This loaf has a wonderful flavor, and it uses yeast and sponge. It is simple to do, but it takes some time. The odor of this stuff baking will bring the kids in from the yard – I promise. Excellent when toasted and served with soft cheeses and chicken liver pâté.
New Zealand Almond and Fig Bread
- Dough starter (sponge):
- 3/4 cup (about 4 ounces or 117 gr.) bread flour
- 1/2 tsp (1.6 gr.) instant yeast
- 3/4 tsp (3.1 gr.) sugar
- 3/4 liquid cup (6.2 ounces or 177 gr.) water, at room temperature (70°F to 90°F)
- Flour mixture:
- 3/4 cup (4 ounces or 117 gr.) bread flour, plus 2 Tbsp. for kneading
- 1/2 cup (2.5 ounces or 72 gr.) whole wheat flour
- 1/2 tsp (1.6 gr.) instant yeast
- 2 tsp (9 gr.) oil
- 1 1/4 tsp (0.25 ounce or 8.3 gr.) salt
- 1 cup (2.6 ounces or 75 gr.) unblanched slivered (not sliced) or whole almonds, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup (2.6 ounces or 75 gr.) dried Mission figs, stems removed, cut into small pieces
- Almonds and apricot glaze:
- 1 cup (2.6 ounces or 75 gr.) sliced almonds
- 3 Tbsp. (1.75 ounces or 50 gr.) apricot jelly
- 2 Tbsp. (1 ounce or 30 gr.) water
Make the sponge. In a mixer bowl or other large bowl, place the flour, yeast, sugar, and water. Whisk until very smooth, to incorporate air, about 2 minutes. The sponge will be the consistency of a thick batter. Scrape down the sides of the bowl Set it aside, covered with plastic wrap, while you make the flour mixture.
Combine the ingredients for the flour mixture and add to the sponge. In a medium bowl, whisk together the bread flour (reserve ¼ cup if mixing by hand), whole wheat flour, and yeast. Sprinkle this on top of the sponge and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Allow it to ferment for 1 to 4 hours at room temperature. (During this time the sponge will bubble through the flour mixture in places; this is fine.)
Mix the dough using a mixer.
Add the oil and mix with the dough hook on low speed (#2 if using a KitchenAid) until the flour is moistened enough to form a rough dough. Scrape down any bits of dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes.
Sprinkle on the salt and knead the dough on medium speed (#4 KitchenAid) for 7 minutes. It will be smooth and shiny and cling slightly to your fingers, If it is still very sticky, knead in a little flour. If it is not at all sticky, spray it with a little water and knead it in. (It will weigh about 17 ounces/ 490 grams.) Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and roll it into a rectangle about 9 inches by 14 inches. Sprinkle with the chopped almonds and cut-up figs. Roll up the dough and knead it for a few minutes to incorporate the almonds and figs evenly. Shape it into a ball.
Let the dough rise. Set the dough in a 4-quart dough rising container or bowl, lightly greased with cooking spray or oil. Press down the dough and lightly spray or oil the top. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. With a piece of tape, mark the side of the container at approximately where double the height of the dough would be. Allow the dough to rise (ideally at 75°F to 80°F) until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
Using an oiled spatula or dough scraper, scrape the dough out into a floured counter, and press down on it gently to form a rectangle. Fold the dough into a tight package or give it 2 business letter turns, and set it back in the container. Oil the surface again, cover, and mark where double the height of the dough would now be. It will fill the container fuller than before because it is puffier with air. Allow the dough to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Shape the dough, encrust it with almonds, and let it rise. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and press down on it gently to flatten it slightly. Round the dough into a 4 ½ -inch ball and lightly spray or brush the surface with water. Scatter the almonds on a counter. Roll the ball of dough in the almonds to cover it completely, pressing the nuts into the dough.
Place it on the baking sheet. Cover it with a large container, or cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until doubled, about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. It will be about 5 ½ inches by 3 inches high, and when it is pressed gently with a fingertip, the depression will very slowly fill in. press any remaining almonds into the empty spaces created by the dough’s expansion.
Preheat the oven. Preheat the oven to 425°F, 1 hour before baking.
Bake the bread. Quickly but gently set the baking sheet on the hot stone or hot baking sheet. Bake for 5 minutes. Lower the temperature to 375°F and continue baking for 35 to 40 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center will read about 190°F.) If the nuts begin to brown, tent the loaf loosely with aluminum foil. Halfway through baking, turn the pan around for even baking.
Glaze the bread. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, mix the apricot jelly and water together. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. With a spoon, press the preserves through a strainer to make a smooth glaze.
When the bread is done, remove it from the oven and brush It with the hot apricot glaze. Return it to the oven for 1 minute to set the glaze.