Fig and chocolate bread

Fig and chocolate bread

Pagnotella

By
From
Acquacotta
Makes
1 loaf, serv es 12
Photographer
Emiko Davies; Lauren Bamford

This wonderful speciality of Porto Santo Stefano on Monte Argentario is halfway between a fruit cake and something dense and chocolately, like brownies. It’s the kind of thing that you can’t find in shops or restaurants or even in cookbooks – it’s made at home by those who know the tradition best: nonna.

I asked a few friends from Porto Santo Stefano if they had a good recipe for pagnotella that I could try and they all came back to me with cherished, handwritten family recipes from their mother or nonna, each of them slightly different. Alessandra’s nonna makes this with some grated apple for moisture and keeps the chocolate in huge square-inch sized cubes, resulting in decadent pockets of melted chocolate like molten lava. Orestina makes a version with bread dough and insists on using homemade plum jam (very typical of Argentario, she notes). Valeria’s mother, Filomena, cooks dried figs in vermouth for her pagnotella, which otherwise is very similar to Alessandra’s nonna’s. The one thing most recipes have in common is that the amount of flour called for is quanto basta, or as much as is needed. This means enough to bring the sticky mixture together into a soft dough.

This recipe is inspired mostly by Alessandra’s nonna’s recipe. It’s quite soft, decadent and fruity – not to mention chocolatey. You only need a very thin slice of this, served with some dessert wine. It’s traditionally made around Christmas time (these flavours and scents are particularly loved at this time of year) and, much like panforte or fruit cake, would make a nice gift for friends and family, too.

Pagnotella is either made as one large loaf or a few buns, dusted in flour before being baked to set. A variation is to mix all the ingredients into bread dough instead of just flour so that you have a rather hard, dense fruit and nut loaf. All versions keep a very long time and just get better as they age.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
250g dried figs, roughly chopped
500ml white wine
1/4 apple, peeled, cored and grated
1 orange, zested
50g sultanas
50g pine nuts
50g walnut kernels
50g whole almonds
50g hazelnuts, peeled but whole
2 tablespoons dutch cocoa powder
100g dark chocolate, chopped roughly, (70% cocoa)
2 tablespoons plum jam
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
100g plain flour, plus more for dusting

Method

  1. Soak the figs in the wine overnight. Put the soaked figs with all the liquid in a small saucepan and add the grated apple. Bring to a simmer and cook over low–medium heat until the fruit is soft and the liquid has reduced slightly, about 15 minutes. Blend in a food processor or with a hand-held blender until paste-like. Let it cool.
  2. Transfer the fig mixture to a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients except for the flour and combine. Add the flour in a few stages until you have a soft and sticky mixture that has the consistency of bread dough – you may need to add a bit more or a bit less.
  3. Preheat the oven to 160ºC, line a baking tray with baking paper and dust the top with flour.
  4. Directly on the baking tray, use floured hands to shape the dough into a round loaf around 20 cm wide and flatten it until it’s about 5 cm tall in the centre. Dust liberally with flour on the top and blow off the excess. Bake in the oven for 25–30 minutes, or until the flour on the tray turns a cappuccino-coloured brown and the bread feels firm.
  5. This delicious bread lasts ages and ages and ages. It’s best to keep it covered/wrapped in plastic wrap or in an airtight container, and stored somewhere cool and dry.

Note

  • I find 100 g of flour is enough, but all flours are different, and all figs will likely be different too, so use this as a guideline. You might find that your dough can take a lot more.

Substitutions

  • If you don’t have plum jam, you can use another dark jam such as grape or fig, or even substitute completely with honey. I like this even mixture of different nuts, but you could cut it down to one or two kinds. Just choose 200 g of any nuts – my friend Orestina likes to use just almonds, for example. You can also use red wine for cooking the figs. Sometimes you’ll see this bread in a stick shape – a long loaf rather than a round one.
Tags:
Italian
Tuscany
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