A deep green nettle bread studded with nuts, along with the more crumbly, shortbread-style lembas bread are traditional travel foods wood elves have been making for a very long time.
Both are useful, portable foods you can pack in a bag and take with you on a journey, or in my case, a fitting seasonal quest for morels. Conversely, the Drow (evil underground elves) make a similar travel bread colored black with pounded dried mushrooms from the Underdark caves, molded into a round form with cuts around the edge to resemble their god Lolth, the demon queen of spiders.
Most of us know stinging nettles are a great wild green to harvest, but besides the rich, saline flavor of Urtica dioica that I love, a thing that sets them apart from the rest of the pack is literally how green they are. Stinging nettle bread was born from wanting to show that off.
I already love nettle soup and dark purees made from leaves, but I wanted to capture that Sylvan green in loaf form, possibly for something that could use nettle puree later in the year like a dish for the Wild Harvest Festival, although I'm unsure if it will go on this year with the pandemic craziness--we'll see.
I know a few people that make cakes and sourdough or traditional loaf type bread with nettles as a coloring, but I wanted something more along the lines of a large amount of nettle puree simply bound by flour and a bit of binder. Taking those things into account, I knew a quick bread would probably be the first place to start experimenting.
Breads based on mashes and purees
I didn't know of any templates to follow, at least in the savory world. There is banana bread, squash bread, and other and other breads based based on mashes and purees though, so that's where I started.
I knew there could be a hurdle to jump making a savory bread vs a sweet one, since, besides adding sweetness, sugar also contains water, and can help keep things moist and tender. Mashed foods like potatoes, squash, and bananas are thick, emulsified purees too, whereas nettle puree is more loose.
From there, I knew on opposite ends of the spectrum there would be two things I might not want: too little flour would make bread so loosely held together it would be more of a bready custard, and bread having more flour than necessary would make a stiff, dry product.
For the record, the custardy nettle bread on the far right in the picture below is a great product too, just slightly different than the winning loaf in the middle. A food processor can make a coarse puree, but a Vita Mix is by far the best.
What I ended up doing was to look at banana bread and squash bread recipes and take a look at how much puree vs flour they use relative to the volume of binder/flour. Afterwords I came up with an average to give me a ball park figure for how much puree I'd want to make a simple bread to fit in a loaf pan.
From there, I needed to address the moisture issue I suspected I'd encounter, and, without sugar in the bread at all, I added a good amount of oil since, as apple sauce can be substituted for oil in many sweet recipes for quickbreads like scones and muffins, oil could will help keep things moist.
The oil really does double duty here as it will keep the cake moist, but you also need it for making a smooth puree in general, since drizzling in oil while blender blades are spinning will reduce friction and give you a finer, smoother end product. The caveat here is that you can only substitute oil as long as the oil is completely bound and emulsified in the batter, which can be easier said than done, and I've included a note about that in the recipe method.
Finally came the seasonings--the creative part. This would be a savory bread, deep, green and woodsy. With no sugar, familiar quick bread seasonings like cinnamon and dried fruit were out, so I needed to go to the opposite end of the flavor palette. What goes good with leafy greens, bread, and olive oil? Roasted garlic, black walnuts, parmesan cheese, and a few scrapes of nutmeg, that's what.
How to use
Different than other quick breads
This is a dense, moist bread, but it still has enough structure that it can be popped in a toaster. That being said, I envisioned it to do double duty as a literal serving of greens, and something that could function like greens on a plate.
For example, consider using it for things like open faced sandwiches--or just put stuff on it. It is 1000 miles away from banana bread, or regular bread for that matter, so be aware of that. It is it's own thing.
Concentrated nettle flavor--enjoy in small amounts
The flavor of nettles is strong here, strong enough that some people won't like it. Start by lightly toasting a slice of the bread in a skillet, then topping it with sauteed mushrooms, or a mix of something with protein like bacon and greens, or quickly sauteed mushrooms and sausage--you get the idea. One of our favorite ways to have it was smeared with whipped anchovy butter.
- Highspeed blender or food processor
- 1 ¾ cups all purpose flour or equivalent
- 2 large eggs
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ cup 2 oz grated parmesan plus more for lining the pan
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon grated numeg
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 small bulb garlic
- 1 cup 1 oz chopped ramp leaves or green onions optional
- ¾ cup mild olive oil, or extra virgin mixed 50/50 with another oil plus more for greasing the pan (see note)
- ¼ cup milk or equivalent
- 12 oz fresh nettle leaves and tender stems
- ⅓ cup 2oz chopped black walnuts or other nuts (optional)
- Cut ¼ inch off the top of the garlic bulb, leaving the root attached. Drizzle it with oil just to grease it, then wrap in foil and bake at 350 until just tender, about 30 minutes or so, then remove and cool.
- Blanch the nettles in boiling, lightly salted water until tender, about 30 seconds to 1 minute, then cool in cold water, squeeze very dry, and chop medium-fine.
- Mix the flour, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and baking powder.
- Meanwhile, squeeze the roasted garlic paste from the cooled bulb and reserve 2 tablespoons of it, saving the rest to smear on some toast or another purpose.
- Put the nettles into a food processor or blender, add the garlic paste, milk and eggs, then process, slowly drizzling in the oil to make a smooth puree. It may take a while, and you may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl. A vitamix is the best tool.
- Meanwhile, rub a loaf pan with oil or butter, then sprinkle with parmesan.
- Transfer the nettle puree to a bowl then fold in the ramp leaves, parmesan, and finally the flour.
- Pour into the loaf pan, bang the pan onto a table to settle the batter, sprinkle the top with parmesan, then bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 45 minutes, or until just cooked through and browned.
- Remove the loaf from the pan and cool on a resting rack completely before slicing.
- The bread can be frozen after cooling, just like banana bread.
Nettle Bread with Dryad Saddles and Ramp Leaves
- 4 thick slices of nettle bread
- 4 oz shaved tender edges of young dryad saddle / pheasant back mushrooms
- Kosher salt and pepper
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Dash of lemon juice
- Small handful of sliced ramp leaves or onion greens
- Heat the nettle bread in a pan, or in the oven.
- In another pan, heat the butter, then add the dryad saddles and cook until wilted on medium-high heat.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper, then add the ramp leaves cook for a minute until wilted, then turn off the heat, add the lemon juice.
- Spoon the mushrooms and greens over the slices of lightly toasted nettle bread and serve. Great with bacon and eggs, or for lunch.
Fantastic! Elven recipes, finally! I have been waiting eagerly for these. If you have a Lembas recipe I would be interested...
So, I have done a few baked goods with nettles - both savoury and sweet(ish). I was inspired by "ratatouillette's" carrot leaf cake (cake aux fanes de carottes) that you can find at her web site (I don't know if I can post a web site here: http://www.ratatouillette.com/cake-aux-fanes-de-carottes-a23393971 - this is in French) and I used nettles, and lots of them, in place of the carrot leaves. I also do this with radish leaves or whatever when there are spare leaves lying around. I think that enough grated gruyère and feta will make pretty much anything have good texture and flavour. And the other great savoury nettle baked good is a cheese (feta and mozzarella mix) and nettle stuffed Khatchapouri (there are many ways of spelling this).
But the more unusual was a nettle babka. I saved the nettles leaves from making nettle syrup, i.e., I strained them out of their week-long simple syrup bath, whirled them in the blender, added orange and lemon peel and spread them on a rolled out yeast dough with some butter, rolled it all up and did the babka twist and fold. It's surprisingly good.
I simply love you for this post, and like the commenter above, I already make use of nettles in a myriad of ways, including “Nettlekopitas”, Lemonynettle Cake with Fir-tip frosting, soup, and use the dried seeds to top bread. Häntale, a gift for the elves!
So excited to try.
Love the sound of this! All I have is dried ramp leaves and I'm assuming you used fresh in this recipe. What would you recommend for a dried amount?
Hmm. I wouldn't use dried as it just won't be the same, and I've never made a puree of dehydrated, rehydrated leaves. Blanched fresh leaves give the richest color too.
I might try this with garlic mustard instead of nettles.
They might be bitter. I'd use a comparable tasting plant.
Claudia Y. Marieb
This looks great. Question: when you say 12 oz nettles, do you mean the leaves only? Or, if I have young nettles and pluck the top of the stalk, say a around 4 inches of stalk with around 3 pairs of leaves, can I throw those in as-is?
I mean the whole thing: young leaves and tender stems. I'll adjust it so that's more clear.
Claudia Y. Marieb
I came back here to say "never mind" about my question - I would never have the patience to take the leaves off the stems, plus you blanch and puree the nettle, so it's pretty clear the stems were just fine. SO, I made it and just had a slice = super green infusion! Like you said, more nettle than bread. I love it. Thanks for creating this very cool "bread". Now am going to look up anchovy butter....
Yeah "bread" is definitely in quotes here. It's super rich.
What flour did you use?
Made this recipe today.. Had so much fun with it. Color of the bread gave me laughs. Very tasty too! Thanks .
Made another today minus the baking soda. Didn’t rise as much but better taste.
Ha haaa! Thanks Adam. If you glanced at the recipe you’ll see I’d already removed the soda. I’ve been tweaking it and making more batches this week. I’d done the thing a number of times before I was reasonably pleased with it, being there is no real analogy I know of to go by, but all of the feedback over the past few days has helped dial it in waaay more than I expected. Also bumped up the flour to remove the discoloration some people were experiencing. Thanks again for giving it a shot.
Claudia Y. Marieb
I came back to make this again tonight and noticed the soda was missing. I loved the first one I made so much I actually guessed at the amount of soda and added it. I wanted it exactly the same! I wish I read the comments first to see what happened - I should know you would only tweak it to make it better.
(fyi it is still in the steps to add soda)
Will it still be intense green with more flour? Will it still be as rich? We will see, It's in the oven right now....
Sorry to throw you a curveball. Some people were complaining there wasn’t enough structure. I just made the version posted here last night again, and I’m digging it. With less flour it’s hard to use the term bread, since people assume it will have more structure. I may have to make a light custardy loaf to take the place of the first version since there were a number of people that liked it softer too. Hard to please everyone. The problem is that I’m never satisfied and I’m constantly tweaking things to improve, I hate if someone makes something and doesn’t care for it. If you don’t care for the loaf with more structure I’ll probably work on the more custardy loaf as an additional thing, since I really like the texture of both, but they could have slightly different uses.
Claudia Y. Marieb
I can see that. And definitely two different things. The second one came out well, more structure as you said. Maybe best for most people.
I gave some to a friend to enjoy and knew they would because it isn't too different from bread.
But the mousse-like quality and deep green of the first recipe rocked my socks off, in the magical sense of elves and other-worldly food. I look forward to the custardy loaf making a reappearance some day.
Thank you so much Alan. Like all your recipes, this is something I would not even think of, let alone know how to start to make, and you went through all the inspiration and trials and shared it so then I could just make something so cool!
I make a sourdough rye- could I experiment with adding nettles to it?
And where do you get fresh nettles ???
Go to a park or a farm, or a garden, put some gloves on and harvest nettles. From there you could blanch and puree them and add to the dough, adjusting the hjydration accordingly, or dehydrate them and add as a proportion of the flour. Lots of people make nettle sourdough, cake too.
I tried adding blanched blended nettles to my sourdough focaccia and it turned out to be a good idea. YES, you can add nettles to a sourdough bread. But if you have trouble finding nettles, radish leaves or turnip greens will work as well. And if you don't mind it pink you can use beet greens... However, if you add them in the quantities called for in this recipe you will have some textural and structural integrity issues. I blanch and blend my greens and then, if I am being careful and disciplined about it, weigh them and use them in place of the water, respecting, more or less, the normal flour:water (10:7 to 10:8) ratio for focaccia and adding about 2% salt (less if I also add olives). Though to be honest, mostly I just dump in adequate flour to make the texture right and guess about the salt.
I hope I’m not to thick headed but stinging nettle sucks when brushed against your skin it hurts wouldn’t it sting your mouth and insides please I’m honestly curious as to how this bread wouldn’t sting the fuck outta you
Hi Frankie, thanks for commenting. Seriously though, who asks a question phrased like that? It's hard to fit new foods in your mouth if you're busy breathing out of it. Sorry I can't help.
Hi Frankie, from one 'mouth breather' to the other - once stinging nettles are blanched they lose their sting. So no worries about eating them, after they are cooked. Here is a more general resource for cooking with nettles if you're new to them. Please note: when foraging, make sure you're not collecting nettles (or any wild edible) that may have been sprayed with pesticides or is close to roads. Enjoy! and best regards, ali.
Thanks for commenting like a normal person Ali, I just don’t have patience for offensive or trolling comments here.
I made your bread with miner's lettuce, it was fantastic and a beautiful elven green, thank you for this great idea!
Love your site, recouping from cancer surgery,
(Cancer free) I look forward to
harvesting my stinging nettle this spring.
I have a couple of patches I just let grow wild.
This is a very easy plant to harvest,
During world war 11 people harvested the nettles from road ways, made nettle soup and survived, they figured out how to
use it. Your site brings many smiles, and I appreciate the history.