"My mother often spoke of pan de fighi (fig bread). Her mother would send her to the town bakery with a loaf of uncooked bread, ready to bake in the communal oven. The ladies in the bakery would give her some fig bread to munch on while she waited. I became obsessed with trying to replicate these memories for my mother and found a version of pan de fighi recounted in an online video by Serafino Bencic, from Lisignano/Ližnjan on the southern tip of the Istrian peninsula. He speaks in Istrian–Venetian dialect and describes the pan de fighi that he remembers eating in his family home. He muses on his childhood breakfast during autumn: a bunch of grapes, a piece of bread and a few figs. His family would preserve the figs to eat through the year by breaking them in half and laying them out on the table to dry. When they had dried, they would be minced and made into a paste that would then be mixed in with bread dough and baked into pan de fighi. Serafino says the bread was delicious, and his family would eat fig bread instead of plain bread and jam.
I made this recipe many times while testing it, initially just with figs, but then adding another ingredient in the next version. In the end there were walnuts, rosemary and orange zest in my fig bread. It is a lot fancier than Serafino’s description, but uses ingredients that complement each other so well. I am sure he would love it as much as you will – and as much as my mother did;
she was my taste tester for this recipe."
This recipe is extracted from Istria by Paola Bacchia (Smith Street Books)
- 480 g (31/2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting
- 55 g (1/4 cup) caster sugar
- 10 g (1/3 oz) instant dried yeast
- 240 ml (8 fl oz) lukewarm milk
- 60 ml (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
- 30 g (1 oz) unsalted butter, melted then cooled, plus extra for greasing
- 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- zest of 1 small orange
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
- 220 g (8 oz) dried figs
- boiling water (if needed)
- 60 g (2/3 cup) chopped walnuts
- 1 small egg, whisked with a dash of milk (for brushing)
Method for the loaf
- Place the flour, sugar and yeast in a large bowl and whisk to combine. In a jug, mix the milk, olive oil and butter together with a spoon. Make a well in the centre of your dry ingredients and pour in the milky mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon, then bring together with your hands.
- Tip onto a lightly floured work surface and work the dough for 1 minute. Add the salt, orange zest and rosemary, then knead for about 10 minutes, or until smooth and elastic.
- Place the dough in a bowl, cover with a large upturned plate and rest in a warm draught-free spot for 2 hours, or until almost doubled in size. While the dough is resting, remove the hard stem from the figs (if present) and chop the fruit into small pieces. If the figs are on the firm side, place the pieces in a bowl with a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes to soften them. Drain well and leave to partially dry out.
- Grease the sides of a large loaf (bar) tin and line with baking paper. My tin measures about 10 cm x 22 cm (4 in x 83/4 in), with 10 cm (4 in) sides.
- Roll out your dough until it is the size of a large rectangle, with one length the same length as your loaf tin. Sprinkle the walnut and fig pieces evenly over the dough. Roll it up to enclose the fruit and nuts (you don’t need to be too precise) and place in the tin.
- Cover with a clean tea towel and allow to rest another 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F) fan-forced. Brush the top of the bread with the egg wash, then bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown. If it is browning too quickly, drop the temperature to 150°C (300°F).
Enjoy warm or at room temperature. After a couple of days, if you still have any left, toast thick slices and serve spread with butter.