Thursday, January 3, 2013

Picholine Olive Bread


Although I don't do it too regularly, I really enjoy baking fresh bread. There's something so satisfying about the entire process... from mixing together the dough, kneading it until smooth and pliable, watching it puff and rise, shaping it into beautiful loaves, smelling the odor of it baking in the oven, listening to the crust crackle as you slice it, taking that first bite after hours of labor. There really is nothing quite like homemade bread.


Although I'm a pretty equal opportunity carb lover, one of my favorite breads in the world is olive bread. I have enjoyed bread containing Kalamata olives as well as black olives and both have been delicious. I first tasted Amy's Bread's Picholine Olive Bread when I was living in New York City. A friend and I both selected this same bread to purchase when we were shopping together and then later raved back and forth about how it was so wonderful. I love that it was different than typical olive breads because of the Picholine (green cocktail) olives and the sprinkling of sea salt on top to give it an extra hit of crunch and flavor.


I had been meaning to try this bread ever since I purchased the cookbook, but for whatever reason I held off. Maybe I wanted to hone my bread baking skills a bit more so I wouldn't find myself disappointed if the result wasn't extraordinary. Maybe I was just waiting to invest in a wonderful high-grade baking stone that could hold multiple loaves of bread and would put my old flimsy one to shame.


Regardless of the reason, it was totally worth the wait. This is probably my favorite bread I've ever made as well as my favorite I've ever had. The crust is thick and crunchy, the interior is chewy and springy and studded with delicious briny olives. It is the perfect balance of crust to crumb as well as the perfect balance of flavor. It is... my new obsession.


I honestly think my baking stone made all the difference. I can't imagine this bread being half as good had I baked it on a pan or thinner stone. My new stone is over 1/2-inch thick and retains a lot more heat than the alternatives. It definitely allowed my bread's crust to mimic that achieved in professional ovens. I am 100% sold on both the stone and this bread recipe. I plan on making it again and again. The only problem is I will have to perhaps double the recipe to keep up with the demand!!

PS. I am submitting this post to Yeastspotting!


Picholine Olive Bread
Makes two 1-pound batard-shaped loaves
(Adapted from Amy's Bread: Revised and Updated)

1 1/4 cups (150 grams) picholine olives, cut in half and pitted
1/4 cup (57 grams) very warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 cups (445 grams) unbleached bread flour
1 cup (266 grams) poolish starter (recipe follows)
7/8 cup (210 grams) very cool water (65 to 70 degrees F)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (12 grams) kosher salt
Coarse cornmeal or polenta, for sprinkling, as needed
Coarse sea salt, for topping loaves (optional), as needed

In a colander or strainer, rinse the olives with cool water to remove any excess brine. Set them aside to drain.

Combine the very warm water and yeast and stir to dissolve. Let stand for 3 minutes.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the yeast mixture, flour, poolish, cool water, and kosher salt and mix on low speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, increase the speed to medium-low and continue mixing for 3 minutes, until all the flour is moistened and gathers into a loose mass of dough. Slide the dough down from the top of the hook, increase the speed to medium and knead the dough for 3 to 4 more minutes. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 15 minutes.

Add the olives, pressing them down into the dough, tucking some of them around the sides and under the dough. Mix on low speed for 1 minute to begin incorporating the olives. The dough will start to look shredded. Slide the dough down from the neck of the hook and increase the speed to medium for 2 minutes. Slide the dough back down the hook again, increase the speed to medium-high and continue kneading the dough for 4 to 5 minutes. Gently knead the dough further by hand a few turns, if needed, to make sure the olives are evenly distributed.

Put the dough in an oiled bowl that is large enough to allow it to almost double, cover it with oiled plastic wrap and allow it to rise for 50 minutes. It should feel very puffy but will not have doubled.

Gently fold the dough in from the sides to the middle to deflate it, turn it over so the smoother side is on top, cover it and let it rise again for another 50 minutes. The dough will almost double during this second rest.

Pour the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it into two equal pieces, about 550 grams each. With lightly floured hands, pre-shape each piece by gently patting it into a rectangle with the short sides at the bottom and top. Gently fold the top third down and the bottom third up, like a business letter. Seal the edge, give the dough a quarter turn and repeat the process. Seal the seam again and roll the dough over so the seam is on the bottom. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let them rest until they start to rise and feel puffy, about 20 to 30 minutes or more.

While the dough rests, line the back of a half sheet pan with parchment paper and sprinkle with flour.

Use a dough scraper to lift one of the pieces of dough and flip it over onto the lightly floured surface. With lightly floured hands, pat the dough gently into a rectangle with the long edge facing you. Lift the bottom of the dough and fold it over two-thirds of the dough, then fold the top over and bring it down so it covers two-thirds of the dough. Use the heel of one hand to form an indentation in the dough. Fold down the top of the dough so it meets with the bottom edge and use the heel of your hand to seal the seam. Turn the dough seam side down. Gently rock the dough back and forth with your hands to shape it, moving from the center outward to the ends, pushing down at the ends taper them. The batards should be about 11 inches long.

Place the loaves on the parchment-lined pan, leaving 2 inches on the ends and 3 to 4 inches in between the loaves. Cutting the parchment paper in half (so each loaf has it's own piece) can help ease the transfer of the loaves to the oven.* Cover the loaves with oiled plastic wrap and let them rise until they have almost doubled. They should hold a slightly indentation when pressed lightly with your finger.This could take 1 hour or longer.

Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Prepare the oven by placing a cast-iron skillet (I use an enameled one that won't rust) on the floor or lowest possible rack of an electric oven. Place an oven rack two runs above the cast-iron pan, and if you have one, put a baking stone on the rack (I recommend this one). Fill a plastic sprayer with water. Fill a teakettle with water to be boiled later, and have a 1 cup measuring cup available near the kettle.

Five to 10 minutes before the loaves are ready to bake, turn on the water to boil. At the same time, sprinkle a wooden peel with some coarse cornmeal and gently lift each loaf from the proofing pan to the peel. If using a sheet pan, leave the loaves on the pan used for proofing.* Cover them again with the oiled plastic wrap.

When the loaves are ready, mist the top of each loaf with water, sprinkle them lightly with coarse sea salt, if desired, and use a lame or a sharp razor blade to score the loaves by making one long cut down the center of each batard, leaving 1 inch unscored at each end. Open the oven and slide the batards onto the baking stone, being mindful not to stretch them too much (if you're baking without a stone simply slide the sheet pan with the scored and misted loaves onto the empty oven rack). Quickly pour the boiling water into the skillet and immediately close the oven door.

Check the loaves after 20 minutes and rotate them if necessary to insure even browning. Bake them for a total of 40 to 45 minutes, until they are uniformly golden brown in color and sound hallow when tapped on the bottom. Cool them completely on a wire rack before cutting them.

*Note* Personally, I like to proof the loaves on individual pieces of parchment and then move them to the baking stone on the parchment. I then remove the parchment partway through baking once the crust has set. They still absorb the same heat from the stone without the mess or added effort of transferring to and from a peel.

Poolish Starter
Makes 1 1/2 cups (285 grams)
(From Amy's Bread: Revised and Updated)

1/4 cup (57 grams) very warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (85 grams) cool water (75 to 78 degrees F)
1 cup (142 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

Combine the very warm water and yeast and whisk together until the yeast is dissolved. Allow the mixture to stand for 3 minutes. Add the cool water and flour and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon or your hand for 1 minute, until a smooth, somewhat elastic batter has formed. The starter will soften and become more elastic as it sits.

Scrape down the starter from the sides of the container and cover with plastic film. Mark the time and dough's height on the side of the container using a piece of tape so you can see how much it rises. Make sure it has room to triple in volume.

Let the starter rise at room temperature (75 to 78 degrees F) for 6 to 8 hours. Or let it rise 1 hour at room temperature, then chill it in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight. Remove it from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours to warm up and become active before use. When it is ready, it will have tripled in volume, and lots of bubbles and small folds will appear on the surface. The starter should be used in the next 2 to 4 hours, before it begins to deflate.

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