A Festive Bread
Usually when I look for a little indulging treat, I go for something sweet. But sometimes, I get this really intense craving for fine cheese: Brie to Vacherin, Fontina to Beaufort, the stronger, the better. I like to pair my cheese with fruit: apples, pears, dried apricots or grapes.
For quite a while, I had been searching for a nice bread to go with cheese, but somehow I always ended up slicing a baguette and uaing that for my platter. Since I really wanted to make something a bit more special, I started researching bread recipes. I don’t make a lot of bread, so I’m really not an expert. I remembered this blue cheese and fig cake I once had at a friend’s dinner party. With that in mind, I set out to make a fig and walnut bread to go with the Roquefort that was waiting for me in the fridge.
This bread is not only amazingly good, but it looks beautiful and it’s the kind of razzle-dazzle element that will get you easily through your holiday entertaining. It pairs really nice with both hard and soft cheese or even with prosciutto crudo, if you’re a meat lover.
This recipe yields two loaves, which is enough to serve alongside two big cheese platters, with fruit and a nice wine. I would recommend a bottle of Merlot?, Roquefort and Brie (the more intense the better), they really bring out the sweetness of this bread.
Fig & Walnut Bread
By way of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
850g/30oz strong bread flour, plus extra for dusting
7g/2.5 tsp sachet dry active yeast
2-3 tsp fine-ground salt
450ml/2 cups whole milk
100ml/1/2 cups water
60g/1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 Tbsp honey
150g dried figs, soaked overnight in enough hot chamomile tea to cover, then drained and roughly chopped
150g walnuts, roughly chopped
In a large, warmed mixing bowl, combine the flour, yeast and salt. In a saucepan, slightly heat the milk, water, butter and honey, allowing the butter to melt, then add to the bowl. Mix with one hand to form a rough dough, then turn out on to a work surface and knead until soft, velvety and elastic, about 10 minutes. Shape into a tight ball, coat lightly with flour all over and place in a bowl. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour or so until doubled in size.
Turn the risen dough out on to a floured surface and press it gently into a rectangle. Combine the figs and walnuts in a bowl, scatter over the dough and roll up. Knead until thoroughly mixed and divide in two. On a lightly floured surface, shape each half into a ball, press into a flat disc, and roll up tightly to make a nice, even loaf shape. Smooth the ends under tightly, dust all over with flour, then leave to rise again, covered, on a floured tea towel or wooden board until almost doubled in size.
While the dough is rising, turn the oven to its highest setting. Put in a large baking tray to heat up, and put a roasting tin on the oven floor. Boil some water. When your loaves are risen, remove the tray from the oven, put the loaves on it, cut three parallel slashes into the top of each loaf and return to the oven. Pour the boiling water into the roasting tin and quickly close the door. After 10 minutes, turn down the heat to 190C/375F and bake for a further 20-30 minutes, until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the base. Leave on a rack to cool completely before slicing.
Adapted from here