Roasted pecan, pumpernickel and date soda bread
It is richly flavoured and densely textured, chock-full of dried fruit and roasted pecans. What's nice is that you can mix and match the nuts and dried fruits to your heart's content - sometimes I add sunflower seeds or pepitas, at other times hazelnuts or cashews, and I'm forever changing the dried fruit according to what I happen to have on hand.
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- 1/4 cup (40g) fine polenta (preferably organic stoneground), plus extra for dusting
- 3/4 cup (120g) stone-ground wholemeal flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1/2 cup (75g) unbleached plain flour
- 1/2 cup (60g) rye flour
- 200g roasted pecans, very coarsely chopped
- 1 1/3 cups (330ml) buttermilk
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp blackstrap molasses
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp caraway seeds
- 125g pitted prunes, halved
- 125g pitted dates, halved
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with baking paper, then dust the paper with a little polenta. Tip the polenta, flours, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and caraway seeds into a large bowl. Whisk them together for a minute or so with a balloon whisk. Add the prunes, dates and 180 grams of pecans (reserve the rest for later) then toss them about so they are well coated in the flour.
In a separate bowl, mix together the buttermilk, honey and molasses (if you gently warm the honey and molasses first they'll mix into the buttermilk more easily).
Next dust your work bench with flour. Make a well in the middle of the flour mixture in the bowl, pour in the buttermilk mixture and mix them together - I start off with a wooden spoon and then resort to using my hands once it gets too awkward.
Bring the dough together as best you can (it will be quite soft and sticky) then tip it onto the floured bench. With floured hands, knead the dough very gently for a few moments so it just comes together - sprinkle a little extra flour (no more than two tablespoons) on it if it sticks to your fingers. Shape it into a football, then sit it on the prepared baking sheet. With a serrated knife make four or five very shallow slashes diagonally across the loaf (if they're too deep the loaf opens out a bit too much during cooking, making it drier than it should be). Press the reserved pecans into the loaf, then sieve a fine dusting of flour over the top.
Bake the loaf for about 35-40 minutes, or until the bottom sounds hollow when you tap it with your knuckles. Transfer the loaf to a wire rack and leave it to cool for about an hour before slicing. (This is easier said than done, as it smells wonderful, but it will slice more readily when it is cooler and the flavour will be even better.)
Unlike many quick soda breads, leftovers keep remarkably well for up to four days in a sealed container and it makes the most terrific toast.
Makes one medium loaf.
From The Country Cookbook by Belinda Jeffery, Lantern, $59.95