Friday, April 11, 2014

Olive Bread Crouton

My dad makes great bread.  It's soft and spongy with just a hint of sweet.  A good sandwich can be made even better with great bread.  Egg sandwiches are my absolute favorite food and the anticipation of my Saturday egg sandwich breakfast is a large part of the reason (though not the entire reason) that I look forward to the weekend.  

I have eaten so so so many egg sandwiches, but my very favorite version is on day-old dad-bread with prosciutto and Dubliner cheddar.  It's a rare treat because dad typically only makes his bread for Thanksgiving or my birthday and then I have to hope that it doesn't all get devoured at dinner* and that there are some leftover slices I can take home with me.  Come to think of it, he and I should have a chat about the frequency of his breadmaking...

I digress.  This recipe is for my olive bread, not dad-bread.

The skill of baking eludes me.  I do my fair share of dabbling, but I am certainly not a baker.  It's so final!  Once that dough or mix is made and popped in the oven, all that's left to do is wait.  When the center of my cake falls or my cookies need more chocolate chips or my bread is dry (eek!).  It's not like I can just re-mix, re-bake or re-season it.  This is a start over from scratch, all or nothing kind of deal. 

With other cooking it's more like - add some of this, add some of that, taste it, repeat, repeat, repeat, serve.  So much more forgiveness.  I really am very impressed with good bakers.  It's an art.

Quick breads, like this banana bread recipe: mix, pour, bake; Those I can handle.  But yeast breads, for me, are a whole other monster.  They intimidate me.  

How important are the kneading and resting steps?  How do I know if the bread will rise?  What will happen if I change the amounts of this, that or the other ingredient?  Denser bread, lighter bread?  I don't have the answers to these questions yet, but perhaps after some practice, I can link back to this post with those answers. 

In the meantime, I give you this olive bread.  The flavor is so good, rosemary, garlic and olives, it's hard to go wrong there, and normally when I've made it, it's had a good crust and a moist center.  But this time I made a mistake.  Or two.  Or three.  Why do you hate me, yeast breads?!

Let me explain.

In my opinion, the photos are still lovely and we were certainly able to consume the entire loaf with no difficulty, so it wasn't a complete failure, but this was the first time I was making bread specifically for croutons.  I figured croutons should be dry, so I should probably make the bread a little dryer to start with.  Bad idea.

I omitted the olive juice, didn't knead as much as I should have and baked it an extra few minutes.  Those few changes made this bread very crumbly.  Also, the outside of the bread was slightly overdone while the inside was slightly underdone.  Ok, consistency-wise, it was a bit of a mess.

Don't worry, I've made this olive bread other times with much better results. The good version of the recipe is below!  

Olive Bread
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • pinch of sugar
  • 2.5 teaspoons yeast
  • 1 jar olives - chopped
  • 2 tablespoon olive juice
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons rosemary
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • corn meal
Combine water, sugar and yeast in a small plastic or glass bowl.  Let it sit, unagitated for about ten minutes to proof. 

Combine the remaining ingredients in your mixer bowl (except flour and cornmeal) and add the yeast.  Slowly incorporate the flour and knead for 5 minutes.  Set the dough aside and let it rise for 30 minutes.  Knock down the dough and knead again for 10 minutes.  Again let it rise for 30 minutes.

Dust the top and bottom of your loaf with cornmeal and slash the top of the loaf with a sharp knife.

Bake 10 min at 475 degrees, then 35 minutes at 375 degrees.

Olive Bread Croutons
  • olive bread (see above)
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
Cut the bread into cubes the same size you'd like your croutons to be.  (I made rather large croutons because of how they were going to be featured on the plate.)  Lightly toss them in or brush them with olive oil and give them a quick dusting of salt and pepper. 

Place the cubes on a baking sheet under the broiler for about three minutes depending on their size.  Be careful, they can go from toasted to burned quickly!

I served the crouton at the Pasta, Passion and Pistols party as one of the eight dinner courses 
with the cucumber salad, balsamic 'caviar' and fried camembert.

*When I say "hope that it doesn't all get devoured", I really mean "hide slices of hot bread in my purse".


    Olive -- such a lovely name, but let me tell you a story about those little "evil berries": I was about 5 years old and taken to a wedding reception by my parents where I ate about 10 pieces of chicken -- it was awesome tasting and staved off the Kwashiorkor long enough for me to get a paper route and spend all my money on steak and cheese subs. Yes, I'm making you look up Kwashiorkor. Back to the story: my first plateful contained a variety of foods before I focused in on the chicken. Mashed potatoes, veges, and a whole lot of green grapes. When I got back to my seat my mother informed me that my green grapes were olives, er, I mean evil berries. I remember not entirely believing her and near the end of my first plate biting into one expecting a sweet juicy taste. It's funny how when you expect a certain taste but then get something completely different it can be revolting. To this day I dislike the taste of evil berries.
    -- Dad

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