Makes 2 Loaves
I am keenly aware that a lot of people are afraid to work with yeast, so over the years we have made a lot of regional breads on the series to demystify the process. A few years ago I wrote a book entitled What You Knead, which took the novice bread baker step by step into breadmaking.
This recipe is easy to make and produces two wonderful loaves, and the whole process can be done in an electric mixer. Start the dough early in the day, or the night before. The wheat gluten used in this recipe is available by mail order or can be found in the baking section of some grocery stores. Wheat gluten helps to develop a better-rising dough. Be sure to use pure anise extract and not a weak, watered-down imitation.
1/2 cup warm water (110ºF)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
7 1/2 cups (approximately) King Arthur™ Unbleached, All-Purpose Flour
5 ounces dried Calamyrna figs (about 13 whole), stemmed
1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon warm milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons pure anise extract
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon wheat gluten
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
Pour the water into a small bowl and stir in the yeast. Stir in 1/2 cup of the flour to make a loose dough. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours or overnight; the dough will look spongy with lots of holes.
Place the figs in another bowl, cover them with water, and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour to soften them. Drain the water, dry the figs and dice them. Set aside.
When ready to make the dough, transfer the yeast mixture to the bowl of a large electric mixer. Add the milk, reserving 1 tablespoon, then add the butter, sugar, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the anise extract, eggs, wheat gluten, and salt to the bowl and combine the mixture on medium speed using the paddle attachment. Begin adding the remaining flour 1 cup at a time and mix on high speed to allow the ingredients to combine. Add only enough flour until the dough begins to come away from the side of the bowl and is not sticky on your hands.
Transfer the dough from the mixer to a lightly floured surface. Push the dough down with your hands to flatten it. Place the figs on top of the dough, then fold the dough over to cover the figs. Knead the dough with your hands to evenly distribute the figs in the dough. Shape the dough into a large round and place it in a lightly buttered large bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise for 2 hours, or until it is double in size.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Punch the dough down with your hands and transfer it to a work surface. With a knife divide the dough into two equal pieces and work with one piece at a time. Roll each piece under the palm of your hands into a 46-inch rope. Starting at one end of the rope, coil the dough up tightly and place it on one of the parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Repeat with the second piece of dough.
Cover the baking sheets and allow the dough to rise for 20 minutes.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the crust is evenly browned on the top and bottom of the bread. Use an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the dough to determine if the bread is cooked. If the thermometer registers between 200º and 210ºF, remove the bread to a cooling rack and cool until warm.
Meanwhile in a small bowl combine the confectioners' sugar, the remaining 1 tablespoon milk, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon anise extract. Stir the ingredients together to make a glaze. Use a spoon to drizzle the top of the breads with the glaze. Serve the bread warm or at room temperature.
Note: To freeze the bread, allow it to cool completely, then wrap it well in aluminum foil.
This recipe is from CIAO ITALIA - BRINGING ITALY HOME by Mary Ann Esposito, published by St. Martin's Press in 2001.
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