 ½ cups

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