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Pain aux noix means “bread with walnuts” in French, so it should come as no surprise to learn that pain aux noix is simply walnut bread. Many cultures have various versions of walnut bread and nut breads in general, including the famous Italian pane di noci, and these breads are often easy to find at traditional bakeries. They are also fairly straightforward to make at home, especially once one has mastered the basics of bread baking.
The preparation methods and recipe for pain aux noix vary, depending on the region and the taste of the baker. Pain aux noix may be made with white flour, whole wheat flour, or a blend of flours, and some cooks add ingredients like rye or spelt flour to the bread to make it more interesting. In addition to the basic salt and water, the dough may also include oil, and sometimes a sweetener like honey, molasses, or sugar. As a general rule, the bread is only lightly sweetened, enhancing the flavor without becoming overwhelming.
The rising agent used in traditional pain aux noix is an old dough or sourdough starters. These starters develop a more complex flavor in the bread, as the result of slow, steady fermentation. While it is possible to use active dry yeast or fresh yeast in pain aux noix, some bakers feel that the flavor of this bread suffers without an old dough starter.
The nuts are typically added to the bread at the last stage of the kneading process, right before the rising. Traditionally, this French walnut bread is formed into the shape of a round or boule, and the top may be slashed to ensure that the bread expands evenly while it bakes. Some bakers like to add a glaze to their pain aux noix right before baking so that it develops a shiny crust, and enterprising cooks may braid the loaf or shape it into a ring for more visual interest.
There are all sorts of ways in which the basic recipe for pain aux noix can be altered, and bakers who make this bread often develop their own distinct version. For example, fruit can be added to the bread, or orange zest may be mixed into the dough to make the flavor more interesting. Eggs and milk may be used in the recipe to make the bread more rich, and if the pain aux noix is sweetened a bit more, it can turn into a very rich breakfast bread which tastes superb with butter and cinnamon.
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