Since coming round to olives, I’ve started keeping a jar of them in the fridge. Not fancy ones, just pitted black olives in brine – ‘ingredient’ olives, if you will. One of the supermarkets near me has a section labelled ‘ingredient cheese’. I think they mean ‘not cheddar’ – or possibly ‘neither cheddar nor cheese spread’. It’s an odd way to put it; ‘specialty cheese’ might have made more sense. Perhaps they didn’t want the other cheeses to be offended, or for the ‘specialty’ cheeses to become ego-laden diva cheeses. Whatever the reason for this, it seems to have got into my head, given that I just used the phrase ‘ingredient olives’… I just mean the kind of olive that you would put in a stew, or indeed in a loaf of bread, but wouldn’t put out in a nice dish when you had guests round. Are you with me? Great.
I had a quick search for olive bread, and the results are vast. I found that Letites Culinaria had something that fit the bill with their Rosemary Mini Breads. Now, initially you may think that this recipes doesn’t fit the bill at all, given that there is no mention of olives. However, that is just an example of somebody not feeling an irrational need to list all the ingredients in a recipe in the recipe title itself. I try to do this, but feel quite guilty if I don’t name at least the main ingredients in a recipe up front in the title.
I have four mini loaf pans which I just love, and have used to make some quick bread – eg banana loaf – and also as a mould for little terrines, but never to make real bread, the kind you put yeast in and let rise for hours before you bake it. I thought this was the perfect opportunity to try it out.
In the beginning, I wasn’t too sure about the bread recipe. You mix the ingredients until just combined – there is no kneading. Initially, it looked like this:
It starts to make a bit more sense once you mix the olives and rosemary through, becoming a more familiar looking ball of dough.
It’s still a little lumpy, but I trusted in the recipe and didn’t over mix it. I let it rise in a warm place for two hours, then turned out and gently shaped into a round. I didn’t think it looked like it had doubled in size and, even though it felt warm to the touch (always a good sign), it still looked very uptight. If I’d kneaded it at the start, I thought, it would be much more relaxed by now – the gluten would be all stretchy and the surface would be puffier and softer. Hm.
You can see a lot of joining lines in the dough where it’s been rolled together – usually after bread rises these will be gone and the surface will be a lot smoother. I was concerned.
Now was the time to break the dough into pieces and put in the tiny loaf tins to rise for a second time. I put in enough dough to fill the tins about two thirds of the way up, each section rolled into an oblong to fit the tin. The remainder of the dough I just shaped into rounds that would become bread rolls. They looked as though they would never rise - I’d made even more wrinkles in them as I shaped them, and the overall sense was of a tough dough with no intention of moving so much as half an inch, whether I wanted it to or not. With a pronounced sense of bread-related disquiet, I put the four tins and the two rolls in a high-sided baking tray, put the baking tray on top of a large pot full of hot water and covered it with two towels, tucking them in round the sides to keep in the heat.
The idea was that the steam from the hot water would be conducted by the metal baking tray and radiate into the bread dough, making the yeast wake up and push the bread dough up into tall loaves and rolls. It’s one of my better ideas.
I let the dough rest for another hour before removing the towels to see what had happened. Covering bread dough with a towel adds a huge element of suspense to the bread making process. When you use clingfilm, or a glass bowl, you can see exactly what’s going on, even chart the progress of your dough if you like, making little marks on the side of the bowl as it gets taller, taking pride in its quick growth. Or if your dough isn’t rising, you can tell, and move it to a more comfortable temperature, or cancel your dinner plans while you wait and watch it. Not that I’ve ever done that. Yet. With a towel, the behaviour of your bread dough is a mystery to you, until the ordained moment where you carefully untuck the cover and lift it aside to reveal your success or failure.
The moment before you uncover the bread can be a little nerve-wracking, filled with anticipation as it is. You picture what you’d like to see – a soft dough that has risen to the top of the bread tin, and perhaps even further. A subtle smell of yeast might be carried to you on the warm air that rises from under the wrappings. The dough might be so light that it wobbles a little, you might see little bubbles rising on its surface, ready to burst and fold back in on themselves. On the other hand, you might see just what you tucked so tenderly in under the towel in the first place, changed not a jot. It’s a tense moment.
This is what I saw:
Beautiful, relaxed dough, puffed up over the rim of the baking tins, with a curved top. Sure, there were still some wrinkles here and there, but even they were softer than before; where there were worry lines, there were now laugh lines. Perhaps we should all spend more time covered up with a towel in a warm place? Perhaps this is where spas came from?
I baked the bread as instructed in the recipe, and it came out looking gorgeous. A crisp, dark crust and lovely sharp lines around the edges where the dough had finally eased its way into the corners of the bread tins. The smell was predictably great, the fragrance of rosemary and the hint of savoury olives adding to the ever-enticing fresh bread aroma. I brushed each loaf and roll with olive oil, then sprinkled with smoked sea salt.
I sliced up two of the tiny loaves and served as a canape (for which read ‘easy starter’) with salami and slices of aged gouda. I put cocktail sticks in for ease of lifting, but I will say that you should be careful with these because you’re basically constructing rows of sharp wooden sticks, ready to pierce the unwary snacker.
The bread had a very tight crumb and such a crisp crust – this meant I could make really thin slices for my canapes, which was perfect. A doorstep sized sandwich has its place, but not in the world of cocktail nibbles, that’s all I’m saying. It was flavoured throughout with the rosemary and olives, and I loved the idea of using a little olive brine in the dough to add to that flavour, as well as a good dose of salt. I did have my doubts along the way, but if you follow the recipe it’ll turn out alright in the end.
I saved the best photo till the end. Are you ready?
I didn’t know bread could be adorable, but it can.
I’ve submitted this post to Yeastspotting – get yourself over there every Friday for a selection of the best bread-based recipes around the internet.