Oprah Winfrey once said, “I love bread!” I love bread, too, and I really love this pear, sage and hazelnut bread boasting Nordic flair.
“Nordic cuisine is grounded and earthy,” said Simon Bajada, an Australian-born chef who lives in Sweden and is author of “Nordic Light: Lighter, Everyday Eating From a Scandinavian Kitchen” (Hardie Grant Books, $39.99, 224 pages).
It uses ingredients that are part of the landscape and are prepared using traditional techniques, which are reflected in the flavors. The Nordic cuisine is rich in seafood, grains, berries, seasonal vegetables and lean meats showcasing a rather healthy diet.
Scandinavians are big on bread and not just the common white and sourdough varieties. Icelandic flatbreads date back to A.D. 874 and toast well the day after making, crispbreads are deeply red with beets or loaded with seeds, crunchy wafer crisps work beautifully in salads or topped over soups to replace the boring croutons. Flourless savory buns are great with coffee, while pull-apart breads can feature beloved Mediterranean flavors such as fig and fennel.
But the popular Danish rye bread stands out from the pack. Also sold in the other Nordic countries, it is a waxy bread, said Bajada, dense and packed with seeds and similar to pumpernickel bread.
As accompaniments to other foods, “Nordic breads give a lot of diversity in terms of flavors to what you’re eating,” Bajada said in a recent telephone interview from Australia, where he was vacationing. More important, there’s a sweetness because molasses or golden syrup is often incorporated in the preparation.
This pear, sage and hazelnut bread is a “crossover between sweet and savory,” Bajada said. Inspired by the classic marriage of sage and brown butter with a sprinkle of chopped hazelnuts that counterbalance the plump pears, this is a head-turner. Dense and flavorful, sturdy and satiating, it is tinged with a warm aroma of nutmeg and ginger.
It’s also versatile and easy to prepare, similar to a banana bread but with unique flavors. It can be savored for breakfast as the main component, laced with a slice of cheese or slathered with butter for lunch, served warm alongside coffee for an elegant dessert, or enjoyed at room temperature as a midday snack. And, as an added bonus, it toasts nicely the next day.
Pear, sage and hazelnut bread
This bread is a little sweet, a little savory and intensely flavorful. It packs a nice crunch from the hazelnuts and an extra touch of sweetness from the pears.
Adapted from “Nordic Light: Lighter, Everyday Eating From a Scandinavian Kitchen” by Simon Bajada, (Hardie Grant Books, $39.99, 224 pages).
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 sage stalks, leaves stripped
1 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
3 / 4 cup rolled oats
1 2/3 cups plain all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups whole-wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup light brown sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3 medium ripe pears, peeled and cored, 2 grated and 1 sliced to decorate
1 cup plain yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 340 degrees (see note below). Butter and flour a 10-by-4-inch loaf pan.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat together with the sage leaves. You don’t want to burn the butter here; just heat it until it starts to brown and the sage leaves turn a little crispy. Remove from heat but keep in a warm place so that butter remains liquid.
In a large bowl, mix together hazelnuts with remaining dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, break eggs, add grated pear, yogurt, warm sage butter and vanilla extract and whisk together well. Gradually add dry mixture to the wet, stirring together well, to form a heavy, wet dough halfway between a thick cake batter and a bread dough. Add a little more flour if dough is looking a bit wet or a little extra yogurt (1 tablespoon at a time) if too dry.
Spoon dough into prepared loaf pan and smooth top of dough with the back of a spoon. Arrange pear slices on top and sprinkle over a few teaspoons of brown sugar. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Note: If you can’t set oven to 340 degrees, bake the bread at 350 degrees for 60 to 65 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Once the bread has been in the oven for 60 minutes, keep checking it every 5 minutes until it is done.
Serve warm or at room temperature, spread with butter and alongside coffee. This toasts beautifully the next day, like banana bread, and will keep for up to a week in a sealed bag in the fridge.