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Figgy Cardamom Bread

This braided loaf makes a stunning presentation and is easier to make than you might think. It’s based on the traditional cardamom-spiked breads from Sweden and Finland, with luscious dried figs added for some sparkle.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup milk, warmed (110°F)
  • 1 package (2 1/4 tsp.) active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 3 eggs
  • 6 Tbs. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into chunks
  • 1 1/2 cups quartered dried figs

Directions:

In the bowl of an electric mixer, stir together the milk, yeast and the 1/3 cup sugar. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and cardamom. Add the flour mixture and 2 of the eggs to the yeast mixture. Attach the dough hook and knead the dough on medium-low speed until it starts to look shaggy. While continuing to knead, add the butter. Knead until the dough is fairly smooth, about 10 minutes. Dump the dough onto a floured work surface and flatten into a disk. Scatter the figs over the dough and gather it into a ball. Knead the dough gently to incorporate the figs. Gather the dough into a ball, transfer to an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Dump the dough onto the lightly floured work surface and divide it into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 16 inches long. Lay the ropes next to each other, touching, on the work surface. Braid the ropes together, tucking the ends underneath the braid. Place on the prepared pan, cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let rise until puffy, about 45 minutes.

Preheat an oven to 350°F.

In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg with a little water. Brush the dough gently with the egg mixture, then sprinkle generously with sugar. Bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before slicing. Makes 1 large loaf.

Baker’s note: For a more traditional cardamom bread, omit the figs and top the bread with sliced almonds or toasted walnuts just before baking, then drizzle with a vanilla glaze after the bread cools for a bit. To make the glaze, in a small bowl, stir together 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla extract and 1 tsp. milk until smooth. You can also top the loaf with coarse sugar before baking.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Home Baked Comfort, by Kim Laidlaw (Weldon Owen, 2011).