Baking yeasted bread is easy, but it can be one of the most intimidating things to tackle if you've never done it. My first time, I almost convinced myself I couldn't do it at all.
I was in culinary school, in my early 50's, struggling to keep up with all the much younger students in my class. I shoved baggy sleeves of an ill-fitting chef's jacket up past my elbows, only to have them immediately slump back down over my knuckles, as I re-read for what felt like the 11th time, the damn whole-wheat bread recipe I'd been assigned by Chef.
Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, little blonde and brunette pony-tailed whirlwinds rushed around me to pull out the last of the scales, bowls, and measuring cups, seeming to know exactly what to do, while they chattered across their work areas about boyfriends, the latest bars, and parties. Feeling awkward and about 90 years old, my anxiety tasted the beginnings of tears, and I slipped out the back, and into the sole, tiny bathroom to find a moment of quiet so I could focus.
When I (finally) returned to my work station, I was (of course) waaaay behind. But I finally had a semblance of order in my mind. I found some scales, weighed out the flour, added yeast, tested the water temperature, and began the timeless meditation of kneading. My shoulders relaxed as I found a rhythm, and I watched my lump of paste transform into a springy, smooth globe of dough. Chef stopped by and tested it with a discriminating finger and pronounced it 'very good'.
I tucked that little globe gently into a bowl for a nap.
I punched it down, folded it over to create structure, and tucked it back in.
It bravely rose again.
I scored it, found a free oven, and slid the creased dough onto a searing hot pizza stone with a few quick sprays of cold water for luck. I crossed my fingers...there was nothing more I could do. Surely mothers sending their children to college must feel this way, I thought.
HUGE relief as I slid it from the oven a short time later and onto a cooling rack. It was a beautiful, deep golden brown.
Not able to wait, I tore off a hunk - the moment of truth for bread bakers the world over - and I checked out the crust and crumb, slathered on a little butter, and took my first bite.
I decided right then and there that I adored baking bread. For the next several months, I baked bread every week, experimenting with herbs and sour dough starters, before moving onto sweet yeasted breads. I gave serious consideration to apprenticing in a bakery, but couldn't face having to get up so early, and looked at classes at the San Francisco Baking Institute. Ultimately I settled for nurturing my love for baking fresh bread in my own kitchen.
The point of this tale? Whatever your fears, make up your mind to bake your own bread some day. It looks like a lot of steps, but really, most of the time is spent just waiting while it rests. Your work is actually minimal -- a nice long massage (which can also be done by a dough hook), a little folding, and a quick score at the end with a razor blade. Once you taste bread fresh from the oven, you'll be spoiled forever.
Serve it with this fig and apple jam or spiced fig jam.
If you're new to baking bread, another easy bread to make that required little shaping is this whole wheat bread with fennel seeds.
Fig and Anise Bread
- 15.75 ounces bread flour 3 ½ cups
- 1 ¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 ½ cups warm water 105˚-110˚F
- 2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon ground anise or 1 tablespoon anise seed
- 1 cup sliced dried figs I use Calimyrna, but Black Mission will work too
- Olive oil
- Combine the bread flour, yeast, honey, and warm water in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a bread hook. Mix on low for one minute and move up to the third speed for another minute. Add the salt and anise, and mix vigorously for 10 minutes on at least the 5th speed.
- The dough should be soft, smooth, and pliable when pressed by your finger. Add the figs at a low speed to disperse them through the dough.
- Place the dough in a clean, large bowl that's very lightly oiled. Cover with plastic and place in a draft-free, warm place in the kitchen, and let the dough rest for 3 - 4 hours while it gently rises to double it's volume.
- Punch it down and fold it over itself, recover with plastic, and slide it into the refrigerator overnight.
- The following morning, remove from the refrigerator - it should be all puffed up again. Preheat the oven to 450˚F with a baking stone on the bottom rack. Place the dough on a flat baking sheet lined with parchment paper and shape into an oval loaf, lightly flour, and cover with plastic wrap. Bring to room temperature.
- Score the top of the loaf 2 - 3 times with a razor blade, and lightly spray with water. Slide the dough onto the pizza stone (or just slide the entire baking sheet onto the pizza stone). Spray the insides of the hot oven with cold water to create steam. Steam is what helps to create a crusty surface on the bread.
- Bake for 25 minutes, or until the bread's internal temperature measures 200˚F. Place on a cooling rack and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing.
Choc Chip Uru
This bread looks absolutely delicious, I want to butter some right now 😀
Choc Chip Uru
Looks soooo yummy, I have to make one very soon..
I love biting into bits of dried fruit in my breads and your loaf is right up my alley! Perfect addition to our progressive dinner---I sure wish we were gathering in person so I could have a slice (or two!!!).
My place to go cry was the walk-in. I know how you felt, Susan! You nailed this bread, truly. It is just gorgeous! I've been waiting to see it since you told us what you were making. It does not disappoint! xo
I adore both anise and figs, so this bread holds my attention from the get-go. But it's really your story that has me hanging with you. I could feel your pain as you tried to compose yourself during your breadbaking "bootcamp" and the huge heart-bursting-through-your-chest moment when you tore off a piece of the bread to taste. I felt your victory and could savor the moment and the taste with you. Bravo Susan!
You are so brave to have tackled culinary school, a lost dream of mine - and your bread is lovely!
Jeanette | Jeanette's Healthy Living
I love the sound of fig and anise combined in this beautiful loaf. I've never tried that together before. What a wonderful addition to our French menu this month!
The sight of a beautifully rising dough, the gorgeous browned bread and the aromas from the kitchen - Oh it always makes me happy no matter what! Love this fig and anise bread combo.
Jane, The Heritage Cook
I have been waiting to see this bread since you started talking about it. What a gorgeous loaf Susan, full of beautiful flavors and no doubt the perfect crumb. I am in awe that you went to school so late and had the strength to survive. I am not that brave, no matter how much I want to follow that path! Brava Susan!!
Have not made bread for a while but your post inspired me to bring out my machine and dough hook, yes, I use the dough hook. Have used other dried fruits but not figs, great idea, thanks.
Yum ... this looks delicious! With the anise, I'm guessing that it has a panettone quality. To make it vegan, do you think using agave syrup instead of the honey would work? Thanks so much for the recipe ... I can't wait to try it!
The Wimpy Vegetarian
Thanks much, Cyndi! Agave would definitely work as a substitute. I'd love to hear how it goes for you if you make it!
My mother used to make homemade yeast bread and I just loved making them with her. The whole process is so rewarding. My two favorite parts - kneading and eating that first slice of warm bread. Fig and Anise sounds like a loaf of bread that needs to come from my oven. I can smell it baking just looking at the recipe and your mouthwatering pictures.
The Wimpy Vegetarian
Thanks so much MJ! There is NOTHING like that first piece of bread, still warm and soft. I totally agree 🙂
Great story, Susan, and you are right, there is NOTHING like baking your own bread to make you feel like you can conquer anything.
The Wimpy Vegetarian
Thanks so much Steve! And I love how the house smells too 🙂
I have to make this. I love the idea of figs and anise. I bet it would make great French toast!
The Wimpy Vegetarian
OMG yes, Kathy! I have to make this again now just so I can make French toast with it!!!!
Such a interesting combination, will give it a try!
Joy @ Joy Love Food
I love baking yeast breads, I need to do it more often, your version with the anise and fig sounds wonderful!
Katie @ Recipe for Perfection
I do love baking bread, I'm just not good at practicing regularly- so I haven't gotten very good at it yet! I like the fig idea.
Alyssa @ Simply Quinoa
This bread looks delicious! I love the overnight version, but it's the flavors that are really exciting my tastebuds 🙂
Sabrina @ Dinner, then Dessert
I grew up eating figs right off my grandparent's tree, I would love this bread!
Mary @ Fit and Fed
I love your story about baking school-- I felt the same way when I went back to school about five years ago to get a certificate. I was petrified to be a student again, but once I got rolling with it it was a good experience. As far as the bread, I love the texture (and sweetness) of figs in bread, and I'm also a fan of the refrigerator rise method. The long rise adds such depth of flavor, and it's also so convenient to throw the dough into the fridge to slow it down and make the bread later when I have time for it.
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Thank you so much for this recipe! I was searching for a good yeasted bread with figs recipe when I stumbled upon your blog. The bread is delicious! Great crust and flavor. Looking forward to reading more of your blog 🙂
Thank you very much
I made this bread and made French toast with it it was so totally awesome. My question is about baking time. Recipe says 25 minutes or internal temperature of 200 degrees. It took 45 minutes to reach 200. Is that normal or is it because I baked 2loaves.