Beyond the baguette, there are many specialty breads to be found in French bakeries. This one is a specialty of the Perigord region, where walnuts are abundant. I love to serve this bread with a Gorgonzola compound butter. That recipe follows. The bread also makes a wonderful ham or turkey sandwich and would be perfect on a charcuterie tray. This is not a light, airy bread. It is dense and substantial with fruit and nuts and best sliced thin, about ¼ inch.
It’s better to mix and knead this bread by hand to keep the figs intact. Using the mixer blends the figs in too much, but it comes together easily with just a rubber spatula and a bench knife.
Makes 2 loaves
• 4 cups all‑purpose flour, plus more for kneading board
• 2 cups dark rye flour
• 2 tbsp instant yeast
• 2 tbsp fennel seeds
• 1 tbsp sea salt
• 2 cups chopped dried figs (about 14 ounces)
• 2 ¼ cups water, warmed to 110 degrees
• 4 tbsp sorghum syrup or molasses
• 2 tbsp walnut oil or olive oil
• 2 cups toasted and broken walnuts (about 4 ounces)
• a little more oil for brushing the top
1. Snip off the little hard stem, then cut the figs into pieces about ½ inch. You can use a sharp knife or scissors. Toast the walnuts at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes. When cool, break them up into halves or quarters.
2. Place flours, yeast, salt, fennel seeds, and 1 cup of the figs in a large bowl and stir to combine. Get your hands in and separate the fig pieces, making sure each has a dusting of flour so they won’t clump. Reserve the second cup of figs to add later. Stir the sorghum syrup or molasses and walnut oil into the hot water. Add this to the dry ingredients, and mix by hand to bring the mixture together.
3. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured board and use your bench knife to fold the dough over and over to bring it completely together using flour as needed. Then knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.
4. Transfer dough to an oiled rising tub or bowl and cover. Let dough rise in a warm place until almost doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
5. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured kneading board and knead in the walnuts and remaining 1 cup dried figs. The easiest way to incorporate fruit or nuts like this is to pat the dough out to an oval, distribute the fruit and nuts, roll the dough up and then repeat in the opposite direction. Knead the dough a couple minutes more, poking in any figs or walnuts trying to escape.
6. Divide the dough in half. Again pat each half of the dough out to an oval and roll up. Pat or roll the loaf to smooth it and make it the length of the pan. Wet your hands and smooth the top of the loaves. Because of all the fruit and nuts, the finished loaf will be craggy, rather than smooth.
7. Put the loaves into greased or well seasoned loaf pans or you could form the dough into a ball and set it on a baking sheet for a “boule” loaf. Set your proof box* over the loaves or loosely cover with a piece of lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let dough rise in a warm place until almost doubled in bulk, about an hour, more in a cool room. The loaf won’t fully double because so much is fruit and nuts and only the dough will rise.
8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Don’t forget to use cool water to wash up. Hot water “bakes” the dough on, cool dissolves it.
9. Bake until bread is a rich, dark golden brown, almost an hour and until an instant‑read thermometer inserted in the loaf registers 190 degrees and comes out clean. Immediately transfer loaf to a wire rack. Brush the loaves with a bit of the walnut or olive oil. No matter how tempting it is, let the bread cool completely before slicing.
*Note on the proof box: My favorite is still the plastic underbed storage box which, set upside down, is the perfect height for loaves and it covers 3 loaves.
I often do this when there’s a bit of gorgonzola or other blue veined cheese left over. Simply mix 1 part of gorgonzola to 2 parts room temperature butter. With a fork, mash the butter and cheese together in a small bowl, then scrape onto a piece of plastic wrap. Form into a rough log then roll up the wrap. Roll the log back and forth on the counter a little to smooth it out nicely. Serve chilled. Store in the freezer in a zipper freezer bag for months.
Wendy Akin is happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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