Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring cleaning bread

Spring is officially on even though right now it is snowing lightly where I live. But I am in the mood for warmer breezes and daffodils and in the hope of accelerating the arrival of the new season, I decided to do some cleaning. I started with the cupboard where I keep my stock of dry fruit, which is how I discovered that some of my figs had a decidedly dryer look than when I first bought them.
It so happened that I had just seen a recipe which called for soaking some figs, currants, apricots and prunes in Home Baking, by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, a book I bought long ago on e-bay but never baked from before. As you may have guessed, my spring cleaning stopped right there for the day!
The recipe is called "fruit & nut powerpack" but I changed it to spring cleaning because I need energy and motivation to go on with the process of ridding the house of the last remnants of winter and what better way to get motivated than to remind myself that I didn't bake all these calories into a loaf just to sit at my computer and eat.
It should also be said that the recipe makes for 2 loaves and that I gave one of them to my daughter whose kids tore it apart and devoured it with even more determination than usual.
My 4-year old granddaughter declared it very yummy with peanut butter when she had her midday meal/afternoon snack on the way back from the aquarium and the 2-year twins kept up an extremely lively bad monster game before they went to sleep last night, which means the energy part works! Maybe my daughter is sorry I didn't take up wonderbread baking instead of artisan baking as I heard the twins laugh and chatter in their cribs for quite a while last night (I was over for dinner) while I was helping their 15-year old sister with the formatting of her research paper. Why did Microsoft change the layout of all the commands in Word 2007 is truly beyond me. We had to poke our way through the various menus to find what we needed. Indenting is easier than before but we never found the way to skip page numbering on the first page. Oh, well! The bread did help though because between the two of us, we found all the other answers.
Anyway this is a bread that almost wasn't because I made a serious mistake while mixing the dough. The recipe calls for active dry yeast and that's what I had used when mixing the sponge the day before. However, on the day of the baking, I was listening to Will in the World, a truly fascinating account by Stephen Greenblatt of how Shakespeare became Shakespeare. I have borrowed the book on cds from my local library and was totally engrossed in the narrative.
I should know better than multitask while baking and also, true to what I learned at the San Francisco Baking Institute, I should have scaled all the ingredients before starting with the mixing instead of doing it on the go. Anyway what I did was to reach for the instant yeast instead of the active dry one and I weighed it straight into the sponge!
I realized my mistake as soon as it happened but it was too late. I had no idea of how the bread would come out because a) I used the same quantity of instant yeast as I would have of active dry yeast when you are supposed to use way less; b) since it was already late, I had planned for a long fermentation overnight in the fridge which requires less yeast, not more, if you want the micro-organisms to still have something to feast upon in the morning when you put the bread in the oven.
Oh, well! It was too late to do anything about it. Let me tell you though that I never saw a dough grow as fast or as plump as this one on the first rise. It was trying to fly out of the dough bucket like a hot air balloon. Fortunately the lid held fast and it didn't happen. Since I had barely developed the dough to the point where I could get a gluten window, I did two folds during the first fermentation which lasted about 2 1/2 hours.
Then I did the pre-shaping and the shaping and stuck the whole thing in the fridge. I was half expecting to find two exhausted looking deflated loaves in the morning but that's not what happened. Which shows that when bakers make mistakes, they should remain hopeful...


  • 375 to 500 g all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 240 g whole wheat flour
  • 60 g buckwheat flour
  • 474 g lukewarm water
  • 237 g very hot water 5 g active-dry yeast (as explained above, by mistake I used 1 g of active-dry and 4 g of instant yeast)
  • 15 g of salt (the authors actually call for 12 grams but I like to use about 2% of the total flour weight)
  • 75 g chopped figs
  • 72 g chopped currants
  • 65 g coarsely chopped dried apricots
  • 66 g coarsely chopped pitted prunes
  • 67 g hazelnuts
  • 20 g liquid honey (about half of what the authors use, which is 42 g)

  1. Eight to 24 hours before you wish to bake, place the lukewarm water in a bowl and stir in 1 g (1/4 of a teaspoon) of active dry yeast then add the whole wheat flour, always stirring in the same direction until a smooth batter forms. Set aside, covered with plastic wrap to ferment overnight or as long as 24 hours (the authors recommend placing the bowl in the fridge if you have to leave the sponge to ferment for longer than 24 hours and not to go beyond 36 hours)
  2. Meanwhile place the figs, currants, apricots and prunes in a bowl and pour over the hot water. Stir well, cover and soak overnight (or at least 5 hours at room temperature)
  3. Before making the dough, toast the hazelnuts. To do that, I put them in a 375 F/191 C oven (a toaster oven would be better if you have one) in a foil pan for about 10 minutes (or until fragrant). Then I transfer them to a kitchen towel which I fold over and rub between my hand to get the skins off (it is okay if some stays on).
  4. Chop by hand or in a food processor. Set aside
  5. Drain the fruit in a sieve over a bowl, using a wooden spoon to press on the fruit to push out all the liquid. Reserve the soaking liquid. Place the fruit in a large bowl and stir in the hazelnuts
  6. Add the reserved soaking liquid to the sponge. Sprinkle on the remaining 4 grams of yeast and stir in (that's what I made the non-fatal mistake referred to above)
  7. Add 62 g of the all-purpose flour and stir in
  8. Pour in the honey and sprinke on the salt. Stir again
  9. Add the buckwheat flour and stir
  10. Then add 185 to 250 g of the all-purpose flour, 60 g at a time, turning and stirring to mix
  11. Turn the dough out on a work surface floured with another 62 to 125 g of the all-purpose flour (don't forget to do that as the dough is extremely sticky at this point)
  12. Knead well, incorporating more of the flour as needed. When I stopped kneading, I had a faint gluten window
  13. Let rest for 20 minutes on the counter, covered with plastic
  14. Transfer the dough to a clean bowl. Mix 62 g of the all-purpose flour into the drained fruit and nuts, then add the whole mixture to the dough. Knead in the bowl or on the work surface for 5 minutes or more to incorporate the fruit mixture. If the dough is very sticky, add a little more flour (I had to add 20 g altogether)
  15. Place the dough in a clean bowl (I put it in my dough bucket) and let rise for 3 hours or almost doubled in volume (I actually let it rise for less as indicated above and did 2 folds during the first fermentation. )
  16. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut it half
  17. Pre-shape each loaf into a boule and let stand, loosely covered for about 20 minutes
  18. Meanwhile prepare a baking sheet which you will cover with parchment paper. Sprinkle the paper with semolina
  19. Shape the dough into boules, tucking the edges all around to make a smooth mound
  20. Place seam down on the baking sheet, put the baking sheet into a large clear plastic bag, blow in the bag once and close it tightly
  21. At this point, I stuck the loaves in the fridge to slow-rise overnight. If time is not an issue, you can also let them rise on the counter for 1 1/2 hour to 2 hours (or until pressing your finger into the dough leaves an indent which doesn't disappear right away)
  22. I took the loaves out of the oven and left them at room temperature for about 1 1/2 hour, at which point they appeared ready
  23. Turn on the oven on 400 F/204 C one hour into the second rise (having placed a baking stone in it with an empty metal pan on the shelf located directly under it)
  24. With scissors, cut the paper between the loaves so that each had its own little paper and they can be put further apart in the oven than if they still shared a piece of paper
  25. Sprinkle flour on the loaves and score them, then pour 1 cup of cold water in the hot metal pan (taking care to avert your face and to protect your hands) and put in the loaves in the oven one at a time
  26. Spray more water into the oven (taking care to aim away from the lamp) and close the oven door
  27. Lower the oven temperature to 375 F/191 C and open the oven after two minutes to spray water generously once more
  28. Then bake for about 50 minutes (check the color of the crust after 40 minutes and if necessary, tent the loaves with foil to continue the baking)
  29. The loaves should sound hollow when tapped at the bottom and their internal temperature (taken with an instant thermometer) should be above 204 F/96 C
  30. Let cool completely on a rack before slicing.
This bread will be submitted to Susan, from Wild Yeast, for Yeastspotting.


  1. Welcome Farine! You're extremely courageous to nourrish both a French-written blog and now this beautiful Farine in English, and we all who read blogs are extremely lucky :-)

  2. j'adore la nouvelle page,parce que je suis semi instruit dans la langue maternelle!(how bad was that translation!)


  3. Thank you, Flo, for your nice comment. Indeed it will be a challenge to feed two blogs. Let's hope I can keep it up. Meanwhile I am very happy you were my first official visitor!
    Lazy baker, you do not sound "demi-instruit" to me. I strongly suspect your French is actually very good. But I am glad you like the new page and I hope that you'll visit very often.

  4. Wow! That sounds *incredibly* time consuming!
    Very interesting, though, and lovely photos!
    Impressive blog!

  5. Hi, Al Pal! Thank you for your visit and your kind words. Bread-baking does involve a lot of small steps but somehow it isn't too bad time-wise because there are long periods during which the dough "works" by itself. So it is mostly a question of pacing yourself just right by making sure the busy time will fit into your schedule.

  6. I am so excited about your English blog! (Although I'm still going to visit Bombance too.)

    Remaining hopeful when you make a mistake is my motto. Glad to see it works for you too!

  7. If only my mistakes ended up so delicious-looking :) Great bread!

  8. Sounds like it was a hit even with the oops. It looks wonderful.

  9. This bread looks so inviting and I'm very pleased with your English blog.

    All that fruits and dried figs must make this bread very tasty especially combined with the whole wheat flour. This one will be on my to-do-list.

  10. Susan, I checked out your own "mistake" and loved it! It is totally gorgeous.
    foolishpoolish, sara and marjoke, thank you for your kind comments! Please let me know how the bread comes out if you make it.



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