Cardamom Fig Braid #BreadBakers

 

What can I say about this cardamom fig bread?  Well, I made it twice in two days and it wasn't just for practice. This bread is GOOD. Really good. The kind of bread where, if you brought it to your family's Thanksgiving feast (Pumpkin? Who needs pumpkin?), people would be so grateful, so in awe, you probably wouldn't even have to help with the dishes. No, you'd get the Barcalounger of honor in front of the TV to watch whatever team it is that loses year after year, while others toiled in the kitchen and did your bidding. It's that good. Okay, maybe I exaggerate a little. But only a little.

First, there's the dough. Soft, slightly sweet, almost challah-like. Then there's the cardamom, warm and aromatic. And the figs. Oh, the figs. Mysterious and exotic, sweet like honey. Shiny crust with a sugary crunch? Yeah, that too. But fantastic flavors aside, I think my favorite thing about this bread is that the dough is so workable that it lends itself to all sorts of spiffy shaping—specifically here, an 8-strand braid. 

I've made more than a few braids in my time (although the less said about my attempts to French braid Junior Dough's hair the better—I think it's why she cut it all off), mostly the 3- and occasionally 4-strand varieties. But thanks to the Great British Bake Off—can we say OBSESSED? And really, if you haven't seen this show, you really need to fix that NOW—I've been itching to try my hand at this 8-strander. (Season 3's bread episode, where they made an 8-strand plait, pronounced "plat" not "plate" like you'd think. Whatever happened to "When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking?" Hmm? What gives, British people? You and your wacky pronunciations. We won't even mention "gen-oh-eeze.")

I was actually surprised that it's really not as complicated as I thought it would be—and as the interesting "plats" some of the GBBO contestants came up with would lead you to believe. I've given the instructions below and if you read through a couple of times and visualize how it works—and keep the instructions in front of you—you'll probably do just fine. Trust me. If I could do it on my first shot without tying myself in knots, anyone can.

Intricate braid or not—the original recipe calls for a simple 3-strander—this is one impressive bread, with memorable flavors and a beautiful, soft crumb. Perfect for all occasions, special or otherwise. A bread fit for a feast, which—not-so-coincidentally—is this month's #BreadBakers theme: Family Feast Breads. So don't forget to check out the links below to see what the other BreadBakers came up with. Thanks to Pavani at Cook's Hideout for hosting!

Bread Geek Alert! If you're into braiding bread or if you WANT to get into braiding bread, you should definitely check out The Art of Braiding Bread by Roberto von Krammer. It's available on Amazon for the Kindle, but if you order from Smashwords (both links are on Roberto's website), you can download it as an .ePub, .mobi, printable PDF and other formats as well. It's admittedly on the pricey side but it's loaded with photos, diagrams, video links and more braids than you can imagine. And check out the videos from The Bread Kitchen too.

Cardamom Fig Braid

Ingredients

  • 1 cup/8 oz./250 ml milk, warmed (110°F)
  • 2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 9g/3 oz./1/3 cup sugar
  • 545g/17.5 oz./3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 2 eggs
  • 90g/3 oz./6 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into chunks
  • 280g/9 oz./1-1/2 cups quartered dried figs

Egg Wash

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. water
  • Sugar for sprinkling

Directions

  1. Combine the milk, yeast and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir to combine, then set aside or about 10 minutes or until foamy.
  2. Add the flour, salt, cardamom and eggs to the yeast mixture and mix on medium-low until the dough is combined in a shaggy mass. 
  3. With the mixer running, add the butter in chunks and continue to knead until the dough is fairly smooth and elastic.
  4. Turn though dough out onto a lightly floured surface and flatten into a rectangle. Place the figs evenly over the dough, roll up, then knead until the figs are distributed. Form into a ball and place into a lightly greased bowl, cover and set aside in a warm spot to rise for about an hour or until doubled. 
  5. Turn though dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and divide into equal pieces (the number of pieces will depend on how many strands you plan to use for your braid—the original recipe called for a 3-strand braid.)
  6. Gently roll each piece into a rope about 16" long, then lay the ropes next to each other, pinching the top ends together, and braid as desired. Tuck the ends underneath the braid, set on a parchment lined baking sheet, cover with a lint-free towel and set aside for about 45 minutes to rise until puffy. While the dough is rising, preheat your oven to 350°F.
  7. When ready to bake, whisk the egg and water together, then lightly brush the braid all over and sprinkle generously with the sugar.
  8. Bake for about 35–40 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. 

How to Weave an 8-Strand Braid

Strands are numbered from 1 to 8, going left to right. As strands are woven, they don't keep their original numbers but take on the number of their new position. For example, weaving strand 8 over strand 5 means the original 8 now becomes 5 and the original 5 now becomes 6. and so on. It seems a bit complicated but if you read through a couple of times, it's really not bad.

Step 1: Weave strand 8 under 7 and over 1. 
Step 2: Weave 8 over 5
Step 3: Weave 2 under 3 and over 8
Step 4: Weave 1 over 4
Step 5: Weave 7 under 6 and over 1
Repeat step 2-5, until all the dough is braided.

Notes

I used brown sugar for the yeast mixture and turbinado sugar for sprinkling the braid—great crunch.

After you add the butter, the dough will look like a big gloppy mess but it does come together nicely, I promise. You may want to scrape down the bowl once or twice during the kneading.

This make a huge and I do mean, HUGE loaf. Not that it's going to go to waste or anything, but when I make it again, I'll probably split it into two human-sized loaves. One for eating right away and one to save for later. Like five minutes after the first one's gone.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma

Family Feast Breads from #BreadBakers

Here's what the other BreadBakers have baked for this month’s Family Feast Breads event:

#BreadBakers is a group of bread loving bakers who get together once a month to bake bread with a common ingredient or theme. Follow our Pinterest board right here. Links are also updated each month on this home page.

We take turns hosting each month and choosing the theme/ingredient. If you are a food blogger and would like to join us, just send Stacy an email with your blog URL to foodlustpeoplelove@gmail.com.

BreadBakers