I really like to bake with fresh yeast. I think it's not only easier to work with than dried yeast, but I also like the taste of the baked goods better. In Germany every supermarket carries little cubes of fresh yeast, enough for one recipe. Unfortunately, as I have learned, it is really difficult to find fresh yeast in North America.
One trick I have figured out is to ask your neighborhood bakery. If you ask nicely and don't ask too often they usually would sell it to you. You can also try the bakery department at your local gourmet supermarket. The problem is that you will usually get a whole pound, because that is how the fresh yeast is packaged here. That means you have to do a lot of baking for the next two weeks, because the yeast is perishable and also it cannot be frozen. But the good news is that a lot of yeast doughs can be frozen, so you can bake them later.
Just before I bought my block of fresh yeast I borrowed the wonderful book "Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins and More" by Carole Walter from the library. I already marked several recipes I wanted to try and couldn't wait to start. I can really recommend this book. All the recipes I made turned out wonderful, and I immediately bought a copy of the book for myself. In the first week I made Sticky Buns, Cherry Crumble Cake, Brioche and Fig and Walnut Loaf, which is pictured here. I also made some doughs to freeze for later use. The next thing I would like to try is croissants. Besides the yeast breads and cakes there are also a lot of nice recipes for quick breads, muffins, pound cakes, scones and more.
Fig and Walnut Loaf
(adapted from Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins and More by Carole Walter)
makes 2 loafs (21.5 x 11.5 cm) (8.5 x 4.5 inch)
3 cups all purpose flour
40g fresh yeast (or alternatively 1 package active dry yeast)
¼ cup lukewarm water
4 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
170g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
170g soft dried figs, cut into pieces
½ cup Marsala wine
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1½ cups toasted walnuts, broken
1 egg lightly beaten with 2 teaspoons water
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup walnuts
For the dough put the flower in your bowl of a stand mixer. Crumble the fresh yeast and sprinkle on top. Put 1 tablespoon of the sugar on top and a little bit of the warm water to cover the yeast. Let stand for about 5 minutes.
Add the rest of the sugar and the salt and start mixing on low speed. Slowly add the butter cubes while mixing. In a separate bowl mix the eggs with the sour cream and vanilla. Add the sour cream mixture to the dough and keep mixing until the dough comes together. Note: This is a soft dough.
Put the dough in a lightly buttered bowl, cover with a kitchen towel and let rise at a warm place for about an hour. Put the dough in the fridge overnight.
Take the dough out of the fridge about an hour before using.
Mix the figs with the Marsala and let stand for about 15 - 20 minutes. Drain the figs and let dry on paper towels.
Line two loaf pans with parchment paper. Mix the sugar with the cinnamon, sprinkle a little bit on your work surface. Half the dough (you can freeze the other half if you only want to bake one loaf at a time). Knead half of the figs and the walnuts in the dough. Sprinkle 4 to 5 tablespoons over the dough and keep kneading until everything is just incorporated in the dough. Do the same with the other half of the dough.
Divide each half in three equal pieces. Sprinkle your work surface with the sugar and cinnamon mixture and roll the dough until they form a ball. Put three balls side by side in each loaf form and press down. Brush with your egg wash. Cover with a kitchen towel and let it rise at a warm place for about 1½ to 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (170° Celsius).
Bake the loaves for 30 minutes.
After about 25 minutes start to make the glaze. Heat the water and sugar until boiling. After the sugar is dissolved let boil for another minute, stirring occasionally.
Remove the loafs from the oven and decrease the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180° Celsius). Brush the loafs with the hot syrup. Immediately press a few pieces of walnuts on each loaf and brush over with the syrup again.
Return the loafs to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes, until the tops are shiny and golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. Store the loafs at room temperature, wrapped in aluminum foil.
Enjoy and Guten Appetit!