Finally, I did a Mellow Bakers April bread yesterday. I had wanted to try the Pain au Levain sourdough first, but I don't think my stiff starter was vigorous enough to raise a 1 1/2 lb piece of dough, but I might try it later.
The hazelnut and fig bread was the April bread that I was really looking forward to. My first task was to decide what kind of figs to use. Well, that shouldn't be hard, given that there are only over 700 varieties of figs. I finally settled on a package of Sun-Maid California Mission figs, since they were on sale, and I thought they might be fresher/moister having been sealed in a bag. The figs at Whole Foods in the bulk bins looked very dry and almost crusty. Early yesterday I gathered my four main ingredients which Hamelman says make this bread 'loaded'. They were fennel seed, rosemary, roasted hazelnuts, and my figs:
My dough did not exactly seem moderately loose as I did my mixing on first speed. In fact all the way through the kneading, my dough seemed very, very stiff, but I just kept going. I added my figs and hazelnuts after the ~ 3 minutes of kneading. The figs I quartered and the hazelnuts I chopped a bit before adding them in. I turned the mixer to low speed, waiting for these additions to get incorporated, but it just wasn't happening in the mixer. I stopped the mixer, and lifted the dough, along with all the nuts and figs at the bottom of the bowl, out onto my silicone mat. After much difficulty in kneading the dough, I was finally satisfied that everything was OK, even though the occasional nut kept popping out and figs insisted on poking themselves through the surface of the dough. The dough went through its bulk and final fermentations and it was ready to be scored and tossed in the oven. I finally found some razor blades, thanks to Abby at Stir it! Scrape it! Mix it! Bake it!., who told me where to look. I was anxious to try scoring this loaf with the razor blade, as I had done quite a poor job of it on a loaf of Vermont Sourdough a couple weeks back.
Everything worked beautifully!! No problems scoring and I steamed the oven diligently, squirting the walls of the oven at least 4 or 5 times during the first 10-15 minutes of baking. I raised the oven rack up one notch that my stone sits on, since previous breads were baking too quickly and browning a bit much on the bottom. This time my loaf finished in 36 minutes and was beautiful and smelled heavenly. The scoring opened up nicely (I think), and I didn't have any unusual blowouts from the bottom side. The bottom was perfectly flat and not too browned. Oh, so nice: