When you think of typical Mediterranean foods, certain images immediately come to mind. Salty white cheeses like the famous feta and its universal cousins. Olive oil and olives. Ripe, firm tomatoes. Fresh herbs like oregano, basil of course, thyme, rosemary.
And bread, two styles especially. There is the thick-crusted 'artisan'-style loaves. Basically a boule, baked at a high temperature until almost black. The interior remains soft and white while the crust is so crunchy you almost have to saw it open. Almost. Then there is the 'country' loaf. A softer crust with a white and fluffy interior. Almost heaven and made with only a few select ingredients. White bread flour, yeast, water and salt. To soften the crust just a little more add an egg. To brown the crust add some sugar. That's it.
This bread is from the second category. It has a robust crust but not at all crunchy or chewy. The interior is soft as soft can be. Fluffy. It is a variation on a bread found throughout the Mediterranean in one form or another. Another variant can be found in the wonderful baking book Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads. I have replaced the typical butter with olive oil to cut down on the saturated fats, and to add the flavor of the oil. Olive oil does not suit a lot of baked goods, but is perfect for Mediterranean bread. Also, just so you wouldn't mistake it's origins, I have added about 1 cup of roughly chopped green olives. The aroma in your kitchen will be unbelievable. And if you can manage to wait until it cools, you won't be disappointed.
Here's What You'll Need:
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups bread flour (or AP flour)
1 Tbs. dry yeast
2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 1/3 cups warm water
1/4 cup butter (or Olive oil)
1 cup green olives, roughly chopped (or half black)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Here's What You'll Need to Do:
1. In a large mixing bowl, add 2 cups of the flour and the other dry ingredients (yeast, sugar and salt). Mix thoroughly.
2. Make a well in the center, then add the water, while stirring, to form a thick-ish batter. Beat in the eggs, then the butter gradually. Or the olive oil if using it instead of the butter.
3. Stir vigorously until the batter is smooth and silky, then add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the dough 'cleans the bowl'. Continue to knead until the dough is smooth and shiny and only just barely sticky.
4. Place the dough in a lightly-oiled bowl, turn to coat, then cover and let it rise until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.
5. Deflate the dough. Push it out with your fingers until it forms a rough rectangle. Sprinkle the drained olives evenly over the surface of the dough, then roll it up, jelly-roll style from the long side to form a 'log'. Tuck the ends underneath the log, and place it on a parchment -lined baking sheet. Cover with a kitchen towel, to rise a second time, about 45 minutes.
6. About 20 minutes before baking time, pre-heat the oven to 350 F (180 C). Brush the loaf with the beaten egg, then bake for about 35 minutes until it is a deep brown. It will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Oh, and it makes amazing toast!