The Fresh Loaf

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Comfort food – Fig & Anise levain + Meringues

PiPs's picture

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



Total flour



Total water



Total salt



Pre-fermented flour









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!)














  1. Mix levain and leave to ferment for 5-6 hours at 25°C
  2. Mill spelt flour and combine with bakers flour.  Mix with water holding back 50 grams of water.
  3. Autolyse for 5-6 hours.
  4. 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.
  5. Begin Bulk ferment. After 30mins add in dried figs and aniseed. Squeeze through the dough until evenly distributed.
  6. Bulk ferment for a further three and half hours untouched.
  7. Divide. Preshape. Bench rest 30 mins. Shape into batards and proof in couche seam side up.
  8. 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.
  9. 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!



dabrownman's picture

Another Phil Bread to make.  I made friends with a nearby home owner who has ti fig trees in his back yard.  I asked him if I could pick some and he said sure,  he hates them and hated picking them up off the ground. October 1 is when they are very ripe.  No time like the present.

Very nice baking and posting Phil - as usual.

PiPs's picture

Lucky you dabrownman,

We grew up with fig trees in my grandparents yard next door. I think we lived on fig jam as kids ... they produced so much fruit!


isand66's picture

Beautiful bread and meringues.

I wonder if you find the 12 hour refrigerated final rise per your last post over this bake where you let it rise for 2 hours and in the oven it went.

Love that scoring as well.


PiPs's picture

Thanks Ian,

In the past I have had 'fruit' breads over-prove in the fridge so I am a bit cautious with them now ... but this was more of a convenience bake as I didn't have time the following morning to bake them. I prefer the flavour and complete fermentation I get with a long cool prove ... and slashing a cooler dough is a bit easier too!


Janetcook's picture

Hi Phil,

Your 'grateful' list reminded me of my step mother.  Her way of beginning her days was always with her 'Thank Yous'.   I don't think she ever missed a day in all of her 90+ years....even in the end when time had taken its toll on her body and mind. A very good way to start a day. I think our lives are full of hidden nuggets but, at times, it is harder to acknowledge them.  Those seem to be the times that acknowledgement seems to be needed the most.

And then the thoughts to turning to others.  A special treat to bake.  So simple but says so much.

Your bake this blog is one of my favorites to bake.  The dough is sooo luxurious.  I have found that prunes can have the same effect on the dough too if soaked a bit prior to adding to the final dough.  

Love the simplicity of both of the items you baked.  Bare bones.  Lucky kids to have the meringues.  Just looking at them I can imagine them simply melting away in hungry little mouth....or hungry big mouth :-)

Thanks for the shared thoughts and your exquisite bakes.

Take Care,


PiPs's picture

Thanks Janet,

Just the act of sitting and writing can change the way I perceive a day ... sometimes I find it helps just to notice things.

This is a special bread for me ... I truly enjoy making it and luxurious is the perfect way to describe the dough. I think the aromas help with that feeling as well.

I have never made meringues this way before ... it was a bit fiddly to begin with, but made fantastic peaks!

Nice to hear from you.


p.s. the big kids may have had a meringue or two :)


Janetcook's picture

p.s.  Isn't that practice of tasting prior to distribution normal in your part of the world?  I have always thought that we adults have to taste foods first to make sure they are 'safe' for the wee folk :-)  For those of us who are 'serious' parents it is just another one of the sacrifices we have to make for out kids....


evonlim's picture

Bread looks wonderful, I have been practicing to have such handling with the dough so that they turn out soft and beautiful. Thanks for sharing ;)

PiPs's picture

Thanks evonlim,

I still feel like I am practicing everytime I handle the dough ... and everytime I wish I had more time to practice longer.


FlourChild's picture

...and I'm grateful for Phil and his beautiful blog posts, they are a visual joy and a pleasure to contemplate!

Love all things anise and this bread looks divine- especially the open crumb.  You've managed to create the elusive "feet" on your white meringues, job well done.  Love the contrast between the smooth white and craggy brown meringues, too.

PiPs's picture

Thanks Flourchild,

Glad you are enjoying the posts ... they are a pleasure to assemble :)

The chocolate meringues were really interesting ... the cocoa powder offset the sweetness and created a nice contrast in flavour as well.


txfarmer's picture

Look at that open crumb! And beautiful photos as always. Anise and figs are a combo I have never tried before, now I can't wait. I am grateful for such discovery. 

PiPs's picture

Hi txfarmer,

You should really give it a go ... would be interested to hear your thoughts on it. It's a really interesting flavour combo that straddles the sweet and savoury spectrum ...


rayel's picture

Thanks phil for your musings and wonderful pictures and thoughts. Your bread is lovely, and I have long felt figs to be so sensual a fruit. My Dad grew them the hard way in quite a northern climate, and an Uncle in Florida had fig trees that were not productive till we added compost one year. He couldn't believe the difference it made.

All the best.


PiPs's picture

Thanks Ray,

My grand-parents fig trees are quite amazing ... I have really strong memories of them from my childhood ... they are getting a bit tired now though. I would like to try drying the figs myself one day.


evonlim's picture

Just finished baking this recipe of fig n aniseed sourdough. Wonderful , wonderful open crumb like yours. But my technic on scoring is still lots to improve!!
Thank you so much for sharing. I feel your passion when I read your blog.


PiPs's picture

Thats great evonlim!

I am so happy you tried it and it was successful. Hope you enjoyed the flavour as well :)


evonlim's picture

Comfort food indeed! Just had my lunch, fig and aniseed toasted sourdough with avocado and blue cheese. Yum! I used organic black mission figs for mine sourdough bread. Your crust looked so good better than mine. Yours must taste amazingly good. I will practice more!


breadsong's picture

Hello Phil,
It's our Canadian Thanksgiving holiday this weekend - our time to give thanks - so it is nice to read your post,
and your reflection about gratitude :^)

Loving dried figs, and anise, I wonder why I've never made a bread like this. Niki Segnit, in her book The Flavor Thesaurus, describes the flavor combination of Fig & Anise: "Anise seeds go off like tiny licorice fireworks when paired with sweet, sticky ingredients such as dried figs..."

Your photos, and the flavors you and Niki described, are very compelling...!
Thank you for your lovely post.
:^) breadsong


PiPs's picture

Have a happy thanksgiving breadsong,

Lots of family and food?

I have the Flavour Thesaurus as well ... I keep forgetting to use it though ... which is a shame because it's a fantastic book ... very inspiring!

All the best,


Anil Advani's picture
Anil Advani


With a few small adjustments, but basically following your recipe and the "principle" of this absolutely fabulous bread, I made my first attempt at it. It turned out a bit flatter than yours with not so much rise - but in the aroma/taste/feel-good department it came out TOPS!

Thanks for showing the way.