I’ve made enough bread in my lifetime that my approach is pretty much off-the-cuff. I decide if I want it tender or rustic, what shape I want, how crusty the crust and so forth. One packet of quick-rise yeast, a half cup of warm water and a teaspoon or two of sugar, and the process has pretty much begun.
Because I had a pint of Kalamata olives in the fridge, left over from the serving line at last weekend’s Olives Olé, I pitted and chopped up about a cup of them to add to the bread dough. A healthy glug of Sandy Oaks olio nuovo, or first cold-pressed oil from the Elmendorf orchard’s harvest in 2010, put the finishing touch on the dough.
I used one cup whole wheat flour (to two cups white flour) to give it a little heft. The result was a surprisingly tender boule, deliciously scented with olives. We cut into it to go with dinner, pasta tossed with tiny veal meatballs and tomato sauce.
Kalamata Olive Bread
1 package (1 ounce) quick-rising yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup warm water
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached white flour, divided use
1 to 1 1/2 cups warm water, plus more after first sponge has risen
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for optional brushing on crust
1 cup pitted and coarsely chopped Kalamata olives or your favorite olives
1/3 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
2 teaspoons sea salt
Cornmeal for the pan
Stir the package of yeast and sugar into a small bowl of warm water. Let stand for a few minutes. In a large bowl, measure out the flour. Pour in the yeast and water mixture. With a large rubber spatula or wooden spoon (or your hands), blend the mixture together. Add a little more water, if needed, to make a sponge that is very moist and shaggy looking. Gather the dough into a ball, put in another lightly oiled bowl in a warm place and cover. Let it rise for an hour or so.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
When the dough has risen, turn it out on a clean countertop. Add the salt, olives and cheese. Gently fold and knead into the dough. Now, start adding more flour until the dough is firmer and holds its shape. Knead for a few minutes until the dough is firm and has a bit of shine on the surface. Lightly dust a large pizza pan or bake sheet with cornmeal. Put the ball of dough in the center. If you like a tender outside crust, you can brush a light coating of olive oil on the outside. If you want a crustier loaf, leave off the oil. Make a slash with a sharp, serrated knife across the top, not too deep.
Cover the dough with a not-too-heavy cloth and let it rise for about 30-40 minutes. It will rise more when you put it in to bake. Bake the bread for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and the loaf makes a hollow sound when you tap it. Take it out and let it cool another 30 minutes.
Makes a large boule. You can put what you don’t eat right away into freezer bags and freeze, too.
From Bonnie Walker