Friday, November 16, 2007

Olive a Good Loaf

I may have conquered my fear of yeast, but I definitely have miles to go into the realm of breadmaking. Man cannot live by white bread alone; not when there are artisan breads, sourdough breads, and regional specialities to try.

It was a treat for me this summer to get together with Peabody and Tanna for lunch. What fun it was to sit and talk food and blogging with two such awesome ladies! Peabody, besides being cute, smart, and funny, is an awesome baker. If you've ever been to her site, you know you need to bring a drool bucket along to read her blog.

Tanna is wonderful, as well. She's travelled around the globe, making friends, baking, and sharing life. Plus she is a bread guru. After meeting her I began e-mailing her questions about sourdough. I've had sketchy success with sourdough starter. She kindly answered my questions and sent information. I checked out a stack of breadmaking cookbooks from the library and was confounded that each and every one of them had a different recipe for starter. Tanna shared her words of wisdom with me - find one that works. Then she sent me pictures of her starter. Holy smokes! It had blown it's top and was trying to climb out of the jar. Mine sat sluggishly on the counter like a teenager lounging on the couch in front of the TV.

I was so impressed with her starter that I sent her a recipe I'd been trying. She promptly whipped up a lovely loaf and sent me the pictures, saying we should both post our loaves. I made a loaf and, oh baby, was it sad and ugly. My daughter took one look at the pathetic, squashed ring and said, "It looks like road kill!"

I think my starter needs something. A pep talk. A swift kick in the patootie. Or just to start over again. The recipe says to let the dough rise for 3 hours, or till doubled. I put mine in the lightly warmed oven. Three hours later it had just lay there, so relaxed it was a puddle. I closed the oven and then forgot about it till I went to preheat the oven for dinner two hours later. Good thing I checked first! The dough had risen enough that I called it doubled.

After I popped dinner in the oven I put together the olive loaf. The dough was all limp and floppy, as if I'd kneaded Valium into it instead of flour. I formed the ring, put it on the baking sheet and left it to rise inside it's plastic bag tent overnight.

When I got up in the morning I was faced with a puddle of "dough" with olives poking out. Not at all promising. Not at all like the pictures in the cookbook. Where they optimistically said to slash the dough, I dragged a knife back and forth across the goo. But I popped it into the steamy oven, hoping, if not for the best, at least for something edible.

The instructions said to cook 8-15 minutes. At 8 minutes I checked and the edges were already burned. Wow, what a winner of a loaf this was! Flat, dark, and lumpy, but....once cooled and served with dipping oil and balsamic vinegar, strangely moreish. Once we got over the fact that this was never going to be a runway model for King Arthur's fall collection, we gobbled the whole thing in under a day.

So, take heart, wary bread bakers, even with wimpy starter and pathetic dough, you can still get an edible loaf.

Olive and Thyme Bread
(aka Roadkill Loaf)
adapted from Bread from sourdough to rye by Linda Collister

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp fine whole-wheat flour
1 tsp sea salt
2/3 cup sourdough starter
about 2/3 cup tepid water
scant 1 cup good quality black olives, such as kalamata or nicoise, pitted
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, stripped from the stalks

1- Put the flours and salt in a large bowl and mix. (I added 1/4 tsp yeast at this point.)

2- Make a well in the center and add the starter and water.

3- Work the starter and water together with your hands to make a soupy mixture, then gradually work in the flour to make a slightly soft dough. Depending on the consistency of the starter, you may need to work in a little extra white flour or water.

4- Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes until very pliable and smooth.

5- Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 3 hours depending on the vigor of the starter.

6- Punch down the risen dough a couple of times to deflate, or turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface before punching down.

7- Using your knuckles, gently pat the dough into a narrow rectangle about 16 inches long.

8- Sprinkle the olives and thyme down the middle of the dough.

9- Fold over the sides to enclose the filling.

10- Pinch the seam to seal in the filling, then gently roll the dough with your hands to make a sausage about 2 feet long.

11- Carefully lift the dough onto a greased baking sheet and shape it into a ring, joining the ends. Slip the sheet into a large plastic bag, slightly inflate, close securely (clip), then let rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Meanwhile preheat the oven to its maximum setting, and put a roasting pan of water in the bottom to create a steamy atmosphere.

12- Uncover the ring and slash lightly with a sharp knife or razor blade. Put into the hot oven and, if possible, spray with water to increase the steam.

Bake until the loaf is a very good brown, very crisp, and sounds hollow when tapped underneath, 8-15 minutes depending on your oven. Cool on a wire rack. Eat warm within 24 hours.

This is excellent for dipping in olive oil and balsamic vinegar!


Anonymous said...

This is so funny. I want to give you all kinds of tricks and tips but this is so funny, I dare not!
Love the last picture!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Ok Lynn, I'm putting mine up. That last photo is priceless as is your daughter!
With all the failures I've had, I've always thought things turned out well when the eating was good.
You write it so well!

Peabody said...

LOL...I am loving the "road kill" photo that you have there.
Oh and feel free to give your yeast a pep talk...they like it. My husband thinks I am crazy but I often have a talk with my yeast, especially if it is not cooperating!

Anonymous said...

I linked over here from Tanna's site. Although your writing of it is hilarious, I don't think the bread is road-kill-reminiscent at all. I'd say you made a beautiful olive focaccia!

Gigi said...

Just funny! The last photo is the best!

Katie Zeller said...

I think I saw that coming home last night!!!!
If you can eat it, and live to tell the tale, it's a success!
I can empathize - baking is not my thing, either!

LizNoVeggieGirl said...

ah yes, I am an avid reader of Peabody's blog (as I am of your blog as well!), and I wholeheartedly agree that she is quite a talented baker. How exciting that you two got to meet!! :0)

Lynn, you've inspired me to try to conquer my fear of "non-sweetbread-type" breads (since those are the only breads that I'm good at baking - I have a hard time with other breads, especially those that contain yeast!). Your Olive & Thyme Bread sounds delicious!

Nora B. said...

Your last pic is so funny!

Linda said...

wow this bread looks so savory. thanks for the recipe!!!