Although winter is the season which takes its toll quite significantly both physically on my body and mentally on my emotions, I find that deep down I have an undying love for this bitterly cold and often dismal period of the year. With the darkened early evenings and frosted mornings comes a hibernation of sorts and with this hibernation comes a feast on my favourite foods. Let’s face it, winter is all about the food, with Christmas dominating the season there is no way to deny it, no point in denying it. The winter months welcome a shameless grazing of hot pots, roasts, pies, soups and stews, the ultimate comforts to feed your soul and help you get through these dark and dreary days. My ultimate favourite has got to be soup. It’s warming, filling, easy to make and easy on the hips. And there is no better accompaniment than a slice (or two, or three…) of freshly made bread. Recently I bought a delicious loaf of bread from a little pop up food market on Briggate Street; a roasted fig, fennel and hazelnut loaf which was utterly divine. I just couldn’t stop eating it. Unfortunately I’m a bit skint to be casually buying figs willy nilly, but I’ve tried to recreate the flavours by using a similar recipe by Si King and Dave Myers (The Hairy Bikers – if you don’t recognise them by their official names) which I’ve slightly adapted by adding nuts to the recipe. Give it a go. It may look like a bit of a faff to make, but don’t be put off, it is worth every bit of effort. I promise. The results are delicious!
1tsp fast-action dried yeast
1tsp caster sugar
100g strong white bread flour
100g rye flour
200ml warm water
2 tsp fast-action dried yeast
1 tbsp fine sea salt
500g strong white flour
325ml luke warm water
3tbsp finely chopped thyme leaves
1tbsp finely chopped rosemary
1tbsp fennel seeds, lightly toasted
Optional chopped walnuts or hazelnuts
- A ‘starter dough’ is used to help make the bread light and airy but needs to be made a day in advance, so make sure you prepare this dough prior to the day of baking. To begin, you need to sprinkle the dried yeast over the warm water and stir in the caster sugar. Leave this mixture in a warm place for ten minutes until a layer of foam has formed on the top of the liquid. Once this is established, mix the yeast with the flour until it forms a stiff paste, cover with cling film and leave to chill in the fridge for 24 hours.
- To make the bread, mix the dried yeast, salt and flour in a bowl. In a large mixing bowl mix half of the ‘starter dough’ mixture with 325ml of lukewarm water until a sloppy mixture is created. You can freeze the remainder half of the starter dough and use for another occasion. Add this sloppy mixture into the flour and mix with a wooden spoon, and then once the mixture begins to bind use your hands to continue the binding process.
- Once this mixture has formed into a ball begin to knead on a floured surface for ten minutes, this process helps form the gluten in the bread and is crucial to establishing the correct texture. Once you have kneaded the bread put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover it with cling film and place in a warm place for an hour to allow the bread to rise.
- Once the bread has doubled in size, carefully ease the dough out and place it on a floured surface. Knead the herbs and nuts into the bread until they are evenly dispersed in the mixture, then form into a ball. Place the bread on a baking sheet and cover with oiled cling film, then leave to rise for a further hour.
- Once the bread has risen again place the tray in a preheated oven at 200/Gas Mark 7 and bake for 25-30 minutes. The loaf should sound hollow when the base is tapped. Serve alongside a delicious bowl of homemade soup.