Wednesday, April 6, 2011

0 Recipe #258: Rosemary-Kalamata Olive Bread: Hooray for Artesanal Breads!

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Kalamata olive bread (or eliopsomo, ελιόψωμο, in Greek) is probably one of my all-time favorite kinds of artesanal bread. I love the rich, juicy flavor of the olives coupled with the vibrant, fresh herbs, as well as the contrast between the thick, crunchy outer crust and soft, warm center.

While olive breads are popular all over the Mediterranean, they’ve also become quite the thing here in the US as well, especially over the past several years.

Two of my favorite places for Kalamata olive bread in DC are the Firehook Bakery and Marvelous Market. Eatsy’s in Rockville also had phenomenal olive bread, but sadly they are no longer in business. :( Also, believe it or not, Safeway makes surprisingly good olive bread.

Of course, this recipe is for those of you who’d like to try your hand at breadmaking. :) Breadmaking is truly an art, and I’ll be honest, it takes some practice to master the techniques. Also, there’s a lot of room for error, so don’t be too disappointed if your bread doesn’t turn out perfectly on the first try. If at first you don’t succeed, etc. :-D Keep trying, and you’ll get the hang of it.

If it makes you feel any better, know this: It took me several tries as well before I got it right. Ask my mother about one of my first breadmaking experiences: When I was a teenager, I once attempted to make two different kinds of braided bread -- a pulla, (a Finnish braided, wreath-shaped, cardamom-flavored bread), as well as a challah, (a Jewish braided bread both made and glazed with eggs) -- both for the very first time, and in a single day. (Yeah, I know. Totally over-ambitious, and also, probably not a stellar move either, considering that I'd never made bread before in my life, that is, up until that point. ;) ) And well, let’s just say that they looked a lot more impressive than they tasted. ;) They probably could've been used as projectile weapons. :) You could've chucked them across the room and they still would've remained in one piece, completely undamaged. LOL. I think I might've ended up shellacking the pulla, and using it as a decorative household ornament. ;)

However, I kept at it and eventually got better. What can I say: I like a challenge. ;) Breadmaking is one area in which research and persistent efforts are definitely rewarded. :)

If nothing else, your whole house will be permeated with the smell of freshly baked bread. And who doesn’t like that?! Ahhhh, heaven. :-D

Rosemary-Kalamata Olive Bread

1/4 c. lukewarm (i.e., 100-110°F) water (for proofing the yeast)
2 tsp. brown sugar (for proofing the yeast)
2 1/4 tsp. (i.e., 1 packet) active dry yeast
1 c. fresh Kalamata olives, pitted and halved crosswise  (i.e., the kind packed in brine from the deli counter, not jarred) (about 22 large Kalamata olives)
1/2 Tbsp. fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped and densely packed
2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves, coarsely chopped and densely packed
1/2 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves, coarsely chopped and densely packed
1/2 Tbsp. fresh marjoram, coarsely chopped and densely packed
1 Tbsp. freshly thyme leaves
3 c. unbleached, all purpose flour (or if you have it available, use bread flour instead)
1/2 c. water, at room temperature (for adding to the mixing bowl as a dough ingredient)
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (for adding to the mixing bowl as a dough ingredient)
1/2 Tbsp. (non-iodized) kosher salt (if unavailable, regular salt will do)
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (to oil dough while rising the first time around)
1-2 Tbsp. cornmeal (for dusting the baking tray)
1 extra large egg, beaten
2 Tbsp. water, at room temperature (for the beaten egg mixture, to coat the bread before baking)

Directions: In a glass custard dish (or other small bow1), dissolve sugar in 1/4 c.  lukewarm (i.e., 100-110°F) water. To proof, stir in yeast and let stand for about 10 minutes in a warm place, until mixture is creamy and foamy and doubled in size. (NOTE: Before using, check the expiration date on the package of yeast to ensure yeast is fresh. Do NOT use boiling water, or you'll kill the yeast. If mixture doesn't bubble, yeast is dead, and you'll have to start over using new, fresh yeast.)

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the herbs & olives, toss, and set aside.

In an electric mixer fitted with a flat beater attachment, combine 1 c. flour, proofed yeast, 3 Tbsp. olive oil, and water, and mix on low speed. Then, add remaining flour, a cup at a time until flour is fully incorporated. After approximately one minute, add olives and herbs, followed by salt, and mix until both are evenly distributed throughout.* Mix until dough is smooth and elastic and too stiff to stir, adding up to a 1/4 c. flour or a few tablespoons of water/oil if necessary, to keep from being either too dry or too sticky, respectively. (Don't overdo it, or flavor balance will be off.) You'll know the dough is ready when it begin to pull away from sides of bowl.

Remove dough from mixer, and turn out onto a floured surface, and form into a round loaf shape. Sprinkle salt on top and knead dough 10 times, by picking up one corner of the dough at a time and folding corner into center. Push center into table with heel of hand. Knead dough for a total of 10 to 15 minutes, sprinkling the board with additional flour, if necessary, to avoid sticking. Knead dough until salt is fully incorporated throughout the dough. Roll dough back into a ball. Wash out electric mixer’s mixing bowl to reuse, then oil the bowl with 1 Tbsp. olive oil, and place the dough in it; turn dough to coat with oil. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap (or a warm, damp kitchen cloth) in a warm, draft-free area, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about an hour or so. Once dough has risen, transfer to a lightly floured surface. Then, punch down dough to release trapped gases, and separate dough into two equally-sized pieces, cutting them apart with a large bread knife, and gently shape (do not knead!) into round loaves again. (The dough will not be smooth this time.)

Place loaf onto lightly greased baking sheet dusted with cornmeal. Let rise again in a warm oven set to 150°F for 2 minutes, then turn off oven and allow to proof for another 2 hours, or until light, puffy, and nearly doubled in volume.

While the bread is rising for the second time, put a pan of water in the bottom of the oven, which helps to create a thick, shiny, golden brown crust. (Some people generously spray inside of oven with water with about 8 sprays or directly spray the bread itself before placing it into the oven, but the former method is much more effective.)

Remove loaf from oven (to avoid deflating, do NOT knead or punch down dough this time!), turn oven back on, and preheat to 500°F. Diagonally score/slash the top of each loaf with a sharp knife. (This allows the bread to expand without ripping apart.) Whisk together the egg and 2 Tbsp. water in a small bowl. Lightly brush the top surface of each loaf with the egg wash. Position rack in center of oven, immediately place loaves into oven, and bake in a 500°F preheated oven on a pizza stone or in a clay baking cloche for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 375°F and cook for another 30 minutes, until the crusts are a deep golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. The middle of the loaves should reach about 190-200°F. Remove the bread from the oven, transfer to a wire cooling rack, and cool for about 30 minutes, or until bread has completely cooled. (If the bread was baked in loaf pans, remove the bread from the pans before cooling.) And finally, don't forget to remove the pan of water from the oven. :)

Best served warm! Slice off some bread to taste. Serve, & enjoy!

Yield: Makes 2 (3/4 lb.) round loaves.

Chef’s Notes: For this recipe, be sure to use rich, juicy olives marinated in brine &/or herbs, rather than canned or bottled ones.

After you knead the dough the first time around, you can also place it in a round proofing basket to rise. Most proofing baskets are made out of wicker or cane, so do not oil the basket. ;)

*If salt is added directly to the yeast, it'll kill it, and then, of course, your bread won't rise properly. So, this is why it's better to wait to add the salt until all of the other ingredients have been mixed together first.

If you make bread this particular way, you'll get a much better outcome. The dough will rise higher than if you added it during the mixing phase, and of course that translates into much lighter loaves of bread. Even though olive bread is a sturdy, rustic bread -- it's not exactly meant to be as weightless as a croissant (!), neither do you want to resemble a hockey puck. ;) In terms of weight class, it should be somewhere between featherweight and welterweight, but definitely not heavyweight. ;) It should be crusty on the outside and a bit aerated on the inside. If it's too dense, then the dough clearly didn't rise enough. If it's still a bit doughy, then the bread needs to cook a bit longer. Of course, the former situation can't be fixed (unless you make a new batch), while the latter one can. :)

Variations: Shape the dough into 16 small rolls or brioches. Slash the tops as indicated above & reduce cooking time to 25 minutes, cooking the loaves in a 375°F preheated oven.

Greek or Kalamata olives may be used or a combination of both. Or try adding green, cracked olives to the mix. Whatever type of olives you use, again, make sure they are brine-cured olives, and not olives from a can or glass jar. :)

To make this recipe vegan, simply omit the egg wash. Instead, brush the top of the loaves with water right before you place them into the oven to be baked.

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