There is something incredibly satisfying about baking a loaf of bread. The smells wafting from the oven, the crack of the crust and the taste of warm butter laden fluffy dough can hardly be surpassed and so I urge you to give it a go.
Cracked black pepper and fig bread is one of the first loaves of bread I remember ever baking and it’s now my favourite. We aren’t big bread eaters in the family and so I like to have a particular purpose for a hefty loaf like this one. The purpose is stilton! The soft yet chewy dough with sweet figs and spicy pepper is the perfect accompaniment in my eyes for the Christmas stilton.
We tend to buy a baby stilton at Christmas which takes a couple of weeks to get through and this bread far exceeds any cracker you could eat it with.
And if you aren’t a stilton fan fear not, this also makes some of the best toast! I would say the texture is most akin to toasted sourdough with the satisfying chew in the middle thanks to the relatively high water content.
Now whilst we are on the topic of water – water is good for this bread (and most breads really!) and gives it its irresistible texture but the amount of water you will be able to mix in will depend on two things – the protein content of your flour and whether you are kneading by hand or in a machine. Firstly the protein content – in general the more protein in your flour the more water it will be able to hold – I tend buy strong bread flour which has 12g protein per 100g which seems to be the average in UK supermarkets and it works well. I wouldn’t suggest making bread with regular plain flour but I would be interested if anyone chooses to make this with extra strong flour and see how that alters it – please let me know! Secondly, by hand or using a machine (by which I mean a stand alone mixer/ hand beater rather than bread machine) – I have made this bread many times both ways but I now stick to using my machine for two reasons – a) my arms are little bigger or stronger than a child’s and b) you can add more water if making it in a machine as it can handle much sticker dough without constantly flouring the work surface (which rather defeats the point of adding more water!). But as I said, I have made this many times successfully by hand, the kneading just takes me a while…
If you are feeling like a true Paul Hollywood you’ll want to have some steam in your oven – just before baking the bread boil the kettle, put a clean baking tray at the bottom of the oven and as you go to put the bread in pour about 2tbsp boiling water into the empty tray to fill the oven with steam. This allow the dough to rise a little bit more before a crust forms but be careful not too add too much water – when I first attempted this I must have added a litre to the oven and I ended up with a loaf with a very chewy exterior with absolutely no crunchy at all!
Adapted from BBC Good Food
400g bread flour
1tbsp peppercorns, crushed in a pestle and mortar (or 2tsp from a grinder)
285ml warm water
250g dried figs, chopped into small pieces (chop each fig into 6-8)
- With a freestanding machine
Add the flour to the bowl, add the yeast, salt and pepper to different edges of the bowl and make a well in the centre. Add 2/3rds of the water to the well, turn the machine on to bring it together into a dough, slowly pouring the remaining water in to pick up the remaining flour and knead on a medium speed for 8 mins until the dough has come together and is smooth, elastic and when stretched in front of a window the light shines through without tearing
Add the flour to the bowl, add the yeast, salt and pepper to different edges of the bowl and make a well in the centre. Add 2/3rds of the water to the well and use a wooden spoon to bring the flour and water together into a dough. Slowly add a little more water to pick up the remaining flour (you might not need it all) and knead on a lightly floured surface for 10mins if you are strong (20 if you aren’t) until it is smooth and elastic and when stretched in front of a window the light shines through without tearing
- Lightly oil a clean bowl with olive oil, put the dough in and cover with clingfilm. Leave this in a warm room to double in size (this should take an hour)
- Once the dough has risen push half of the figs into the top of the dough to pop the hair bubbles, turn it out of the bowl and add the remaining figs, trying to disperse them throughout the dough. Knead the dough by hand a couple of times so it firms up slightly and shape into an oval (don’t worry too much about the shape – a rustic look is good!). Place this onto a well floured baking tray and sprinkle more flour on top. Put this tray inside a large plastic bag, taking care to lift the bag off the dough (it should hold up on it’s own) – this is to stop a draft causing a skin to form – and leave for 45mins to double in size again
- Preheat the oven to 200C (fan) and bake for 45mins (you can tell it is ready as the base of the loaf should sound hollow when tapped). Remove from the oven and cool