Special occasions ask for special bread, and for me this walnut and olive buckwheat bread is a real treat. Christmas morning I’m going to have it as toast, most likely with tahini, of which I never get bored, and savour it as a delicious moment, hopefully whilst watching the Snowman and wearing new woolly socks (I ♥ hand-knitted woolly socks! Lots of
heavy-handed helpful hints, such as this one, have been dropped!).
It will be our first Christmas spent in our home, and our first as a married couple, which is really something special. It’s also my first Christmas without my Grandma, who died at the grand old age of 96 this year. The cooling rack is hers, I love using it so much, a) I needed one, and b) I think of all the wonderful things she baked over the years, every time I use it they flash before me, and it feels so right to be using it and carrying that on, and not wasting such a good piece of kitchen equipment too. I have lots of bits and pieces of her kit, of which she amassed an enormous amount; my family are great ones for passing such practical things on. Both my Granny and Grandma would appreciate that, both being good representatives of a sensible and frugal generation. I really do try to cultivate that sensibility in myself, which also my mother has in spades.
Both grandparents, not unusually, baked lots of wonderful cakes and biscuits (the impression you get as a guest, though I suspect it was always the case!), and with very different results. Everyone does things differently, I love that. They both used a lot of white flour, white sugar, and lots of butter, and had no dietary restrictions (although both had arthritis in their old age so would have benefited greatly from the anti-inflammatory diet I follow), and though they ate eggs, made us lots of egg-free bakes to enjoy, which must have been a challenge. I love remembering the smells of their cooking, the many atmospheres. Opening the tin. The warmth and wonderful mystery of the Aga with its hot plates and little doors, ever warm to lean against. Granny’s tea towels hanging on the rail, usually sheep print, as she did get given a lot of sheep themed presents! Soft ginger biscuits. Grandma’s little kitchen, so organised and full of the smell of a wonderful dinner and her warmth and pleasure at us being there. Her perfect fruit cake, the like of which I could never recreate (and don’t get me started on her macaroni cheese! The only ingredient in it I could eat these days is onion, but my God that dish was fantastic, and again, somehow impossible to recreate! It must have been special Grandma fairy-dust she sprinkled on it) ♥
Neither Granny or Grandma baked bread as I remember, nor do I think bread played an especially big role in their lives. But for me, bread has always been so important. I love to bake bread, I love the smell filling the house. I really love toast. I keep my carbs down as part of my specialist diet, and so for me, now it’s something to look forward to. Buckwheat particularly makes a delicious gluten (and grain) free loaf, substantial, but also light, and more nutritious and much lower GI/ GL than grain flours. It’s super-easy to make (no problems recreating this!), no kneading involved, just whip it up, leave to rise, and bake. It makes a fantastic crusty deli sandwich, and such good toast (mmm… toast…). Adding the walnuts and olives and extra olive oil makes for a really special loaf. And this was made extra special by using the walnuts foraged, and given to us, by my father-in-law.
Serve walnut and olive buckwheat bread with a sweet vegetable soup, it makes for a lovely lunch to serve to guests that’s delicious and foolproof to make, and I’ve found it’s always really well received. Or whip up a big salad with a tasty dressing and have the bread with a cashew cream cheese or a super cheesy vegan cheese, or whatever you fancy, and some jars of pickles and chutneys. They’re my favourite type of meals. Pick and mix of lots of delicious things. Why should the holidays be about slaving endlessly over a hot stove? If it’s enjoyable and you want to then great! Going to town over a dinner, or afternoons spent creating dishes in the kitchen are so lovely and satisfying, and make such a nice atmosphere when shared with and appreciated by others (even if you are completely frazzled by the end of it!). But if you have people coming over and you’re tired and busy, or simply have other things you’d rather do, choose an easier route, guilt-free, that’s still beautiful and rewarding, only less labour-intensive. Every meal doesn’t have to be complicated, it’s a wonderful thing to serve people healthy nutritious food that is helping them to be well and happy. Let’s face it, most people overeat at Christmas, there’s often an abundance of rich foods, which generally aren’t good for you, and over-eating is never good, and so serving a lighter meal is a really nice, caring thing to do! And that’s what I love about buckwheat bread, even though this particular loaf has a higher oil content, it’s light. Making it extra nutritious and tasty with walnuts and kalamata, or other such strongly flavoured olives, and the added bite of black pepper, steps it up a notch and makes people feel like they’re being treated well, and they are, which is lovely.
You can pour the batter into one pan big pan, or two, which would make a thinner more crust dominated loaf. I would also recommend splitting the batter into two oven pans for making a softer crust, where you would cook it for less time and introduce water to the oven half way through the bake instead of at the beginning. Really anything goes, except you cannot expect gluten-free flour to hold much volume of rise, especially such a wet batter, and so it really suits a flatter loaf, which is deliciously spongy and good quality bread. And for me the crust, soft or crunchy, is always the best bit.
- 1 3/4 cups buckwheat flour (I use a relatively fine-sift flour)
- 1 3/4 cups water, filtered
- 15 or so kalamata olives/ olives of choice, I like a strong flavour, green are v good
- 10 walnut halves, or thereabouts, broken up
- 3/4 tsp salt, less if using very strong salty olives
- 1 tsp finely ground black pepper, optional
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 heaped tsp easy yeast, or yeast of choice
- 1 tsp coconut sugar, or alternative
- 1-2 tbsp psyllium husk, this binds and is very good for you, but I think in this loaf makes it a little less spongy
Heat a slightly warm oven, but not too warm or you will kill off the yeast as the bread rises. Add the ingredients to your mixing bowl, mixing in the salt before you add the yeast, tearing or cutting up the olives, and crumbling the walnuts into the sized pieces you would like (I like them small). Add the tepid water and mix thoroughly until a loose cake-like batter. Grease your pan, I use a 13 x 9 x 3" baking pan, or you can split it into two/ or use a larger pan for a thinner crusty loaf or a softer loaf (see below tips for a softer crust). Pour the batter into the pan, filling it half way (it will double), and leave to rise in your warm oven (or on top if it is in use, though I prefer to let it rise in the oven and then you can just turn up the heat without disrupting the fairly delicate rise of the wet dough) for about 45 mins or longer. Bake in a hot oven for 20-25 mins (less if you have split the batter). Tip out onto a cooling rack, if bottom is soft, turn over and bake for another 5 minutes or so to crisp, and then put back in the oven to crisp up the top for a few minutes as will have softened, unless you like a softer crust when you're good to go.
Leave to cool on a cooling rack.
The bread keeps well. Wrap it up, which will soften the crust, or you can leave it out if you're eating it within 24 hours or so. It also freezes well, so make a batch and it's there when you need it, making life even easier.
Some flours will absorb more water, so add a little more, you want a pourable batter.
Next bread stop, a foray into yeast-free baking!
I’ve been listening to… Bessie Smith Nobody Knows When You’re Down and Out
I’ve been watching… the Bridge
I’ve been reading… C Tolkien & JRR Tolkien ‘The Return of the Shadow’