I developed this recipe in my Italian kitchen because I have so many vegetarian friends who need something with a bit more nutritional oomph than the common Italian bakery bread. It's easy, delicious and keeps very well. You can also make it ahead and freeze it, wrapped tightly in foil and then in plastic, but it's important to thaw it and then briefly crisp the crust before you want to serve it.
For best results, start this dough the day before you want to bake the bread. —Judith Greenwood
about 1.5 kilo loaf
wholewheat flour (9 ounces)
plain flour (9 ounces) plus more for shaping
warm water (it can sometimes require more water to make a loose dough. It depends on both the flour you have and the weather.
Mix all the dry ingredients and stir. Add the warm water and use a dough hook or your hands to partially blend, then add the olive oil and continue to mix until completely homogeneous. It should be quite wet, so you might need a bit more water due to weather or the age of your flour.
You can either scrape it into a sealable plastic bag, seal it and refrigerate for at least 12 hours, or you can press abundant plastic film directly on the surface of the dough, making sure there's enough to cover it as it rises. A full day in the fridge is not too long.
When the rising time is past, bring the dough to room temperature, then scrape it out onto a floured surface and knead just enough to be sure there are no grainy bits or lumps. Using floury hands or a rolling pin, extend the dough into a rectangle. Arrange the fig pieces and walnuts over the surface, then roll it up tightly, then tuck the ends under to close it.
Thoroughly flour a clean dishcloth and place the loaf in it, seam side up, using the towel as a hammock for moving the loaf. Leave it to rise at least one hour, until doubled.
30 minutes before you expect to bake the bread, preheat the oven and a heavy pot with a lid to 200 C/400 F. Don't skimp on this preheating time.
At baking time, open the pot (sliding the oven rack out is safest) and toss in the sesame seeds. Gently turn the bread into the pot on top of the sesame, seam side down. Use a very sharp knife to slash it a few times, quite deeply.
Replace the lid and close the oven, then lower the heat to 180 C/375 F. Cook for 30 minutes, then remove the lid from the pot and cook uncovered for another 15 minutes. If you tap the bottom of the loaf it should sound hollow. If it sounds solid, bake a few minutes longer.
Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting (yeah, I don't either) or wrapping and freezing. The loaf will keep best if you cover any cut ends with foil, then wrap in a clean towel before sliding it into a plastic sack. That helps the crust from going soft.