Comfort food – Fig & Anise levain + Meringues
Each day I try and find some time to write. It’s a habit I started years ago. And although I am sometimes shuffled along in life, and occasionally forget my place, it's a practice I always return to. It is not so much a diary, more like a snapshot in time and atop of every page I start with a grateful list for that particular moment in time.
So here goes for today:
I am grateful for the phone call from Dennis
I am grateful for a hot coffee next to me
I am grateful for my day off spent with Nat
I am grateful for an amazing find at an antique shop and the idea it spawned for another blog post
I am grateful for the new Grizzly Bear CD
Some of our plans are beginning to burble into life and as we watch where they might flow, many life lessons are being learned—patience, it seems, is lesson number one! These ‘in-between days’ need something special to lift our spirits and help us stop and appreciate our lot in life. These ‘in-between days’ require comfort food.
Our love of fig & anise bread is well known. I have mentioned it in postings here quite a few times, but it is still kept as a rare treat for us. A giddy excitement comes over us as it emerges from the oven—quick fingers pick at caramelized figs oozing from the crust—suddenly breakfast the next morning seems too far away.
The initial inspiration came years ago from the Pearl Bakery’s fig and anise panini formula in Maggie Glezer’s Artisan Baking. Over the years I have tinkered and experimented with ingredients and methods. I have crushed the aniseed, toasted the aniseed, used different varieties of figs, pureed the figs and added walnuts—and do you know what?
I think the ingredients are best left alone. Simplicity wins again it seems.
Fig & Anise levain (2 x 1105g Batards)
Total dough weight
Levain – 5-6hrs 25°C
Previous levain build
Flour (I use a flour mix of 70% Organic plain flour, 18% fresh milled sifted wheat, 9% fresh milled sifted spelt and 3% fresh milled sifted rye)
Final dough. DDT=25°C
Laucke Wallaby bakers flour
Freshly milled spelt flour
Dried figs chopped (use good quality moist figs!)
- Mix levain and leave to ferment for 5-6 hours at 25°C
- Mill spelt flour and combine with bakers flour. Mix with water holding back 50 grams of water.
- Autolyse for 5-6 hours.
- Add levain to autolyse then knead (french fold) for three mins. Return the dough to a bowl and add salt and remaining 50 grams of water. Squeeze the salt and water through the dough to incorporate (the dough will separate then come back together smoothly). Remove from the bowl and knead a further three mins.
- Begin Bulk ferment. After 30mins add in dried figs and aniseed. Squeeze through the dough until evenly distributed.
- Bulk ferment for a further three and half hours untouched.
- Divide. Preshape. Bench rest 30 mins. Shape into batards and proof in couche seam side up.
- Final proof was approx 2 hours at 24°C - watch the dough – we had friends over so I watched the dough not the clock as I was easily distracted.
- Bake in a preheated oven at 250°C for 10 mins with steam then reduce temperature to 200°C for a further 30 mins.
I distinctly remember pre-shaping the dough and commenting on how silky and extensible it felt. The figs draw some of the moisture and the dough feels very easy to handle for a 75% hydration dough. It smells heavenly as it bakes and becomes almost intoxicating when pulled from the oven. This bread never disappoints.
Kids need comfort food from time-to-time and the fig & anise flavours are too much of an acquired taste for them to be excited over—in fact I would say it is almost the opposite reaction. A quick scan of the fridge revealed some egg-whites leftover from a custard tart baked earlier in the week—Meringues!
The Bourke Street Bakery cookbook has an interesting recipe for meringues that involves heating and dissolving the sugar in egg-whites over a bain-marie. This mixture is then beaten to stiff peaks before being rustically dumped onto a tray for baking. I love the visual appeal of this and was further intrigued by an option that called for rolling balls of meringue in cocoa powder. They tasted as good as they looked!
The kids are meringue lovers now—the trick is now to convince them that these crunchy, gooey and delicious puffs are treats only!