Something that you should know up front is that it is typically a two-day project to make this bread. There is a starter (called "poolish") that needs to be made the night before, and then used the next morning. After that is ready, making the bread takes several additional hours because it has to rise several times before it's ready to bake. I often do this either on a Friday or Saturday night:
8:00 pm - Make poolish and get it in the fridge by 9:15pm
10:00 am - Pull it out to warm up, right before church if on Sun.
1:00 pm or so - Poolish is ready; start the bread.
5 hours later - Bread should be ready (Obviously you'll have time to do other stuff in between while the bread is rising).
You will also need:
- H20 spray bottle
- Old cast iron pan (maybe something that you pick up at a garage sale or thrift store?)
This process (which is also explained below in the recipe) will give you a WONDERFUL crispy crust that often distinguishes specialty breads from homemade breads. You don't have to do this if you don't want to, but I guarantee that it will make a big difference in the final product.
So with that, let's get started.
We start with the starter, the Poolish:
- 1/4 cup very warm water (105*-115*)
- 1/4 teaspoon dry active yeast
- 3/4 cup cool water (75*-78*)
- 1 1/2 cups + 2 tblsp flour
Combine warm water and yeast in a medium sized bowl and whisk until yeast is dissolved. Let stand for 3 minutes. Add the cool water and flour and stir vigorously for 1 minute, till it is smooth and elastic.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Make sure you have room in the bowl for it to triple in volume.
Let it rise at room temperature for 6-8 hours, OR 1 hour and then place in refrigerator overnight.
Remove it from the fridge 3-4 hours before use, so it can warm up and become active again.
Use it within the next 2-4 hours, before it begins to deflate and die.
- 1/4 cup very warm water (105*-115*)
- 3/4 teaspoon yeast
- 1 3/4 cup Poolish
- 1 cup cool water (75*-78*) (If your dough is still cool from being refrigerated, use warm water instead)
- 3 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon course salt (less if you are using smaller grains)
- 1 large red bell pepper
- 1 cup drained and roughly chopped olives (I use fancy green/black/red ones, not the normal canned black olives)
- Cornmeal for sprinkling
Combine the very warm water and yeast in a large bowl, and stir with a fork to dissolve the yeast. Let stand for 3 minutes.
Add the poolish and cool/warm water and mix with fingers for two minutes. It should look milky and slightly foamy.
Add flour and salt, and mix with your fingers to incorporate the flour. Scrap the sides of the bowl and fold it over itself several times until it gathers itself into a mass. It'll be realllly sticky, with most of it sticking to your fingers.
Dump it out onto a floured surface and knead for about 7 minutes. Use as little extra flour as possible, and the dough should end up smooth, suple, elastic, and slightly firm.
Place dough back into the bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap, and let sit for 20 minutes in warm/room temperature.
Meanwhile, drain and chop the olives if you haven't already. Cut the red pepper in half and remove the center/seeds. Slice into very very thin slices. If they are too big, the moisture from the pepper flesh will expand in the bread and create air pockets.
Spread the olives and pepper on top of the dough in the bowl, and fold over several times or knead for about two minutes to mostly incorporate it all into the dough. It may not be completely mixed in, but do as much as you can. Pull the dough out, grease the bowl, place the dough back in the bowl, and cover and let rise again for 1 hour.
Gently deflate the dough in the center; fold each side into the middle, then fold it in half the other way, pat it gently, and turn it over on it's seam to rise again in a warm place for another 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in volume.
Gently dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and spread into a big rectangle. Fold over each side and press together to make sure that the olives and pepper are evenly distributed (the dough will still be pretty sticky). Divide into three equal parts, for three loaves. Gently press out all the large air bubbles, and form into an oval with slightly tapered ends.
If you are using a baking stone that is already heating up in the oven, generously sprinkle a peel with cornmeal for the loaf to rise on (seam-side down). If you are baking on normal baking pans, line with parchment paper, sprinkle with cornmeal, and place loaf seam-side down on it to rise.
Spread a small layer of flour on top of the loaves, cover with oiled plastic wrap, and let rise for 1 1/4 to 1 3/4 hours or until almost doubled.
Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450*. Place an old cast iron pan or skillet in the oven on a bottom rack, and if you are using a baking stone, place that in the oven now as well.
Ten minutes before the bread is ready to bake, place two or three ice cubes in the cast iron pan to create moisture in the oven prior to baking. Also, place about 1 1/2 cups of water in a tea kettle to boil.
Use a very sharp knife or razor to score a long but shallow line from end to end on top of each loaf, then open the oven door to either 1) gently slide the loaves off the peel onto the baking stone or 2) place the baking sheets in the oven. Quickly mist the loaves with the H20 spray bottle, about 8-10 misty squirts. Then, pour 1 cup of boiling water into the cast iron pan below, and shut the oven door immediately.
After about 1 minute, mist the loaves again, and also shut the oven door immediately.
Be CAREFUL to not burn yourself on the steam, or on the oven itself for that matter.
Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 400* and rotate the loaves from one shelf to the other. Bake for 12-18 minutes longer, until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Move to cooling racks, and cool for at least half an hour before serving (These can get sticky if cut too soon). Enjoy!