Mozzarella Olive Bread
I have been having dreams about baking bread for a week, and yesterday I finally had some time to do it. I wanted to try something different, something inspired by one of my new cookbooks, Margaux Sky’s Beautiful Breads and Fabulous Fillings. This cookbook, though…this cookbook I have some problems with. Every single recipe calls for Lowry’s Lemon Pepper. And for some kind of crazy complicated sauce. Everything looks beautiful, but when I sit down and read the recipes, I realize I don’t want to go to all the trouble. I suspect that this book will serve mostly as inspiration, which is exactly what it did yesterday. I didn’t even end up using her basic bread recipe, because it called for all kinds of stuff, like half and half, that I just didn’t have in the house. Simple is my bread-making motto.
Instead, I tried another new bread recipe: Jamie Oliver’s. I couldn’t find the recipe on his website, but it was published in The Return of the Naked Chef (which was the first grown-up cookbook I bought). Reading through the recipe, my first thought was it seemed to require a lot of yeast. A lot. But as a novice bread maker, I went ahead and followed directions. I added a lot of yeast. And I ended up with monstrously large bread. I actually shouted out when I opened the oven door and realized it had expanded to three times its size!
I also ended up with some pretty delicious bread. The crust is near perfect. The cheese formed a lovely ribbon of melty salty goodness straight through the middle. The olives did decide to take a trip down and out through the sides of the bread, but the olive taste suffused the rest of the loaf, and when you do get the occasional meaty kalamata bite, it’s a bit heavenly. I will definitely be making this bread again, though I might cut back on the yeast a bit. Or a lot.
I realize that the yeast I used might also have had something to do with the expansiveness of the bread. I bought it in bulk from the hippy mart, because I figured I would be doing lots of yeasty baking in the near future, what with the bread dreams and all. I suspect that it’s fresher and younger than what I’ve been buying in little packets. I should have figured it was too much when, during the proofing process, it foamed up like beer from a freshly tapped keg. But hey! Jamie said three-quarters of an ounce, so three-quarters of an ounce it is! This was most certainly a lesson in the properties of yeast.
Mozzarella Olive Bread
- 3/4 oz. of active dry yeast (this was something like 6 3/4 tsp., which is a lot of yeast)
- 2 T. honey
- about 2 cups warm water
- about 6 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 T. salt
- 1 1/2 c. shredded mozzarella
- 1/2 c. chopped kalamata olives
Dissolve the yeast and the honey in one cup of warm water, and let it sit for about five minutes, or until it’s foamy. But hopefully not too foamy. Know your yeast. Use a little less if it’s fresh and young and sassy, or it’ll take over, like mine did.
Mix the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl, and add the yeast mixture, stirring to combine. Add the other cup of warm water slowly, mixing with a fork to form a slightly sticky dough. You might need more or less water or flour, depending on your flour. Mix it all up until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and starts sticking to every godforsaken thing in sight, especially your hands. I’m really not sure why I like baking bread so much, considering that I hate hate hate getting messy, and having my hands covered in all kinds of muck. But whatever.
Flour your work surface, turn out the sticky dough, and knead it until it becomes smooth, more pliable, and a bit less sticky. Then wash out your big bowl, oil it a bit, and put the dough ball in it, covered in plastic wrap, to rise. Rising time will depend on your yeast. Mine was doubled in size in about 40 minutes, and it was ginormous.
When it’s about doubled, punch it down to knock out a bit of the air, cover it again, and let it rise again. Deb, from Smitten Kitchen, says she see’s no reason to go about beating your bread, but I kind of like punching it. Maybe it’s latent aggression that my shy, non-confrontational little self has to deal with somehow. Though I doubt it. I think it’s just an easy and quick way to get the air out, and a good mental picture to boot.
The second rise is important, or so I’ve been told by many a bread maker. After the beatings, leave it alone to ponder what it’s done, and to get all big and puffed up again. This should take a bit less than the first time around, perhaps 30 to 45 minutes. You want it to double in size again.
When it’s done that, flour a work surface again, turn out your puffed up bread, and roll it into a roughly square shape with a rolling pin. You don’t want to roll it too flat, and you should try to get it into a square shape with the minimal amount of messing with, or your bread will end up very dense. Once it’s kind of flattened, sprinkle the top with the cheese and olives, and roll it up into a loaf shape, closing the sides as you roll to keep all the good stuff inside. Place the bread, seam side down, on your baking surface: I just put a piece of parchment paper on an upended baking sheet, and it worked fine.
You can score the bread now, if you want, but I didn’t. That might have let some of the stuff out of the top, which might have been better than the bottom, where it did come out, but I’ll have to experiment with that another time.
Slide the bread into a 400F preheated oven, and on the bottom rack, place a baking pan with about 2 c. of water in it. This steams the bread and makes a lovely crust on the outside.
Bake the bread for about 45 minutes. I was going to give it an hour, but when I opened the oven, it was just huge and I was afraid it would take over my house if I let it cook anymore. I managed somehow to turn it over and tap the bottom, which sounded hollow enough, which is how you know it’s done, so I took the monster out and let it cool off.
I was a little frantic at this point. I mean, it was HUGE. And all this cheese and olive juice had come squishing out the bottom. And I was right in the middle of trying to make meatballs, which were falling apart on me (another story for another day), so I didn’t have time to sit down with my bread and contemplate what the heck had happened, and whether it was really done, and if it was going to settle down and become actually sliceable.
Well, it did settle down. It deflated a bit once I sliced it, though it is still truly a lot of bread. And it is freaking awesome! The crust is nice and chewy. The salt to flour ratio is excellent (though I’m sure the cheese and olives added a bit of saltiness of their own). The cheese in the middle is…well, cheese is enough to make my day perfect, so when it’s baked into bread, there is little else I need in life. This bread recipe is pretty darned good. Of course, this bread recipe is awfully similar to the other bread recipes I’ve tried, but for the crazy amount of yeast, and the honey.
So overall, my enormous bread, despite giving me a bit of a scare, is pretty happy-making. Who ever would have thought that I would turn into a bread maker? The girl who could barely put together a batch of brownies without mixing the baking powder with the baking soda? Perhaps it’s time to put my “I can’t bake” self-image to rest. Apparently, sometimes, I can. Even when my yeast starts running wild.