Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Fig and Saffron bread

Yeast baking is something I struggle with. On the few occasions when I have tried it I tend to end up with something overblown and blowsy, with all of the integrity of those soft white floured baps bought in the supermarket. Whether my problem is the flour or the time I'm leaving it to rise for I don't know, but I've effectively given up. I don't have much patience for slaving over things which turn out substandard, when I can go and buy the lovely sourdough at my local deli. But for all that there is something to aspire to in bread baking, it seems the pinnacle of homely comfort and conjugal bliss. Not for nothing are those selling homes instructed to have their loves baking in the aga. Bread baking seems to me though to go rather against the grain: it seems designed to be baked in quantity, and with a frequency that the home cook cannot compete with. It baffles me why we don't have the sort of tradition that the french do, of having very good bakers, and going to them prior to every meal. Of course for a long time it was pretty much impossible to buy good bread in britain, and even now your average shop only sells the cotton wool variety, so perhaps this is what turned us into a nation of would-be bakers. Or perhaps it is the aga, and the long cold dark days which makes a loaf emerging out the oven such an integral part of the british home ideal. Whatever it is, its definatly there, this deep yeasty ideal.

While I simply can't be bothered to bake bread when I can buy better, I did discover in one of my fathers old books a lovely Polish recipe for an enriched fruit bread made from a yeast dough with butter, milk, egg yolks, saffron, brandy and dried fruits added. It is a kind of Baba, and is traditional at easter, a sort of carbohydrate and cholesterol blow-out after the trials of lent. Instead of currents and citrus peel I've complimented the saffron with dried baby figs and fresh orange zest. The quantities in the recipe would have fed all my extended family and friends, so I've scaled it down a bit, although I've also made it slightly richer than the origional version.

500g white bread flour
300ml of warm milk
1 packet of instant yeast (I cheated)
70g of butter
2 egg yolks
1 cup of dried figs
1 large pinch of saffron
1 pinch of salt
zest of and juice of an orange
1/2 cup of crysalised peel
1/2 cup of raisins

Sift the flour with the yeast and add the dried fruits. Leave the saffron to soak in the milk , then stir into the flour, add the orange juice and zest and kneed for 10 minutes. Kneed in the egg yolks one at a time. One you have a good pliable consistency to the dough, shape it into a rectangle. Melt the butter and brush onto the top of the dough, then fold the dough over itself into thirds. Repeat with the remaining butter. Leave the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled in size and then bake at 200 oc until done. It should sound hollow when tapped. Leave to cool slightly, then serve warm with butter.

This is my entry for this month's Waiter, there's something in my...bread


Andrew said...

Very atmospheric photos thanks for taking part in Waiter

Helene said...

That indeed looks inviting. Nver thought of dried figs, see if I can get some.