The best ever, no-knead Olive Bread

olive-bread-4When I first read about the no-knead method of bread baking I thought it was a joke. For years my grandmothers and aunts swore by the “knead for at least 10 minutes” bread rule. I’m not claiming that kneading bread dough is wrong. I’ve been baking bread at home all my life and I am in no way suggesting you shouldn’t knead your bread dough. I am merely saying you can get away with it!Jim Lahey, the owner of Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan, discovered the no-knead method. He says, “The secret is letting the time do the work”. And he is right. Cook-book author and food writer for the New York Times, Mark Bittman, paid him a visit and uploaded a video on You Tube on how to make no-knead bread using this method. It’s very short and very useful to watch (find it here).

This bread owes its amazing taste and texture to long fermentation. The recipe calls for very little yeast but you need to let the dough rise for 12-20 hours. You can even put it in the fridge and keep it there for up to a week, taking pieces of the dough and baking it whenever you want fresh bread. Your loaf will have a brown, crusty exterior and soft, chewy, airy interior, which resembles very much the Italian “chapatta”.

olive-bread2As Lahey says, a 6 year old can make this bread. It’s that simple. First you will mix 3 cups all-purpose flour, ¼ teaspoon yeast and 1 ½ teaspoon salt, then add 1 ¾ cups water and mix with a spoon. That’s it! Really. After it rises you fold it a few times then let it rise again. After that it’s ready for baking. Lahey bakes his bread in a cast iron pot (in the States it is also known as Dutch Oven), which he preheats in a blazing hot oven. He throws the dough in the pot, and then covers it with the lid. The lid traps the steam inside the pot, which gives the bread a crusty exterior. Then he uncovers the pot and bakes 15 minutes longer. And there it is. The closest thing to sourdough bread without the sourdough.

I have experimented with Lahey’s recipe many times and it always worked. I have added different kinds of flour, adjusted the water content, added seeds, nuts, cheese, you name it! But my all time favourite is this olive bread. The method is exactly the same; you just add more stuff in the flour-yeast-salt mixture before mixing in the water. I added whole-wheat flour, caramelized onions and herbs but you can experiment with your own ingredients. I’m certain it will come out right. Just give this bread time. Don’t increase the amount of yeast for a quicker rise. Less yeast, more time results in bakery-quality bread. Go ahead and impress everyone. I did.

olive-bread1Ingredients (makes 1 loaf)

  • 1 medium red or white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 2 cups “Mitsides” all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup “Mitsides” whole-wheat flour
  • ¼ tsp dry active yeast
  • 1 ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ cup black “kalamata” olives, chopped (I used 15 large olives)
  • 1 Tbs fresh mint, chopped
  • 2 Tbs fresh coriander leaves, chopped
  • 1 ¾ cups lukewarm water

Method

First caramelize the onion. Put olive oil and chopped onion in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add a pinch of salt and let onion cook, stirring occasionally until golden. This may take 8-10 minutes since you should do this slowly, over low heat. You want the onion to become soft and golden, not burn, otherwise it may taste bitter.

In a large bowl mix together the flours, yeast, salt, olives, mint and coriander. Add the sautéed onions together with whatever olive oil is left in the pan. Mix again. Add the water and stir briefly with a silicon spatula, wooden spoon or your hands until all ingredients are moistened and you have a very wet dough (picture 1). Cover bowl with lid or plastic wrap. That’s it. Now you need to let the yeast do it’s job.

proofingLet the dough sit, at room temperature, for at 12-20 hours. I usually mix the dough in the afternoon and bake the next morning. The dough will expand and become like a stringy, thick batter full of bubbles (picture 2). Tip the dough on a very well floured piece of greaseproof paper. With the help of a pastry scraper or silicon spatula “fold” the dough 4-5 times, starting from the edges and folding over the centre, to form –roughly- a ball. You can also use your hands (dip them in flour first) but dough will be very sticky. I find that a silicon spatula works best.

Lift the four corners of the greaseproof paper and transfer dough (don’t try to remove paper) to a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise for 2 hours (picture 3).

Half an hour before rising time is over, put a cast iron pot (see note) in the oven and preheat to 240 C. No need to preheat the lid.

When 2 hours passed, lift the dough using the four corners of the greaseproof paper and transfer carefully with the paper into the hot pot. Cover pot with its lid. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove lid from pot and carefully (pot will be hot!) remove greaseproof paper from bread. Continue baking uncovered for 15 minutes longer. During this time the bread will get a beautiful dark golden crust.

Remove bread from the oven and cool on a wire rack. You will probably want to eat it right away but resist. The bread will improve in taste and texture after it cools at least 1 hour. Slice with a bread knife and listen to that wonderful sound of the crust cracking. The bread is best eaten on the day it’s baked but it’s still wonderful the next day. Only it won’t last that long.

Note: If you don’t have a cast iron pot, you can use any ovenproof pot with a lid, just make sure it doesn’t have any plastic knobs or handles. If you don’t have one, some people suggest using a Pyrex pan, but I feel a bit uneasy using glass pans at such high oven temperatures. What you could use is a cake pan, and then tent it with foil. Just don’t preheat the cake pan, as you won’t be able to put the foil tent properly without burning your fingers. I have seen some people use 2 identical cake pans, one inverted on top of the other and then clipped together with metal clips, the ones you use to keep bundles of paper together. Do whatever suits you best; just make sure you will cover your bread while baking.

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