Fig, cinnamon and apricot whole grain loaf

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“There is no science without fancy, and no art without facts.”

I’ve lately been fascinated by the whole idea of intellectual promiscuity. I came across it on this Brainpickings article the other day and was intrigued by the term, which basically means not to limit oneself to one academic field, and instead embrace both science and the arts, something I fully agree with after my own educational experience. Two fields which complement and enhance each’s developmental stages, instead of diminishing the importance of one or the other in any way. I’m still young and have much to learn about the world, but the paradox of finding creative genius outside of these constructed stereotypes (just think of Da Vinci– horses and formulas and planes galore!) is something to appreciate.

It’s been rather a long time since I made a loaf. It’s usually something simple and easy to put together like banana bread or a moist orange cake I made at the end of last year. All bing bam boom and poof!, it’s done in the oven within the same hour. However, a few days ago, I thought it would be lovely to indulge in the old-fashioned labour of kneading, of being a little more physical with the ingredients, bestowing them with more TLC if you know what I mean, instead of taking embarrassing shortcuts. I just wanted it to be me, some flour, these hands, and the oven. I came across a gorgeous recipe for cinnamon swirl bread on the Smitten Kitchen blog, run by the most hilarious and passionate lady ever. It was the original inspiration for this recipe, so check it out if you can. After fiddling about with the ingredients and measurements, I came up with my own version. What I love about her method is the kneading-then-wait-then-knead-again method, which sounds horribly tiresome and unnecessary now, but it really helps in developing the gluten, chew and resulting flavour of a good, well-risen loaf.

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I was a little hesitant to add figs, but no regrets existed when they turned into the sweetest pockets of thick goo strewn throughout the cooked loaf. The bread itself is sweet and hearty with the benevolent addition of whole grains, cinnamon and figs, so it’s wonderful toasted on its own, or topped with good salty butter and a selfish drizzle of honey. It’s my favourite way to have it. It tastes almost nutty, since I use ground flax and whole wheat flour (which, by the way, can be exchanged for your classic all-purpose, promise!). The best part without a doubt is the outrageously crackly, hard crust, best relished with even more butter and honey on the side. Thinner and slightly drier than what you would get from a banana bread loaf. It’s what I’ve been looking forward to every morning the past few mornings, if I’m being completely honest. I mean my mind is always filled with thoughts other than food (believe me), but some things are annoyingly irresistible, cutting off sense and sensibility, and this is one of them.

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Fig, cinnamon and apricot whole grain loaf (makes 1 standard 9×5-inch loaf)

For the loaf:

320g whole wheat flour (or a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose)

80g whole grains– I used 15g of ground flaxseed and 65g rolled oats. If you wish, use 80g of either, or try experimenting with oats ground in your food processor.

7g instant yeast

1tsp (7g) fine salt

25g brown sugar

1 egg, beaten

40g unsalted butter, melted in the microwave (use 20-second bursts)

150ml tepid water

150ml milk, microwaved for a while so it’s not fridge-cold

extra flour for dusting work surface

For the filling:

50g white caster sugar

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

half a cup of chopped figs and dried apricots (you can use anything really. If you have nuts/ dried cranberries/ raisins/ currants, then go for it). It should all amount to around 65g.

one large egg, beaten with a splash of water

In a large mixing bowl, combine the water, milk and sugar, then whisk in yeast. Add the egg and butter, and whisk again. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, oats, flax and salt. Using a large wooden spoon, stir for around a minute. The mix will immediately turn darker but will retain a coarse texture. Let the mix rest for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, mix a little more with the spoon. Just briefly. The dough should look supple, and less ragged. If it’s still obviously wet, add a tablespoon more of flour. Mix more for 3-4 minutes.. and this is where it gets tricky. The gluten really starts to develop here, making the mix more robust and less malleable. 3-4 minutes doesn’t sound long, but the time does get to you when you’re constantly trying to churn power from your two poor biceps. Power through!

Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead a few more times, just twice or thrice, before forming into a ball and placing into your mix bowl. Place a damp towel on top and let rest for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove the towel, dough and use your wooden spoon to work the dough again briefly, and leave to rest and cover again for 10 minutes. ‘Kneading’ this way avoids some between-the-fingers mess, and keeps the dough in the bowl. Is that lazy? Ha. Repeat the knead-and-cover process just one more time.

To proof, transfer the dough into a clean and lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a damp towel again and let this proof for an hour. If you’re pressed for time, you can leave the dough in the fridge overnight! If you do it this way, make sure to remove the dough 2 hours before you start working with it again. During the hour or after taking out your chilled dough, mix your filling ingredients– cinnamon, sugar, figs and apricots. After an hour, check to see if it has doubled. If it does not look quite as voluminous, leave in the bowl for another 10 minutes.

Dust your work surface and turn out the bread. Press the dough into 10×5-inch rectangle, then brush the dough with the egg and water mixture. Sprinkle on the filling, then roll from the shorter edge. Nothing careful or meticulous here. I didn’t create a swirl like Smitten Kitchen’s version, however the rolling does make sure that the filling is nicely distributed throughout the body. Press the edges closed, then gently place the loaf (I needed spatulas to help me!) in a lightly greased loaf pan.

Now for the second proof: Cover the loaf pan with a damp towel and let rise for 30-45 minutes. Whilst waiting, preheat your oven to 177C/ 350F. Bake the loaf for 40-45 minutes. Mine took 40 minutes and came out a lovely golden colour.

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