Fig Bread: Inspiration to Execution

Posted: under Baking bread, Cooking with children, Travel.
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Market Day

Travel to a foreign country is often enhanced by a visit to the local market day.  It can be a feast for the senses and a real education to mingle with the locals and observe where they shop.  On a visit to Provence, France, my husband and I saw the quaint village of Saint Remy-de-Provence transformed on market day.

 

 

 

 

Saint Remy-de-Provence

Happy shoppers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a pleasure to see the fine, fresh foods available from the local farmers.

Currants

Fresh cheeses

Olives of every kind

Handmade sausages

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we prepared for our afternoon hike, we were most interested in the fresh bread.  There were many familiar loaves and baquettes available, but we were interested in the whole grain breads.  The loaves were enormous. They were not purchased by the loaf, but instead chunks of the bread were purchased by  weight.

Bread for sale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How would we ever select between so many delectable varieties?  My husband, who has an incurable sweet tooth, wanted fig bread.  Now apart from chocolate, I am rarely tempted by sweets.  I wanted olive bread.  It was the old  sweet relish vs. dill relish conflict that plagues our refrigerator.   So we compromised and bought both,  a chunk of fig bread and a chunk of olive bread.  We added to that a couple of rounds of fresh goat cheese, some locally made tapenades, and we were set  for lunch.

My husband declared that the fig bread was one of the most delicious things he had ever eaten.  What does that mean to me?  It means a personal challenge to recreate and surpass that fig bread.  Add to that challenge the fact that he keeps bringing home containers of figs from the grocery store and reminiscing about “that wonderful fig bread we had in Provence”.

Now it’s not like I have a lot of time to spend experiment with bread recipes, so I enlisted the help of my seven-year-old son and (dare I say it) the bread machine.  I know how to bake bread.  I know how to capture wild yeast from the air and transform it into an awesome loaf of sourdough bread. But now is not the time. And besides, I believe my son has the potential to become an excellent baker.  He is good at math, follows instructions well, and has an extra dose of sensibility. And he’s the only child who ever remembers to wash his hands.

Fig Bread alá Provence

(reinterpretation of a raisin bread recipe)

2 cups bread flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup wheat germ

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 Tablespoons butter

1 cup finely chopped figs

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 package instant yeast

1 1/2 cups warm water

Baker in training

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At this point we put our ingredients in the bread machine, set it to “Quick Bake”, and enjoyed hot, delicious fig bread in less than two hours!  But for you purists, I shall add baking directions.

1.  Mix ingredients in a large bowl.  Cover with a towel and allow mixture to rest for 10 minutes. (Called “autolyse”, this method allows the flour to hydrate and makes the dough easier to handle.)

2. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes.  The dough should become pliable and elastic.  Resist the urge to incorporate a lot more flour.  It will make the dough stiff and the bread tough.

3.  Cover with a towel or large overturned bowl and allow to rise until it has doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

4. Punch the dough down.  Shape it into two loaves, and place in two 8×4 inch loaf pans.  Cover with a towel and allow to rise, about 45 minutes.

5.  Bake in an oven that has been preheated to 350 degrees for 40- 45 minutes. (How do you know it is done?  Measure internal temperature with cooking thermometer.  It should be between 195 – 205 degrees.)

6.  Allow to cool at least a little bit before slicing, or you will flatten the moist bread.

A note about ingredients:  I only use King Arthur flour.  I used KA Bread Flour and KA White Whole Wheat Flour.  If there is a better flour available to the home baker, I have never seen it!  I like to use white whole wheat.  It lacks the tannins that can make red wheat unpalatably bitter, and it creates a delicate loaf.  You may omit the butter, but it creates a softer crumb.

I would show you a picture of our fig bread, but we ate all of it.

Nothing left but the mess

Comments (1) May 05 2011

Poppies in Provence

Posted: under Travel.
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Poppy fields near Ochre Quarry

The older I get the more I realize that is it unusual for a day to unfold the way you expect.  It doesn’t matter how many lists you make, appointments you schedule, tasks you delegate.  The expecatations you had when you awoke will likely be confounded.  This can be a great temptation for anger, self-pity, or  frustration. But sometimes the unexpected can bring amazing experiences – and I am not just talking about opportunities for practicing patience or other forms of character development.  Sometimes the unexpected leads to adventure.

On the occasion of our twentieth wedding anniversary, my husband and I traveled to Provence, France. Because we had our ten-week-old daughter, our ninth child, in tow, we chose to spend our week exploring the countryside hiking, with her in a backpack.   On a fine, sunny day we set out to explore the ochre quarries near Roussillon.  Our guide book, which had proved trustworthy thus far, seemed suddenly vague.  At a junction we were to take the right path, which descends steeply, follows a ridge, passes through woods, till we can look down into the quarries.  We could not find this junction.  At last we found a path, which descended gently.  We followed a ridge and there we saw one of the most spectacular sights my eyes have seen-  acres and acres of wheat fields covered in poppies!  “Breathtaking” is an understatement!  We walked on, expecting at any time to enter woods that would lead us back to our quarry.  At long last, we knew we were lost.  Well, not really lost, but diverted.  Time for a picnic!  We pulled from our packs hunks of fig bread and olive bread, and a sampler pack of locally made tapenades.  There is no food quite so delicious as food eaten when you are truly hungry!  We traced our path back uphill.   We searched hard for our path.  We had to decide where it ought to be.  It was little more than a goat path, well obscured by brush.  But it did descend sharply, along a ridge, through the woods, to the quarries.

 

view of the ochre quarry

 

Red ochre

Checking the guidebook

Ultimately we walked many miles out of our way.  Many.   Like maybe five.  However I would not trade that experience for a perfect hike.  I find myself often reflecting on that hike.  I comfort myself on days when the unexpected happens, which is almost every day, with the memory that sometimes the unexpected can lead to something wonderful, like a field of poppies.

 

A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.  NKJV Proverbs 16:9


Comments (4) May 01 2011