“You should really show that to your readers…” said my friend Annelies while we were hanging out in the lobby of a hotel in Seattle. It was day two of a major food blogging conference and instead of going to a session, both of us opted to just hang out and chat. Annelies was referring to a photo I had taken of yellow legal pad where I keep my recipe developing notes. I had quickly taken it with my iPhone because I wanted to write a blog post and I needed to transcribe the recipe to my computer but I didn’t have time before my flight and didn’t want to lug my legal pad with me. I questioned whether anyone would have interest in seeing it, but she assured me that they would. I filed that conversation in the back of my head and haven’t really revisited it until I started developing an apple bread recipe that turned into my Apple Bread with Spiced Brown Butter and Walnuts.
In truth, I’m always fascinated by “behind the scenes” exposés where people explain all the work that goes into the final product. I’m probably not alone in that so it doesn’t surprise me that Annelies would suggest I post about. But does anyone have any interest in learning about how I do things? I’m not sure, mostly because how I do things around here is pretty boring. I start with an idea (Apple Bread!), write down the recipe, start baking, often times adapting or changing the recipe as I bake on the fly. The batter is looking too thin, so I add more flour, the batter is too thick, so I add more buttermilk. Maybe I should use more whole wheat instead of all purpose. Looks like I don’t have any pecans in the cabinet but I do have the package of walnuts instead. Make notes, cross off things off, add things, adjust amounts. Bake. Taste. Repeat. When satisfied, photograph, photograph and photograph some more. Hmmm. Is that interesting? I don’t know. You tell me.
I’m a pretty frugal baker and blogger by nature. It may not seem that way as I have WAY more ridiculous ingredients in my cabinets than the average bear. Whole grain flours, alternative sweeteners, oddball finishing salts and weird extracts, oils and vinegars. My cabinet would put Whole Foods to shame. But at the end of the day, the stuff that I make is usually a last ditch attempt at using up something in the fridge or the counter before it goes bad. As a food photographer, I buy produce for a shoot as props, but I always have leftovers from the shoot. I need to use them up before they go bad. That’s what drives me to bake the things that I do more than anything else. People ask me where I get my inspiration, but the truth is, it’s usually desperation. I can’t throw away perfectly good food/ingredients. How can I make something out of it?
Today it was the abundance of apples I had as leftover from a photoshoot with a client. And the walnuts came in to play because the pecans I thought I had in the pantry amounted to a scant 1/3 cup but that container of walnuts sitting next to it was full. Besides I had that bottle of La Tourangelle Roasted Walnut Oil that they had given to me as a sample and I’ve been meaning to use it (see what I mean about ridiculous ingredients?). What better use of all those ingredients than to whip up a quick batter bread with fall spices that would make the apartment smell like October? If San Francisco had deciduous trees, I’d be out there jumping in the leaves and taking photos of the changing colors of the trees. But since it doesn’t, I’ll content myself with another slice of this apple walnut bread. It’s the closest I’ll get.
Special thanks for La Tourangelle for giving me a sample of their Roasted Walnut Oil to try out. As always, even though they offered me the sample for free, I was not monetarily compensated for this post and all opinions above are my own.
Apple Bread with Spiced Brown Butter and Walnuts
By Irvin Lin
When my partner AJ entered the house while this was baking, his eye lit up. The smell is pretty intoxicating, one part autumnal spices, one part fresh baked baked good, and one part sugary sweet nuttiness. At the core of it though is a quick batter bread that is pretty easy to throw together and is perfect for breakfast, afternoon snack or just about anytime actually.
3/4 cup (85 g) walnuts
1/2 cup (115 g or 1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons walnut oil or olive oil
1 cup (220 g) dark brown sugar
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 large eggs
1 cup (150 g) whole wheat flour
1 cup (140 g) all purpose flour
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups peeled and chopped Granny Smith apples (about 2 medium)
1/2 cup (55 g) walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup (55 g) dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (35 g) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoon melted unsalted butter
9 x 5 inch bread loaf pan
parchment paper (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Spray the bread loaf pan with cooking oil and then place a piece of parchment paper inside the pan and up the sides, overhanging the edges by an inch or two.
2. Make the bread batter by placing the walnuts in a food processor and processing until you have a fine crumbs of walnuts (it’ll look like coarse sand). Pour the crumbs into a medium pan and toast the walnut crumbs over medium heat until they start to smell fragrant and darken a bit, about two to three minutes. Pour into a medium size bowl to cool down.
3. Place the butter in the same pan you cooked the walnut crumbs and turn the heat back to medium. Cook the butter until it melt and the butter fat starts to brown. The butter might foam a bit, but once you notice brown specks at the bottom of the pan, turn the heat off, and let the residual heat from the pan continue to cook the butterfat until it has turned dark golden brown.
4. Pour the brown butter into the mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, being sure to scrap all the brown bits into the bowl as well. Turn the mixer on and beat for about 30 seconds to cool the butter down. Add the walnut oil (or olive oil) and dark brown sugar. Beat for another 30 seconds to incorporate. Add the vanilla extract, almond extract (if using), baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Beat to incorporate and add the eggs, one at a time, beating between additions to incorporate. Add the toasted walnut crumbs to the batter and beat to incorporate. Add both flours to the batter and beat to incorporate. Add the buttermilk and beat to incorporate. Add the apple bits to the batter and fold them with a large spatula by hand. Scrape the batter into the prepared bread loaf pan.
5. Make the streusel topping by placing the chopped walnuts, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and sea salt in the same bowl the toasted walnut crumbs used to be in. Drizzle the melted butter over the ingredients and toss together with a fork. The ingredients should clump together. Sprinkle over the bread batter evenly and bake in the oven for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the bread comes out clean.
6. Let the bread cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes before removing the bread out of the pan by grabbing the sides of the parchment paper that are hanging over the edges and lifting straight up. Move to a wire rack and let cool completely before slicing and serving.
Makes 1 loaf of bread.