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Photo by: Gentl & Hyers/Edge
My husband, Elliott, and I celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary with a long-awaited trip to New Zealand. We loved the country and adored the people, but it would have been worth the trip just for this amazing bread by Dean Brettschneider, a professional baker. The recipe has since appeared in a book he wrote with our mutual friend Lauraine Jacobs, former president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. This stunning bread is encrusted with sliced almonds and gilded with an apricot glaze. The crumb is dense and studded with chopped almond and dried figs, with one whole fig implanted right in the center, which, when cut, resembles a heart.
The bread is delicious without further adornment, but it is also perfect with a blue cheese. My favorites are mild Cambozola blue and Saga blue.
Oven Temperature: 425°F, then 375°F (if using La Cloche, 450°F, then 400°F)
1. 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.
2. 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.)
3. Mix the dough.
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.
Add the oil and salt and, with a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until the flour is moistened. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together, then scrape it onto a lightly floured counter. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, enough to develop the gluten structure a little, adding as little of the reserved ¼ cup of flour as possible to keep it from sticking. use a bench scraper to scrape the dough and gather it together as you knead it. At this point, it will be very sticky. Cover it with the inverted bowl and allow it to rest for 20 minutes. (This resting time will make the dough less sticky and easier to work with.)
Knead the dough for another 5 minutes or until it is very smooth and elastic. It should still be moist enough to cling slightly to your fingers. If it is very sticky, add some of the remaining reserved flour, or a little extra. (The dough will weigh about 17 ounces/490 grams.) Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes.
Roll the dough into a rectangle about 9 inches by 14 inches, and sprinkle with the 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.
4. 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 ½ 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.
5. 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. Firmly push the whole fig, pointed end down, into the center so that it is submerged as deeply as possible into the dough. The loaf will measure 5 inches by 1 ½ -inches high.
Place it on the baking sheet or the La Cloche base. 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.
6. Preheat the oven. Preheat the oven to 425°F, or 450°F if using La Cloche, 1 hour before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place an oven stone or baking sheet on before preheating. If using La Cloche, preheat the dome along with the oven.
7. Bake the bread. If using La Cloche, carefully place the hot dome onto the base and quickly but gently set it on the hot stone or hot baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Lower the temperature to 400°F and continue baking for 30 to 35 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center will read about 190°F).
Alternatively, 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.
8. 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.
9. Cool the bread. Remove the bread from the oven and transfer it to a wire rack to cool completely.
Ultimate Full Flavor Variation:
For the best flavor development, in Step 2, allow the sponge to ferment for 1 hour at room temperature, then refrigerate it for 8 to 24 hours. If using the hand mixing method, remove it from the refrigerator about 1 hour before mixing the dough.
Dough Starter (Sponge): minimum 1 hour, maximum 24 hours
Minimum Rising Time: about 3 ½ hours
Baking Time: 40 to 45 minutes
Pointers for Success:
Unbleached all-purpose flour could be used for this bread, but I prefer bread flour, which produces a crumb with a chewier texture, more compatible with the texture of the figs and nuts.
Slivered almonds are thicker than sliced almonds and when chopped offer a coarser texture to the crumb. They are easier to chop than whole almonds, which also work well. If unblanched, meaning the nuts still have their brown skin, they add a little more flavor. Sliced almonds make the most beautiful decoration for outside of the loaf.
The Dough Percentage:
Flour: 100% bread
Nutrients per serving (% daily value)