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Sunday, September 18, 2011

My Bread: Day One

Several months ago my friend Heidi told me about these artisanal breads she'd been baking in her home oven.  I was impressed.  Artisanal bread at home?  How did she get the crusty exterior and the soft, tender interior?

I have to admit, I was dubious.  It just didn't sound possible.  I knew you could bake nice bread at home -- I've done it dozens of time -- but real rustic bread?  I didn't think so.  Heidi emailed me the instructions for something called "My Bread".  The instructions said that all I would have to do is mix flour, yeast, salt, and water together and let it rise for 12-18 hours.  No kneading, just a turnout onto a floured board and a second rise of about 2 hours.  The trick to the crust was to bake the bread in a preheated (475) Le Crueset dutch oven.

Further investigation revealed that My Bread was actually a process developed by Patrick Lahey at Sullivan Street Bakery in New York and there was a cookbook that detailed exactly how to make the bread.

I have now made several different recipes from  My Bread and I have to tell you, one has been more delicious than the other.  And it's beyond easy.  The only thing you need is time.  It's a two day process but the finished product more than justifies the time.

The ingredients for pane all'olive.

The dough all set for the first rise of 12-18 hours.
This afternoon I got a loaf of pane all' olive (olive bread) started.  I got it mixed up at about 5:30 p.m.   I'll check it again tomorrow morning when I get up about 6:00 a.m.  

 Depending on where it is in the rising process, I'll either let the bread have a little more rising time or I'll turn it out for the second rise of about 2 hours.  Then I'll bake it and I'll look like a pro when I serve it at dinner.

Stay tuned tomorrow for the conclusion of My Bread.

Recipe:  Pane all' Olive
(Patrick Lahey, My Bread, 2009


3 cups bread flour 
About 1 1/2 cups roughly chopped pitted olives
3/4 teaspoon instant or other active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups cool (55 to 65°F) water
Wheat bran, cornmeal, or additional flour for dusting


In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, olives, and yeast. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.

When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper or spatula, lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.

Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.

Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475°F (245°C), with a rack in the lower third, and place a covered 4 1/2-to-5 1/2-quart heavy pot in the center of the rack.

Using pot holders, carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel and quickly but gently invert the dough into the pot, seam side up. (Use caution—the pot will be very hot). Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the lid and continue baking until the olive bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15 to 30 minutes more. Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to gently lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly.

Note: For this olive loaf, any pitted olive will yield something worth eating. (You don’t want to go to the trouble of pitting them yourself, because it is tedious and the results will not be as neat.) But what I turn to most often are pitted kalamata olives soaked in a pure salt brine—nothing else, just salt. A commonly available kalamata that I’m very fond of is made by Divina and can be found at many supermarkets and gourmet stores. You might think that because they’re black they will change the color of the bread, but they won’t, unless you carelessly dump some of the brine into the dough. Green Sicilian colossals, sometimes called “giant” olives, packed in pure salt brine, are another good option; they’re often available at Italian food stores.

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