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Cardamom & Prune Bread (c)2011

I realized yesterday that winter has arrived in Colorado and it’s here to stay. Rather than fluctuating between 80 degree days and snowstorms, we’ve settled into a peaceful season of sunny but decidedly chilly temperatures. I haven’t seen a snowflake tumble from the sky in at least a week, but the white snow refuses to melt from the pastures and shaded sidewalks remain coated in sheets of black ice. At about four o’clock in the afternoon, the sun begins its rapid descent behind the Rocky Mountains, and within minutes night has fallen. It’s quite a shock. I’m learning to adapt to the light as it changes with the seasons; from warm and strong to gray and diffused. I’ve moved my photography set-up to a different room and found a new magic hour to shoot. I do believe this craft is about getting in sync with my environment. Rather than forcing things I must let go and allow myself to be directed by the elements I have to work with. Each day it comes with more ease, and though I haven’t found my sweet spot in this new season yet, I feel it within my reach. I cannot make summer pictures out of blue-toned winter light, but with practice I hope to capture the beauty of light as winter solstice approaches. I won’t bemoan the challenge, as it’s the constant changes in light that make photography so interesting. The sun rises and sets. The earth tilts on its axis. Each day is a new day with new challenges. C’est la vie!

This week at la Domestique has been devoted to dried fruit, and I have one last recipe to share with you. I’ve written before about my love of bread baking and my favorite book, Dough, by Richard Bertinet. The book contains several fantastic recipes for baking bread dotted with dried fruit, but I chose Cardamom & Prune Bread for the Christmasy flavors. I’m drawn to cardamom like a cat to catnip. The aroma of cardamom hits a pleasure center in my brain. It’s indescribable, complex, and like nothing else. The words earthy, warm, fruity, flowery, etc. cannot do the spice justice. Just give cardamom a sniff and you’ll understand what I mean. I buy the whole green pods and grind them myself, as it’s easy and cardamom sold already ground deteriorates rapidly. Now onto the prunes. Please do not be turned off by the idea of prunes in this bread. After soaking overnight in rum, the prunes are luscious and juicy. The bread dough is a mix of white and whole wheat, which yields two hearty loaves. It makes great breakfast toast and for lunch the husband and I enjoyed it as a toasted sandwich with ham, Swiss cheese, caramelized shallots, and mustard. Cardamom & Prune Bread is a beautiful winter loaf that goes especially well with a cuppa tea on a cold and gray winter’s day.

Below you will find the recipe for this bread. I include it here to give you an idea of how the bread is made, but must let you know that Richard Bertinet uses a unique technique for making bread and it’s easier to understand if you get the book (either from your local library or by purchasing it). His detailed photographs and free instructional video included in the book make the method easy for a beginner to understand and execute. You might like to know that it takes about 3 1/2 hours to make this bread, start to finish. Most of this is down time, waiting for the bread to rise. It’s a good project for the weekend.

Cardamom & Prune Bread (c)2011

Cardamom & Prune Bread

very slightly adapted from the book Dough: Simple Contemporary Bread, by Richard Bertinet

makes 2 loaves


4 ounces pitted prunes
about 1/2 cup rum
10 1/2 ounces whole-wheat bread flour
7 ounces white bread flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
12 1/2 ounces water (13 fluid ounces in a glass measuring cup)

Soak the prunes in rum overnight. In a large bowl, combine the whole-wheat and white bread flour. Stir in the yeast and ground cardamom. Add the salt and water. I use my hand to stir and scrunch the ingredients until they come together to form a dough that is quite soft and moist. I always need a bit more water than the recipe calls for (living at altitude in a dry climate). Add more water little by little until the dough comes together, then turn the dough out onto a kneading surface. Knead the dough by slapping it down on the counter, then stretching it up towards yourself and folding it over, as seen in this video. Continue kneading until the dough is silky smooth and no longer sticks to the counter. I work in the prunes towards the end of the kneading by flattening out the dough and sprinkling the prunes on top (discard the soaking liquid). Then fold up the dough to incorporate the prunes. Now flour the counter lightly, place the dough atop the flour, and shape it into a tight ball. Put the ball of dough into the large mixing bowl with a bit of flour in the bottom to keep it from sticking. Cover with a lintfree dishtowel and let it rest for 1 hour.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and reshape it into a ball, put it back in the bowl, and cover with a lintfree dishtowel. Let the dough rest 45 minutes more.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured counter and divide it in half. Mold each half into a loaf. Place the loaves on a lightly floured lintfree dishtowel. Use a razor blade to make four diagonal cuts, to a depth of 2 inches throughout the loaf. Cover the two loaves with a lintfree dishtowel and let rise for 1 hour (or 45 minutes if you are at altitude like me), until the loaves are doubled in volume.

As the loaves rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the loaves have finished rising, slide them onto a hot baking stone (I use a baking sheet). Mist the oven with water and shut the door. Turn down the heat to 425 degrees and bake the bread for 25-30 minutes. Once baked, the loaves should have a nice dark crust and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.