Sunday, December 30, 2012

Closer to Home - Greek Olive Bread

The latest diet craze - the Mediterranean diet - strikes me as very strange. Not the diet itself, but rather the whole idea of a 'diet' based on the most popular components of the foods eaten in this area. The reason it is strange to me, of course, is because this is the kind of food I eat all the time. Let's think about it for a minute. What is this 'diet'? Well, it all starts with what Rachel Ray calls, EVOO, in other words Extra Virgin Olive Oil. From there, it really depends on where you are in the Mediterranean Basin. For instance, think of Italian food, and you think of tomato sauce and pasta. Think of French food from Provence, then you must include, sharp cheeses, red wine and lots of herbs. Actually, when you think of it, Italian food, Spanish food and all North African food, also includes herbs, olive oil and spices (often very spicy!). Lately I've been baking all kinds of dishes (quiches, pies and breads) from this area. This is all in preparation for some workshops I will be teaching this summer on Crete, the largest of the Greek Islands.

This bread is fairly typical of breads from the entire region. It includes olive oil, and even feta cheese, in some versions. It takes a long time to rise in the winter but in the summer will rise quickly. Unlike many breads from the Eastern Mediterranean, it has yeast to help it rise. Many breads from this area are flatbreads, like the famous pita bread found all over the Mediterranean and Middle East in one form or another. This recipe makes one fairly large loaf and keeps really well for several days. The addition of olives and feta give it a distinctly Middle eastern flavor. Needless to say, it makes great sandwiches especially with a sharp cheese, or with some kind of smoked meat. And mustard, good strong dijon mustard.

Here's What You'll Need:

1 onion thinly sliced
1Tbs. olive oil
1 cup pitted and chopped green or black olives
400g (3 cups) bread flour
3/4tsp salt
about 150g (5oz) drained and crumbled feta cheese
2tsp instant yeast
1Tbs chopped oregano, coriander, parsley and/or mint
1 cup hot (45C/120F) water

Here's What You'll Need to Do:

1. Fry the onion in the olive oil until lightly browned. Roughly chop the olives.

2. Put the flour, salt, yeast and herbs in a large bowl with the olives and fried onions and feta cheese, and pour in 1 cup hot water (not boiling - about 45C or 120F).

3. Mix the dough until it comes together. Then place on a lightly-floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until smooth and just barely sticky. Add flour or water as necessary to get the correct feel.

4. Put in a lightly-oiled bowl and cover. Leave it to rise until doubled, about 2 hours (the onions and olive will weigh it down).

5. Preheat the oven to 220C (425F). Lightly grease a baking sheet, then shape the dough into a tight boule. Leave it lightly covered to rise again until doubled.

6. Just before baking, slash the bread with a sharp knife, about 1/2 in (3mm) deep.

7. Bake for about 35-40 minutes until it is a deep rich brown. Serve with unsalted butter, or as part of a meze table. That's the small salads and dips that you find everywhere in this area. In Spain called tapas, in Greece, meze.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Boule - My own recipe for Accidental Sourdough

We have all had this experience, I'm sure. The happy circumstance where you do something, not intentionally, and despite all the indications of failure... it actually works out. So here's what happened. But first a little background to fill you in. I read a lot of cookbooks as you might imagine. All kinds but especially baking books. No biggie there. And, everything I read seems to have the same message and that is... if you want to be a real bread baker, you've got to make/bake sourdough. I'm not sure I buy this argument, but it's out there for sure. What everyone calls artisan/sourdough bread today is what my grandparents called 'bread'. It was all sourdough made with a poolish starter (very wet, often 100% hydration) or a biga (basically dough allowed to ferment before you knead it in with the rest of the dough). And, yes, you can be a purist and only use wild yeast which happens to be floating in your kitchen, or give it a boost with a minute amount of commercial yeast. All in order to get the distinctive sour taste and chewy crust of sourdough bread.

So this bread is a little of both born by accident. Here's what happened. I started a poolish (1 cup AP flour + 1 cup water + a pinch of commercial yeast, and left it covered, at room temperature for 8 hours. The problem is I forgot about it and went to bed and left it overnight. Then I got really busy and left it another day. By the time I got to it, it was 48 hours later!! it was bubbling away very, but very vigorously. I almost threw it out. But am I glad I didn't. The bread I made is so good, with the chewy crust and tight but soft crumb, I will surely make it again. This one is a keeper. Accidental sourdough.

Here's What You'll Need: (for the starter)
1 cup AP flour
1 cup warm water
a pinch of yeast

Mix to make a very wet slurry, like a thick cake batter, then cover with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature, for 48 hours!

1 cup AP flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rye flour
1 1/4 cup warm water
1-2 Tbs. sugar
1/2 tsp. instant yeast
11/2 tsp. salt

Mix it all together, along with the starter to make a ragged dough. Finally add the salt and knead for about 10 minutes (6 minutes in a mixer) until smooth and only slightly sticky. Place in a lightly greased bowl, turn to coat, then cover to rise until doubled in volume. This will take quite a while since there is only a little yeast, maybe 3 hours.

Finally shape the dough into a boule, being careful not to deflate the dough, and place on a baking sheet covered with baking paper (or a baker's peel), cover and let is rise until doubled again.

About 30 minutes before baking time preheat the oven, with a baking stone, to 450F (220C). Just before placing the dough in the oven, slash it with a sharp, serated knife, and spray the loaf and the oven with water.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until it is a very dark brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Cool on a rack.