The finished loaf. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was tempted to skip this recipe–or engage in some creative substitutions–but I discovered that my neighbor’s family loves olives and my hubby does, too.  So despite the fact that the sight and smell of olives makes my nose hairs curl, I went down to the grocery and picked up a jar.

And continued to make the Rustic Olive Thyme Bread.

But let me back up.  Many breads actually begin the day before–in fact, the most flavorful breads begin hours before and begin to ferment, bubble, and percolate long before you roll them out.  Sometimes you inherit a “mother” or “starter” or “sponge” from your great aunt Lizzy, sometimes you can grow you own from the bacteria on grapes (but you’d better be prepared to feed it every four hours around the clock. Demanding little babies, they are).

But if you have access to that great invention called “packaged yeast” (I use active dry yeast), you can start your own starter the night before in one of two forms:  a biga or a poolish (and boy, my auto-correct is going crazy).  A biga, when put together, will look like a soft dough, while a poolish will look more like batter–IOW, it’s thinner.  You usually let these sit out for a few hours or cover and put them in the refrigerator.  A poolish will keep longer than a biga, but check your recipe for directions.

The first rise in the bucket. It more than doubled. 

Now–yeast needs to activate in water between 105 and 115 degrees, no hotter, no cooler.  This will seem only slightly warmer than your body temperature, but I prefer to actually nail it with a thermometer.  When I began my first poolish last night, the temp was 115-116, and when the yeast didn’t look like it was doing anything after ten minutes, I poured it out and started again.  (Better to loose a little than to loose a lot later because you have dead yeast.)  On my second attempt, I made sure the water was more like 108 degrees, and the yeast did fine, though it still didn’t look like much in that watery mix.

Next day, let the poolish sit out on the counter to adjust to room temperature while you gather all the ingredients for your bread.  (I actually had to run out for those olives).  When I came back, I tossed all the ingredients PLUS the poolish into the bowl of my stand mixer.

My mixer story:  Sixteen years ago I bought a Kitchenaid stand mixer.  Loved it.  Used it.  And the other day I was using it to make a HUGE batch of bread dough, and the poor thing struggled.  And I smelled something burning.  So I turned it off, let it cool, and finished my kneading by hand.

Bannetons. (Look on eBay). 

Later that night, I tried to take the machine apart to see if I saw any burnt wires, etc.  Saw nothing, so I called the Kitchenaid help line.  The gal there said to take the phone into the kitchen and turn on the machine so she could hear the motor.  I attempted this, but when I turned it on . . . nothing.  Dead as a doornail.

Bummer.  I had already decided to order another mixer and give the old one to my daughter, but I couldn’t give her a dead machine.  So I looked around online and found a nice refurbished model on  Ordered that one and set my old one out with the trash.

And then, while I was nosing around e-Bay, I found these little thingamajigs–and I recognized them because I’d pulled them out of my machine when I took it apart.  Seems they have to be put back in a VERY particular way, using tiny little markers.  So I pulled mine out, put them in properly, and the machine worked.

Place dough in basket, coat with oil. 

What to do?  I went from having no mixers to having three.  I could send my daughter’s mixer back and revert to plan A, but I didn’t want to give her an old mixer when I’d already ordered a new one.  So I decided to keep the old workhorse.  Who knows?  Some day I may have a bake off in my kitchen, or I might be letting my granddaughter make something in one corner while I make something in another.  In any case, such a reliable machine deserves to be treated with a little respect.  I’m so glad I pulled it back out of the trash heap, and I thank the Lord that our trash man hadn’t come yet.

Anyway–once you’ve put together the dough and the olives, you let it rise for two hours.  You can see pictures of the beginning and ending of that process.

After the dough has risen, you shape it into two loaves and place in a banneton–a basket for proofing bread. You place it in seam-side-up, because you want those lovely ridges in your finished bread.  After it has risen again, you carefully turn the basket over onto a baking sheet.

I think I “deflated” my round loaf because I flipped it over with too much gusto.  I flipped the oval basket more gently, and that dough did fine.

And so–ta da!  Olive bread.  I promptly walked one loaf to my neighbor, and will have to get my hubby to eat the other.  Give me pecans and fruit any day.  🙂

Would you like olive bread? Did you try this recipe?



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