I've always loved a whole grain bread that manages to be both unabashedly healthy and light. This bread combines some of my favorite flavors -- the sweet anise zing of toasted fennel seeds, fennel itself, sultanas, and some supporting actors like lemon zest and honey. Toasted slices drizzled with honey make for a fabulous breakfast or an afternoon snack with tea. If you have a fennel compote (next on my list), that'd be great on this too!
I based my recipe on a whole wheat bread I found on the King Arthur website years ago. —em-i-lis
In a skillet set over medium heat, toast the fennel seeds until fragrant and golden, just a few minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
In the same skillet, heat the two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the diced fennel, garlic, lemon zest, and sultanas. Lower heat to medium, stir to combine, and when the fennel has softened some, remove from heat and reserve.
For the bread:
In a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, pour the warm water. Sprinkle the yeast and a pinch of sugar over the top and let sit for a few minutes. It should start to foam up, but if not, don'’t fret.
Add the remaining ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon or the dough hook on your mixer at low speed for about 5 minutes. When the dough has mostly come together, add 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of the reserved toasted fennel seeds as well as the fennel-sultana mixture. Continue mixing for another minute or two. The dough should be smooth and pliable, and in all likelihood, a “foot” will remain attached to the bottom of the bowl if you're using a mixer.
Detach the foot, shape into a ball and turn out into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a dishtowel or oiled plastic wrap and place in a warm place to rise for 1 to 2 hours.
On a greased silpat or lightly floured surface, knead your dough a few times and shape into a log. Put it in a lightly greased loaf pan, brush the top of the bread lightly with olive oil, and sprinkle with the remaining toasted fennel seeds. Cover and return to a warm spot for its second rise, about another hour or two.
Preheat the oven to 350. Slide the bread into the oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. If you have a thermapen or other trusty thermometer, King Arthur says that its version of this bread should read 190 in the center when done.
Let cool 15 or 20 minutes in the pan and then transfer just the bread to a wire rack. I think this bread is best when it's cooled and then eaten at room temp or toasted by the slice.