One of my friends had become vegan. The day before her birthday I’d brought a box of meringues and madeleines, later to receive a text about the new dietary path she had assumed. (I realize this is why you double check with someone before making them something!)
But this post isn’t about her. It’s actually about me. (As usual.)
I was stuck on what to make next, so I ended up pulling my poor abused sourdough starter from the back of the fridge and reviving it sufficiently to spit out a loaf of bread. That gift (also known as the subject of this post) didn’t make it to her either. On Monday I brought it, but never got a chance to see her. The next day I had classes at a different campus. (After all, as long as you don’t cut it, it should stay fairly fresh.)
Wednesday got off to a poor start. It began on the train where I stood too close to the doors and succeeded in squishing the bread when they opened (accordian-style) to the sides. I shrugged off the damage. (After all, it was a sturdy bread.)
Then I ended up bringing the bread to the washroom with me, which smelt strongly of the acrid combination of fish and dishwashing detergent. Not knowing where else to put it, it ended up sitting on the floor. (And after all, it was not only in a box, but in a plastic bag.)
When I finally saw her I couldn’t make myself hand over the bread. As much as I’d reassured myself over the week, I felt too ashamed to hand it over. In the end I made a new bread and some candied orange peel the next week.
And I cut open this second birthday gift rendition myself. It was quite nice–and did not taste stale despite having been 4 days since I made it: the wonders of a thick crust. The crumb was not great however; rather dense, but I’ve come to expect that for any bread that I make.
Edit: I actually posted this and then took it down. I had randomly scheduled it come up and then completely forgot about it. The thing is, I had another post planned to come up soon and I didn’t want to spam the world (not that most people would notice) with too many posts.
While I’ve had my sourdough starter for a number of years now, it was a perhaps a couple years ago that Tartine Bread Experiment gave me the one most useful epiphany about making sourdough (you can tell simply how revelatory that was due to my use of bold letting). It was: to use very little sourdough starter. I was used to using 20% (of the flour weight) as I vaguely recall being prescribed by Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. However, this blog helped me realize that simply 5%, or even less, would suffice with the addition of a number of long rises. By doing this, even when my sourdough starter was in tough shape and began to smell a bit like ammonia, it didn’t affect the taste of the bread.
So obvious, and yet so brilliant.
I use all purpose flour because that is all I ever have on hand. I think bread flour is of course the best choice; and in that case the additional wheat gluten can be disregarded.
It is better to add the olives in later; that way they will not get beaten up as the olive oil is kneaded in. However, I added the olives in with the oil as I prefer to incorporate everything, breaking down and reforming the gluten, all at once. With all the olives it ended up quite salty. I think it’s perfect for eating on its own or, even better, with a bit of butter. But for sandwiches or with salty toppings, the salt should be reduced a bit.
Adapted from Tartine Bread Experiment
For the sponge, combine:
50 g starter
100 g water
50 g spelt flour
50 g all purpose flour
Let it ferment overnight. To make the dough, mix together:
360 g water
550 g all purpose flour
6 g wheat gluten
Being with a spoon, switching to your hands when necessary. Cover and let it autolyze for an hour. Once it has rested, add:
10 g kosher salt
25 g extra-virgin olive oil
80 g olives, sliced lengthwise in 6 wedges
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
Knead the bread in the bowl until the oil has been assimilated. Let the bread rest for half an hour; give it a fold. Repeat a couple times if you like.
Then allow it to rise until doubled, depending on the activity of your starter, a few hours to several.
Using a plastic scraper, gently empty the dough onto a floured countertop. Invert the bowl to cover the dough and let it rest for 10 minutes (bench rest). Meanwhile, dust a tea towel with rice flour and use it to line an appropriately sized bowl.
Gently pull the bread into a tight boule, keeping deflation to a minimum. Place it, smooth side down, into the towel-lined bowl. (Alternatively, let it rise on a parchment-lined baking tray, covered).
Cover and let the bread undergo a final rise, likely only a couple of hours. It should be well risen, but not overrisen. At some point, start preheating the oven to 550F.
Place a sheet pan on top of bowl, carefully invert, tipping the bread onto the pan. Score with a serrated knife (or whatever works best for you).
Bake for 20 minutes at 550F, then lower the oven temperature to 450F for 30 more minutes. Lower the temperature again to 400 for another 20-30 minutes, or until the bread is well browned and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Let cool completely on a wire rack.