Fig, Date and Hazelnut Rye Loaf

The figs and dates give the impression of a sweet loaf. This is a great bread for the weekend, but also serves well as an accompanyment to a cheeseplatter.

Ingredients:

  • 400gr strong bread flour
  • 100gr rye flour
  • 8gr dried yeast
  • 10gr salt
  • 350gr water (weigh it for accuracy)

For the filling:

  • 120gr white hazelnuts
  • 180gr dates, pitted
  • 170gr figs

Recipe:

Place the white wheat bread flour and rye flour in a large mixing bowl (preferable one which fits a lid). Add the salt on one side and the yeast on the other. Make sure that the salt and yeast do not touch, as yeast is a living organism and salt will kill it which will result in a dense loaf. Mix the yeast in with some of the flour around it to spread it out some.
Pour the water in the bowl on the salt-side of the bowl, and mix with a wooden spoon into the flour on that side before combining everything in the bowl together with the wooden spoon. Turn the bowl out over a clean working surface. Do not add flour to the surface, you actually want the dough to stick as this will develop gluten quicker. Scrape out the bowl (and your spoon) with a dough scraper (or a very firm silicone spatula if you don’t have a dough scraper, although I can advice you to get one. They are cheap and very handy, I have more than 10 myself).

Now comes the fun part. You get to play with your food! Don’t tell your mother.
It’s a sticky dough with a high water content. Most recipe books will tell you that a wet dough like this needs a freestanding mixer but I always knead this by hand. It will get less and less sticky as the gluten develop.
There are several ways to knead dough, but for such a wet dough I like to slide my fingers under the dough on both sides, lift it up from the kitchen counter, stretch it in the air and slap it back on the kitchen counter, then folding the sides (what you hold in your hands) over the middle. In the beginning the proteins in the flour have not developed any gluten yet, so your dough with easily tear. However, the more you work it, the stretchier it will become and thus easier to work with. Don’t forget to occasionally scrape the parts stuck to the work surface off and add it back to the dough. Don’t worry about being tidy or mastering the technique, focus on keeping a bit of speed in it and you too will eventually find the method that works best for you.
If you keep up a nice speed you can work the dough to a good state in about 10 minutes. It will take a bit longer the first few times. Just remember that the dough should let go easily from your hands (so your hands will be relatively clean) and then add two minutes. When you stretch the dough thinly you should be able to see thin membranes that let the light through easily. Because this is a rich dough (which means it contains added fat and sugar) the gluten will develop a bit less than a regular white bread dough, but you should still get a good membrane.

When you have kneaded the dough enough, form it into a ball with your dough scraper (it will stick less than to your hands). Scrape under the ball over the work area, and pull this part of the dough over the top of the dough. You are folding the bottom and sides over the top. This will tighten the dough and will allow for a nice, even rise.
Place the ball of dough back in the mixing bowl (if you scraped it with the dough scraper it should be clean enough, else scrape it clean now or wash it with some water without any soap). Cover the bowl and set it on a warm spot (not too warm, 30°C is a good aim, too warm and the dough will rise too fast and easily collapse, and with very high temperatures – above 65°C – you will even kill the yeast) until the dough has doubled in size. I purposely do not specify a time, as rising time depends greatly on temperature of the dough and surrounding space.

While the dough is rising you can roast the hazelnuts. Be careful because the hazelnuts brown quickly once warm, so keep an eye on them to make sure they do not burn.
Remove the pits and hard tops from the dates and cut them into strips. Cut the hard tops from the figs and cut each fig into 6 wedges.

Once your dough has risen you can knead the (cooled down) hazelnuts, figs and dates through the dough. To do this, tip the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. The oil shall prevent it from sticking without drying out the dough, which could cause the dough to rip during stretching and forming. Do not use too much oil as it will keep the loaf from forming later.
Spread the dough out, divide the filling over it, fold it back together and knead briefly to disperse the filling.
Turn the loaf over and tighten it once more by sliding your hands under it: place your right hand on the right side behind the dough, your palm upwards and your fingers away from you, and place your left hand in the same position on the left side in front of the dough. Now move your right hand to you and your left hand away, moving them under the dough. This should stretch the loaf into a tighter form. Do this a few times while moving the loaf and form it into round. Place it upside down in a floured bread proving basket or a bowl lined with floured unbleached cotton (or a tea towel).

Cover loosely with plastic and make sure the plastic does not touch the dough.
Leave the bread to rise again until doubled (bear in mind that the filling will not rise, only the dough). In the mean time heat your oven to 230°C.

Place the dough in the hot oven. Spray a bit of water over the loaf and on the bottom of the oven to create steam, which will allow your loaf to rise better. Lower the temperature to 200°C and bake the loaf 40-45min, or until a core temperature of 97°C has been achieved. Does your loaf brown too quickly, lower the temperature to 180°C.

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