Fig and Fennel Bread with Rye Sourdough

Try a thing you haven’t tried before three times – once to get over the fear, once to find out how to do it, and a third time to find out whether you like it or not.Virgil Thomson

I’m going to take a few liberties with Mr. Thomson’s quote to fit my experience with this fig and fennel bread. I was never afraid of it, I knew I liked it on the first pass, and it took me until the third time to figure out how to do it. So mine would go something like this:

Try a bread you haven’t baked before three times – once to overhydrate it, once to overproof it, and a third time to find out whether you really can bake at all or if you should just hang up your apron right now and go skydiving three times.

I’m happy to report I didn’t have to resort to skydiving.

This is a compact bread that is easily sliced very thinly. That’s a good thing, because the flavor is intensely fennely and figgy and just a thin slice will do.

A few hints:

  • If you don’t normally keep a rye starter, take a portion of your white starter and feed with with rye flour for a few feedings.
  • If you’re not a huge fennel fan, you might want to cut the fennel seeds in half or so.
  • Make sure your figs are soft and pliable.
  • Before the addition of the fig puree, the dough is quite stiff. Don’t be alarmed. Take care not to add too much water; overhydrating will result in a frisbee.
  • Take care not to overproof; overproofing will also result in a frisbee. The loaf is ready when the indentation left by your finger does not spring back in a lively way.
  • Use a proofing basket that’s a bit smaller than what you would usually use for this amount of dough. The dough will not double in volume; it will expand by about 50%.
  • I recommend short slashes like this:
  • Slashing in a circle around the boule like this is not the best because the weight of the figs will encourage the center section to sink down:
  • The bread tastes better the day after it is baked.

Fig and Fennel Bread with Rye Sourdough

Yield: 1400 g (2 loaves)


  • Mix: 10 minutes
  • First fermentation : 2 hours with a fold at 1 hour
  • Preshape, rest, and shape: 30 minutes
  • Proof: 1 hour and 15 minutes
  • Bake: 40 minutes

Desired dough temperature: 80F

Fig puree Ingredients:

  • 108 g dried figs, coarsely chopped
  • 72 g hot water

Final Dough Ingredients:

  • 431 g flour
  • 48 g coarse semolina flour
  • 214 g water
  • 11.5 g (scant 2 t.) salt
  • 12 g barley malt syrup
  • 266 g mature 100%-hydration rye starter
  • All of the fig puree
  • 251 g dried figs, cut in half
  • 7 g whole fennel seeds


  1. Puree the 108 g figs with the hot water. Allow to cool completely.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer with dough hook, combine flour, semolina, salt, barley malt syrup, starter, and about 90% of the water. Mix in low speed to incorporate the ingredients. Add water as needed to achieve a dough that is stiff but  tacky, not dry.
  3. Continue mixing, in medium speed, to a medium level of gluten development.
  4. Add the fig puree and mix in low speed until it is incorporated.
  5. Add the fennel seeds and figs and mix in low speed until just incorporated.
  6. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled container. Cover and ferment for 2 hours, with a fold after the first hour.
  7. Turn the dough into a lightly floured counter. Divide into two pieces. Preshape each piece into a tight ball and let rest, covered, for 20 minutes.
  8. Shape the dough into a tight ball and place it, seam-side-up, in a well-floured, linen lined basket.
  9. Proof, covered, for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
  10. Meanwhile, preheat the oven, with baking stone, to 475F. You will also need steam during the initial phase of baking, so prepare for this now.
  11. Just before baking, slash the loaves (see notes above).
  12. Once the loaves are in the oven, reduce the temperature to 450F. Bake for 10 minutes with steam, and another 20 minutes or so without steam. Then turn off the oven and leave the loaves in for another 10 minutes, with the door ajar.
  13. Cool on a wire rack.

CommentsLeave a comment

  1. says

    I love the starting quote! But I’m never that patient… The bread looks delicious though, I like figs very much, should try it.


  2. says

    Whoa, Susan – for a morning person, you’re up late at night! Not good.

    Wow, a lot of figs – we are lucky enough to have a Desert King right off our deck, and it over-produces every summer – I’ll add this to my fig stuff list – it’s not hard to do a batch or two of dried figs.

    A nice hearty bread! Bet it’s great toasted for breakfast.

  3. says

    Nice quote Susan, both your version and Mr. Thomson’s. I still haven’t made a new starter yet. So this bread will have to put on hold (sad). Sounds really delicious, and I like both the fennel seeds and the fig.

  4. Tal Nanus says

    Looks great!
    Is it possible to use non-diastatic malt powder instead of barley malt syrup? and if it is, what is the relation?

  5. says

    I love your comment on skydiving!

    Well, I know that I like this bread – I buy it from my local bakery. I have a ton of fennel seeds just waiting for me to use them. The only thing to buy is the semolina flour, and I have to go to the store today.

    I’ve just run out of excuses…….

  6. says

    Looks lovely! It’s fun working with a recipe until you get it just the way you like it. Figs are one of my favorite fruits to throw into breads. Do you have a favorite variety?

  7. says

    Just gorgeous, Susan! I’ve made fig breads with fennel seeds before but never with rye. I can’t wait to try it… It must be delicious with a nice goat cheese and a dribble of honey.

  8. says

    Once I pulled the shoot and just floated I loved the sky dive. It was the whizzing free fall that everybody else loves that didn’t appeal to me.

    But this bread, that appeals right off the bat to me!

    I do like the idea of the three tries, sure that could be changed to suit differing needs. Except so often I seem to need more than three tries ;o)

  9. says

    I have quite a few leftover dried figs from making Christopsomos that I have been wondering to use in. This will be perfect! I love the flavor combo of fig and fennel.

  10. Mike says

    If I wanted to cold retard this would you suggest using less starter and putting it into the fridge earlier in the bulk ferment?


  1. [...] 10. Fennel and Fig Bread via Wild Yeast Appetizer Idea – Fennel and Fig Baguette with Roasted  Cherry Tomatoes and Prosciutto – Make a small baguette-sized roll of dough and bake until cooked through. Let cool. Slice baguette, brush with olive oil and bake until slightly crisp, about 5 minutes at 350. Top the fennel and fig baguette with sliced roasted cherry tomatoes, crumbles of crisp prosciutto and olive oil. [...]

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