Gathering nuts in May

Here we go gathering nuts in May…

I wonder if that children’s rhyme was written by someone who lived on the other side of the world?  No, I have googled and it supposedly refers to the young edible leaves and buds of the hawthorn tree also known as ‘the bread and cheese’ tree.  Just nipped out to the garden, grabbed a handful, can report that the leaves are quite soft and well leafy, not bitter though,  not so keen on the flowers….back indoors for a cup  of coffee – eats shoots and leaves :) – that was a bit of a digression, ok here we go..  PS following Choclette’s comment I have done a bit more googling and I can’t resist adding this link I’ve just found to The Knots of May! Go on guess what they do ?

At the risk of being repetitive I have to say that I love The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard. I love the beautiful photographs and the stories about the people who Dan met on his travels and I have really enjoyed making the  breads.  This was the first bread book I ever owned and it is a great friend which will  inspire and excite you and lead you to try all sorts of wonderful breads that you didn’t dream you could make for yourself.

Cobnut, honey and grain bread by Dan Lepard (with hazelnuts this time)

Using what you have is always a good idea, particularly if your nut and seed collection is getting a little old.  I found a bag of hazelnuts in the cupboard and they had been there a couple of months so I thought I had better use them up. They had been kept cool and dark but needed to be used up before they became bitter. Last year for the first time we had nuts from our filbert’ corylus purpurea’ which grows against the fence in our garden. It has beautiful dark red catkins with yellow highlights from February and glorious dark red leaves like a copper beech in the summer and the nuts are sheathed in pinky red calyxes. We find little ones springing up around the garden where the nuts have been buried by the squirrels and carefully lift them and try to bring them on.

Usually I make this bread in the autumn when cobnuts are in season but it works beautifully with regular hazelnuts too.  Last year I joined in a bake off of this bread  and it proved very popular with everyone on Dan Lepard’s old forum. ! I think it’s too nice a bread to wait another six months to make again though….

I much prefer this bread to the so called ‘granary’ breads you get in the shops. It doesn’t have malted flakes which can make the bread bitter sometimes.  The toasted nuts and apple-sweetened rye grains make a fantastic combination.

I would recommend using the hybrid method of leavening too which Dan Lepard uses in the formula;  adding a small quantity of yeast to the dough as I like the  sweetness of this bread, if you decide to leave the yeast out you will get a different tasting bread with a more typical sourdough crumb, though I am sure it will still be good.

I used rye grain for the grain, it was very hard and needed a long time cooking in the pan to get it soft. I cooked mine for about an hour and a half in the end. 100 grams of dry grain will make about 200 grams of soaked and cooked grain.  Then I soaked the soft and cooked grains overnight in some apple juice.  Always make sure that they are really soft before you put them in the dough, they won’t get softer when you bake them.

I toasted the hazelnuts in the oven, they had skins on and I got most of them off by putting them in a teatowel and rubbing them. Some were stubborn but most of them came off this way. Then I chopped the hazelnuts coarsely with the whizzer and that was the main preparation done.

As I hadn’t made quite enough starter for this and the second bread I wanted to make I changed the proportions. The dough is made with a mixture of soft and strong flours and this works very well.

The dough is very sticky when you first mix it and the secret is to leave it after the first mix for at least 20 minutes for the flour to fully hydrate and to use a light oil to handle the dough when you fold and turn it during the first prove.

This time I made a batch of rolls and these three smallish 300 g loaves. I cooked them all on baking parchment on trays, where they had done their final prove under storage plastic boxes from the pound shop.  The dough is just firm enough to hold a shape freeform though the batards had a lowish profile.   On other occcasions I have shaped it the way it is done in the HML and another time I made some rather lopsided mini cottage buns with it. In the back of this picture is my attempt at preserving our own nuts in honey!

14 thoughts on “Gathering nuts in May

  1. sallybr

    This bread is intriguing – I have to say that the photo on Dan’s book left me unimpressed. To me, it simply does NOT look appetizing :-)

    Yours, quite the contrary. I might give this one a try

    Great post!

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Thanks Sally!

      Read through the forum bake off post and see the others’ pictures and what they thought of it. I think it is one of the best breads in the book, but I love the taste and texture of the toasted hazelnuts :)

  2. Lynne

    This brings back some lovely memories of making that bread…delicious and such a rollercoaster of emotions on whether it would work…this is a lovely article

  3. Choclette

    Wonderful photographs Joanna, especially of your catkins. We occasionally use hawthorn leaves in salads and sandwiches at this time of year, but I still don’t understand why it’s gathering ‘nuts’ in May. I know the May could refer to the hawthorn, but the nuts?

    Anyway, your bread sounds delicious and most interesting. Love the idea of the nuts and am now wondering what bread would be like with whole grains.

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Choclette, glad you liked the photos!

      Just had another google and another theory here is that it is a corruption of “Here we go gathering knots of May,” referring to the old custom of gathering knots of flowers on May-day, or, to use the ordinary phrase, “to go a-Maying.” It might also be something very bawdy? Who knows?

      Wonder though if somewhere in the world they are gathering nuts right now? Celia? is it nut harvest time in Australia? Must be getting on for autumn…

  4. Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial

    I remember the cobnut cottage loaves! Your new loaves look fabulous, Jo! And your pickled hazelnuts remind me of Badger in Wind in the Willows making pickled walnuts for the Annual Show.. :)

    Agree THL is a magnificent tome – love the travelogue as much as the recipes!

    Celia xx

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      The photo is beautiful, confession time here, because it was taken by my beloved with his fancy camera. Though I told him what shot I wanted. Jumps up and down saying ‘take this for me please, please please, on the diagonal, fuzzed out background etc.’ I have to get to grips with SLR’s one of these days. In the meantime occasionally I will treat everyone to his stunning photos! Must start crediting him properly :)

  5. sallybr

    I cannot believe that it’s been ONE year already, and I haven’t made this bread yet!

    but, that will change for sure – wait until I’m back in my kitchen! HA! ;-)

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Hee hee, you again! I bet you can’t wait to get back to the Bewitching Kitchen (original model). I can’t believe I haven’t made this bread for a year either – so lovely to see Celia’s and now I am just going to wait patiently to see yours too Sally xx

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