Monday, July 25, 2016

Olive herb rounds

The scent of freshly baked bread is wonderful all by itself, but with olives and fresh herbs added to the aroma it is utterly amazing! This bread can be baked in rounds or loaves, whichever you prefer. Use it for toast, sandwishes, or just a tasty aside to your favorite meal. Ready to make some? Here we go!

First, a word about olives. There are many varieties available and everyone has their favorites. Bear in mind that enjoying an olive all by itself is a it different than baking it into a loaf of bread, so don't feel obligated to break the bank buying expensive olives. Simple black and green olives will do just fine, and are much less expensive than some of their exotic cousins! That said, let's get started.

3 cups whole wheat flour
3 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
2 1/2 cups warm water
2 T salt
1T sugar
1 1/2 T dry yeast
3/4 cup black olives, sliced or rough chopped
1/4 cup green olives, sliced or rough chopped
2T finely chopped fresh garlic or green onion scapes
2T finely chopped fresh parsley
1T finely chopped fresh oregano
1T finely chopped fresh parsley
2T olive oil

Here's how to do it:

Proof your yeast by mixing it with the warm water and sugar. Let it sit for several minutes until it begins to bubble and appear foamy on top. It will build thicker and thicker foam the longer you let it sit, which is just fine. If it takes you a while to get back to it, it will not be harmed by the delay. Meanwhile...

Finely chop your fresh herbs. If fresh are not available to you, dried herbs will work just fine. Just remember to use only about half as much when using dried herbs because they shrink quite a bit during drying so there is more there than you might think! Also, feel free to adjust herb portions according to your taste or even add different herbs than I list here. Lean the flavor toward seasonings you enjoy!

Now, about those olives. You can either slice them neatly or just chop them roughly, whichever suits you. Then take your olives and your chopped herbs and stir them into your water and yeast mixture. Let them sit for a few minutes to flavor the liquid a bit, then add your salt and olive oil to the mixture.

In a large bowl, start with your whole grain flour and pour the liquid into it. Give it a good stir to incorporate everything together. Stir the white flour in about a cup at a time until stirring with a spoon seems like more work than it is worth with still a cup or two of flour waiting to be added, then switch to using your hands.

Plop the dough out onto your counter top (it is probably still pretty sticky at this point) and add some of the remaining white flour. Knead your dough, adding from your remaining white flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to you, the counter top, and anything else it touches! It will begin to firm up and become less sticky, and you will begin to feel a "springiness" developing in the dough. Keep on kneading because that springiness is the gluten developing and that gluten is what holds the bread together. Add sprinkles of flour as needed to prevent sticking, but don't overdo it.

Gauging how much flour to continue adding while kneading is the most often asked question about bread dough, along with knowing how long to knead it in the first place. This is the part of bread baking that you just have to learn by experience...and you WILL! The good thing is that you really can't knead bread dough "too much", as kneading evens and softens the texture...and that can't be bad! If you perhaps stop kneading a little too soon, your finished bread will just be a bit more coarse and have a less even texture with more holes, but even then it will taste good and not go to waste. As for stickiness and adding flour, again it is a judgment call based on a lot of variables. On a hot, dry day you might find yourself needing less flour, whereas on a cool day with rain you might need a little more flour during kneading. No, I am not joking, the weather really does affect your bread dough! So be prepared to make the same bread recipe several times on different days and get the feel of it. Pretty soon you will "just know" when your dough feels right. Now back to your olive bread...

Place your dough to rise for an hour or so either in a bowl covered with a towel or plastic wrap, or a plastic container with a lid. Called a "proofing box", any container will do that has a lid that closes snug. This helps to prevent the dough from drying out and forming a crusty surface, as well as holding in warmth and moisture which helps the dough to rise well.

When your dough has roughly doubled in size, oil your pans and portion the dough in them to rise a second time. This recipe will make two full sized loaves with a little left over for a mini round roll. (I usually weigh my loaves to 22 ounces of dough before baking.) No need to cover the loaves for this second rising unless your kitchen is very breezy. I often DO cover my loaves when I have the window open and/or the fan turned on for my own comfort.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Just before baking, slash the tips of the loaves with a sharp knife or razor blade. I score my olive loaves three times in the same direction with the center slash the can choose whatever pattern you like the look of. Set your loaves in the oven with the rack in the center and bake for 30 minutes. Loaves will sound hollow when tapped when they are finished baking.

Brush with olive oil and let the loaves rest in their pans for a few minutes after removing from the oven, then they will pop out of the pans easily.

So, there you are! It may seem tricky at first, but after you bake this bread a few times you will manage it with no trouble. Enjoy your olive bread!

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