Sometimes I secretly bake things for myself. Naturally, I have a team of freshly oiled New Zealander minions flagellate me during this process (they haven’t had much work since the last Xena: The Warrior Princess musical) so I won’t forget that that instead of nourishing myself, I should be baking a ten layer checkerboard cake where every interior slice looks like the TARDIS.
In certain Cherrios-and-spittle covered circles, I am reasonably well known for my love of making Food That Frightens Children. If I ever find a precocious youngster who genuinely likes my solid black Caramelized Fig and Onion Pie, I will kidnap the immortal bastard and promise that I will pass as their parent during a century long caper filled crime spree in exchange for being granted immortal life. There’ll also be pie.
This bread is more hassle than most non-obsessive bakers would bother with, but my future immortal master and I are worth it.
Hearty Faux-Wheat Bread with Cardamom and Ginger
- 2 cups roughly chopped black mission figs
- 1/3 cup sweet white wine (or water)
- 1 tsp ginger paste
- 1 tbsp yeast
- 1 tbsp white sugar
- 2 cups warm water
- 3 eggs
- ¼ cup softened butter
- ¼ cup honey
- ½ tsp cardamom
- 1 tsp ginger powder
- 1 ½ tsp table salt
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 5 – 5 ½ cups bread flour
- liquid reserved from the figs
- 1 egg
- pinch table salt
Start by lopping the stems off your stale Sun Maid bag of Mission Figs. If you actually ate them within six months of purchase, they’d still be melt-in-your-mouth moist, but I know you’ve let them harden into little rocks somewhere in a neglected corner of your pantry. Luckily, I have a solution for that. Like many of life’s small annoyances, the answer is booze. Pour ⅓ cup of sweet white wine into a bowl and microwave it until it’s annoyingly hot but not quite boiling.
Once you’ve decapitated your figs, roughly chop up their bodies and toss them into your warm wine bath. Throw in a little ginger paste while you’re at it to add to the sweetness without too much extra sugar. Put a plate on top of the bowl to keep everything toasty warm while you work.
Now it’s time to resurrect your slumbering yeast. Toss a tablespoon of yeast, a tablespoon of sugar, and two cups of very warm water right into the bowl of your stand mixer. Have one of the New Zealanders stop flagellating you long enough to whisk it until all your solids dissolve into a pale, muddy mess about the same shade as my Neutrogena make-up removing towelettes after a long day. For those of you blessed with melanin, the official pantone color is somewhere between “taupe” and “consumption-isn’t-sexy-anymore.”
Let the newly awakened yeast feast on the sugar like a slumbering vampire greeting a party of intrepid archaeologists. After 10-12 minutes of growth fueled by rabid, strengthening consumption, subdue it to your will by drowning it in your eggs, butter, and honey. While you’re at it, toss in the cardamom, ginger powder, and salt. Oh, look. It’s whisk-o-clock again!
When it’s a soupy mess, add in your one cup of whole wheat flour. The presence of wheat flour, honey, and figs will convince some folks this is health food. They’re wrong. So very wrong. Sure, the whole wheat brings flavor while the figs, honey and cardamom add an old world sophistication, but the next five cups of nutritionally void white bread flour are the limber and supple gymnasts who will do things to this loaf that are physically impossible for sturdy old wheat flour.
Drink a little more of your white wine while you introduce everyone to the party in your stand mixer. Once it transmogrifies from eww-get-this-paste-off-my-hands into an actual dough, attach the dough hook and set it to the lethargic speed of 2. Then stand back and watch for the next 6-8 minutes while it temptingly stretches, bends, and takes on shapes you weren’t sure were actually possible. If you don’t have a stand mixer, tell one of your flagellators to wash the body oil off his hands and knead the dough for around 10 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when the dough is no longer as tacky as the dancers gold go-go shorts and is now so smooth and soft you want to pet it like a supervillain’s hairless cat.
Some people tell you to take your dough out of the bowl, pinch it into a neat circle, and place it in a totally different well oiled bowl. If you love doing dishes, go right ahead. Personally, I leave it right there at the bottom of my stand mixer. When it’s done rising, this gives me a smooth side and a sticky side, which, like duct tape, has a lot of uses.
Either way, cover it with a clean kitchen towel and go away for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size. No, that is not enough time to bake a batch of scones shaped like Ood faces. Okay, it actually is, but you went to all the trouble to fly these guys in from New Zealand just to physically chastise you for not working. Have another glass of wine and let them do their jobs.
Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down once. Coax it out of the bowl and unceremoniously plop the dry side on a sheet of parchment paper. Cut the dough in half. You don’t need a rolling pin. We’re going rustic here – as long as your definition of “rustic” includes a $300 kitchen tool with a motor more powerful than an Italian moped.
Gently stretch the dough until it’s a little more than twice the length of whatever loaf pan you’re going to bake it in. Try to make sure it’s also a couple handspans wide. I’d give you more accurate measures, but I can see how much of the wine you’ve had. After all, you can’t waste the rest of that freshly opened bottle for a measly ⅓ cup splashed over some figs. (You’re welcome.)
Oh, hey! The figs! You remember them! Use your fingers to squeeze about half of them out of gingery-wine and rudely toss them all over your stretched dough. Try to keep them from escaping off the edges, but don’t stress over it.
If you have a strong sweet tooth, you could top your figs with a drizzle of more honey, a handful of brown sugar, or that suspicious bottle of “cinnamon sugar blend” that you’re pretty sure doesn’t contain any of the ingredients in the title, but was on sale for $1 so you threw it in your cart some time in 2014. I think the bread it sweet enough on its own, but hell, I eat black pies made from onions that’ve been caramelized for 4 hours. I’m in no position to judge someone else’s taste.
Roll your bread up like you’re making cinnamon rolls. Now you’ll see a problem. The roll is twice as long as your bread pan. You’re going to solve that by folding it in half, lengthwise, with a wee bit of overlap. Instead of one figgy swirl, this should give you a rough figure 8 of fruity filling.
Lube up your loaf pan and gingerly place the bread in it, seam side down. Toss that clean towel back over the top and let it rise for another hour.
Now, to be honest, I made the other half of my dough into literal bows and swords for a make-up Geek Breads photo shoot, but if you’re not stocking an armory for war against the Pillsbury Dough-Boy-King’s carby hordes, you might as well make two loaves of bread. This dough also makes great pull-apart rolls. Really, the recipe is pretty forgiving of darn near anything you ask it to do so long as you don’t insult the Sumerians in its presence. Remember, if something you accidentally summon asks if you’re a god, always say yes.
While you wait for your dough to rise, crack an egg into the leftover fig saturated wine juices. Toss in a pinch of salt. Do you know what time it is? Seriously, why do you ever put away your whisk. You should just wear it on your Bat-Belt alongside that one knife that’s always sharp and your emergency box of saffron in case of time travel emergencies (Protip: It spends like gold across a 2500 year stretch but is nowhere near as conspicuous.)
When your dough has inflated like the avatar of Zuul, anoint the top with your drunken figgy egg glaze. Use it all. Yes, really.
Bake whole loaves at 350F for 15 minutes. You want the top crust to crisp up without all that sugar burning, so tent some aluminum foil over the whole pan for the next 30-40 minutes. You’ll know the bread is done when you can knock (on the crust) four times, all of which sound as hollow as The Master’s hearts.
For rolls or edible weaponry, crank the heat up to 400F and bake them for 15-18 minutes, or until they turn a rich golden brown.
You can burn swaths of skin off the inside of your cheeks by shoving whole rolls into your mouth fresh from the oven for all I care, but if you went to the trouble of baking a loaf, let it rest in the pan for at least 15-20 minutes before serving. You’ll want to loosen the sides with a thin silicone spatula as soon as it comes out of the oven then again right before you dump it out of the pan.
This bread is divine on baking day. I slather mine with home made ginger-honey-butter, because of course I do. It’s also really good with Trader Joe’s Fig Butter or, honestly, whatever random glass jars of fruit flavored sugars in a pectin suspension you have lurking in the back of your fridge.
Toasting it on the second day will make you weep with joy from the simple pleasure of being alive during an era when this is a thing that could happen in your mouth. Alton Brown does a good job explaining the science of how toasting changes the flavor of bread. I’m a historian, though, and I’m here to tell you as little as 150 years ago, toasting bread was a tremendous pain in the ass that sometimes actually resulted in house fires and/or death. People did it anyway, because toasting the right bread is worth a little mortal danger.
If you happen to have any left at the end of two days, put parchment paper between the slices (so you can pull out one at a time as needed) and stuff it in a plastic bag, then use a straw to suck as much air as you can from the bag. You can freeze bread for up to 3 months.
If a loaf of bread that actually looks like something you could buy in a store bores you, don’t worry. The nerd-tastic Geek Breads will be here in February 2016 to transform all your dough into more than meets the eye.