By Cheryl Brooks
We didn't get the big blizzard in our neck of the woods this past weekend, but it was still a good time for doing all the things one does when snowed in--provided, of course, that you have power. The weather was plenty cold here, and we still had a fair amount of snow left over from the last weather event, so I did what I usually do when I'm snowed in. I don't go out and buy bread. I make it.
This time, I tried out a different recipe from my trusty copy of "The New Book of Favorite Breads from Rose Lane Farm," which I was surprised to find still available from Amazon, despite the fact that I probably bought my copy back in the early 1980s. There are some things, homemade bread among them, that stand the test of time.
Not long ago I'd used the Italian bread recipe from that same cookbook to make bread sticks. Sadly, even cutting that recipe in half resulted in too much dough, and what I'd hoped would be similar to Pizza Hut's cheesy bread sticks was more of a flat loaf, filling a 9x13 pan to the top and then some. It was good, but the cheese and garlic butter to bread ratio was a bit off. On the next page, however, I noticed a recipe for Fig and Nut Yeast Bread. I'd never made it before, but since I love figs and my husband loves walnuts, I figured it was a win-win, right? So, on my last trip to the grocery, I purchased the necessary ingredients and was ready to go on Sunday.
While the yeast was working, I chopped the figs and walnuts as directed, nearly losing the end of my little finger in the process. Then I mixed up the dough and started kneading. This was a VERY stiff dough, and I had my doubts that it would ever rise. As it turned out, it didn't rise very much. The result was a dense, heavy loaf with a hard crust, but if that's what you're in the mood for, go for it!
I didn't use the dried skim milk the original recipe calls for (I don't care for the taste), substituting skim milk for part of the original 1 1/2 cups of water. Nor did I have enough figs and walnuts for 1 1/2 cups (I ate a few of the figs and saved some walnuts for my husband's lunch ), so what follows is my version of the recipe.
After tasting the bread fresh from the oven, I decided that more white flour and less whole wheat would improve it, along with more salt and a few tablespoons of sugar or honey, but it wasn't bad the way it was, and it was even better the next day warmed up in the microwave and topped with butter and honey. This bread also makes a great dessert when served with a hot wine sauce like fig pudding. Since the fun of baking is as much about the process as the end product, I would advise against waiting for the next blizzard to give it at try, if for no other reason than to smell it while it bakes.
Fig and Walnut Bread
1/2 cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp ginger
2 packages dry yeast (I use the rapid-rise kind)
1 cup warm water
4 tablespoons Brer Rabbit molasses
1/2 cup warm milk
4 tablespoons soft butter
1 1/4 cups soft dried figs, chopped fine
1 1/4 cups chopped walnuts
1 cup white flour
6 cups whole wheat flour
Mix the first 4 ingredients in a large bowl and let stand until foamy. Put the figs and walnuts in a lidded bowl and shake them up with the white flour. Add the milk and water to the yeast mixture, then add the nut and fig mixture along with the other ingredients, starting out with two cups of the whole wheat flour and gradually mixing and kneading in the rest until you have a stiff, non-sticky dough. Brush dough with butter and either cover the bowl or put it in a plastic bag (I use oven bags), and let rise until doubled in bulk. Depending on the yeast you use, this could take up to two hours. After the first rising, knead the dough again and shape into four small loaves. Place in greased pans, butter the tops, and cover, letting the dough rise for at least an hour, preferably longer. Bake at 350 F for about an hour.