Week Thirty-Eight: Spanish Breads
We end this week with a recipe that, while not strictly Spanish in origin, carries itself with a decidedly Spanish air. This is a slightly dry and firm bread, perfect for stacking with whatever delicacies you might have around. Studded indulgently and effortlessly with whole hazelnuts and quartered figs, this bread speaks to the unfussy and hospitable Spanish nature.
The use of figs gives a nod to the traditional fig cakes (pan de higo) often served as tapas, while the use of hazelnuts instead of the more expected Marcona almonds not only tastes brilliant, but also highlights Spain’s position as the world’s third-largest exporter of the nut.
The buttery crunch of the hazelnuts and the delicate pop of fig seeds bring a welcome texture to the grainy bread; it’s good enough on its own, but adds a little something special when paired with some topping. In addition to the jammy wine flavor of the figs and the earthy hazelnuts, this bread is spiked with the astringent licorice notes of fennel seeds and the bright pine of rosemary, rounding out and balancing the overall taste of each slice.
Paper-thin jamón Serrano and generous slabs of queso Manchego are both no-brainers to pair with this, as is a bottle of good Spanish wine. There are many excellent and inexpensive Spanish wines readily available these days; I particularly enjoyed the bottle of blended Cabernet Sauvignon and old-vine Garnacha that I picked up for a mere $10. The hit of plum and berry flavors matched the figs quite well, and the sturdiness of Cabernet gave it enough muscle to stand up to the salty pork I served alongside.
And so we bid Spain a fond farewell, (mostly) back on schedule with posting, and with a mind (and belly) full of new recipes to enjoy in the future. Sentimental? Sure. But if you’d have tried most of these breads, you’d be sentimental too.
Hazelnut Fig Bread
Adapted from Apple Pie, Patis, & Pâté
Makes 2 medium loaves
10½ ounces (a scant 2½ cups) whole wheat flour
10½ ounces (2¼ cups) unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
15 ounces (2 cups minus 2 tablespoons) water, at room temperature
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 teaspoons dried rosemary (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
2/3 cup whole hazelnuts, toasted, skins removed, and cooled (see note 1 below)
2/3 cup dried figs, stems removed, quartered
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together all but a handful of both flours, the salt, and the yeast. Add the water. Using the dough hook, mix until a rough dough forms, and all the flour is moistened.
2. Increase the speed to medium-low, and knead for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add the reserved flour as needed until the dough is moderately stiff and no longer sticky; it should clear the sides of the bowl.
3. Add the fennel seeds and rosemary, and knead on low speed until evenly distributed. Add the hazelnuts and figs, and mix just until integrated into the dough.
4. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead until the hazelnuts and figs are evenly incorporated, dusting with flour only as needed to prevent sticking. Transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let sit at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, about 45 to 60 minutes.
5. Remove the plastic wrap and, using a broad nonstick spatula, fold the dough over itself, as though you were folding a letter: 1/3 over the center, then the opposite 1/3 over that. Lastly, fold dough in half again, perpendicular to the first folds (like you’re folding the letter in half). The dough should end up being roughly a square.
6. Replace the plastic wrap, and let dough rise at room temperature until nearly doubled in size again, about 45 to 60 minutes more.
7. Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured work surface, and gently press to deflate. Divide the dough into two equal halves, and shape each into a round ball. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rest 10 minutes. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line with parchment.
8. Shape each piece of dough into an oval loaf by lightly pulling the outside around into the center of the dough, forming a tight skin around the loaf. Some figs or hazelnuts may poke through. Transfer each loaf to the prepared baking sheet, seam side down. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let sit at room temperature for 45 to 60 minutes, or until doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 475º F.
9. Using a sharp serrated knife, and as little pressure as possible, make a decisive slash lengthwise along the top of each loaf. Spray or sprinkle dough with water, and transfer to the oven. Bake at 475º F for 10 minutes, opening the door to spray with water every 2 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 425º F, and continue to bake for about 30 minutes more, or until deep golden brown, and a thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 200º F (being careful not to insert the thermometer into a fig). Remove loaves to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.
1. To toast and skin raw hazelnuts, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast at 350º F, shaking or stirring every 5 minutes, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until fragrant and golden. Do not let burn or over-brown. When slightly cooled, rub between hands to remove the skins, which should slip off easily. Those that don’t are okay to leave on.