Friday, September 24, 2010

Olive Bread.

I'd like to formally introduced myself as a newly-reformed anti-olivist. Yep, you heard me: the same olives that I was protesting a couple of months ago are now suddenly up there on my craved-foods list. Sure, they're still a little more bitter than my palate usually endorses, and they're not something I'm willing to eat for breakfast (yet). Ed note: that changed within a matter of about a week. They're still bitter, but they're fantastic for breakfast. But, seeing as how I've developed an addiction to bread and olive oil, I guess it's a natural progression that olives would follow.

I'd never eaten olive bread until my friend Tash served some with a meal. I took a slice out of curiosity, and really enjoyed it: the bread was fresh and soft, but the olives were salty and addictive. I loved it instantly. On my recent trip to Berlin, to see my parents while they were briefly in the country, we ate a lot of baked goods: they're the go-to foods for train travel and snacks. There's a bakery every 100m and they have all of the classics. But in the Berlin Bahnhof, there was one bakery selling olive bread, in long ciabatta-like serves, appropriate for a single hungry traveller. I bought two in the space of two days.

The final hurdle between myself and olives was crossed in Tash's kitchen quite recently. We were preparing pizzas for dinner; a make-your-own arrangement which was great fun for the kids (and me, I admit it!) and allowed everyone to pick from a good range of toppings. One of the toppings was olives, in both black (kalamata) and stuffed green varieties. We'd bought them at the markets in Muenster that afternoon, from a very friendly olive seller. But, before I even got to sample those, I got offered Zitronen-Oliven (lemon olives) from the small container already residing in the fridge. Needless to say, none of those lemon olives made it onto a pizza. They were a revelation: salty, piquant, with just enough citrus flavour to cut through the bitterness of the olives. I was hooked.

I still haven't had an olive as good as those, but I did purchase olives for myself at the Paderborn markets recently. I bought almond-stuffed olives, covered in garlic, from one seller, and rosemary-lemon olives from another. Sadly, the rosemary-lemon, which I'd expected to be the clear winner, somehow didn't taste quite... fresh. Which is strange, for a preserved product. The other olives, however, were fantastic, and you can bet that I'll be lining up for more tomorrow. The rosemary-olives were rinsed off (I think some extra non-rosemary herbs were the problem here, and the olive oil they were in wasn't as good) and used, together with the garlic stuffed into them, in a loaf of bread. I'll be making more of this, in huge batches, just as soon as my housemate eats those goddamn frozen pizzas that he insists on stuffing our tiny freezer with...

Olive Bread
400g wholemeal flour + extra for kneading
1 sachet instant yeast
1 tsp sugar
3/4 cup - 1 cup warm water
300g green olives, halved*
Mix the dry ingredients together, then add the warm water as needed, bringing it together to form a dough. It should be pretty sticky, which is fine: just cover it with a layer of flour on all sides, so that it doesn't stick to the bowl when it rises.
Leave the dough for about half an hour, in a warm kitchen (twice that in a colder one), until doubled in size.
Punch back the dough and mix in the olives (and extras, see note below), giving it a knead for as long as you can bear. You'll need to add in extra flour as you go, to stop the dough from sticking to your surfaces, but it's fine to leave it a bit sticky. I certainly did - I like my loaves to be a bit dense and chewy.
Allow the dough to rise again, until doubled. Knock it back and divide it into two flat loaves. Proove it in your oven for a few minutes while it preheats to 200 degrees. (My oven is super slow, so they got about ten minutes in there, before it started getting properly hot).
Place a small dish of water in the bottom of your oven - this creates steam, which prevents your loaf from splitting open.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. You want it to be browned and crusty.
Eat and entire loaf for lunch, dipped in olive oil, and then laze around feeling stuffed for the better part of the afternoon.

*My green olives had rosemary and garlic cloves, which I included in this bread. If you buy plain olives, add 2 Tbsp fresh rosemary leaves, roughly chopped, and 4 cloves of roughly chopped garlic to this recipe.
*One of my loaves seemed to get the lion's share of the olives; the one you can see sliced, at the top of this post, was lighter on the olives. I'll have to take more care next time, when I divide the loaves! Should probably also take care that the loaf isn't upside-down when I'm taking photos, too... ;)

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