Thursday, December 15, 2011

Back in Business: Crusty Rosemary-Olive Peasant-Style Pot Bread

Alright, so I realize that I have slacked on has been chaotic for our family. Between doing a half marathon, my husband's crazy schedule, the holidays, flus & colds, extensive travel, house repairs, managing a toddler, and general busy-ness of everyday life, my little blog has suffered. Everyone is busy, I know! But after I made this bread, yesterday, I was motivated to post again. It was that good. Especially if you're into rustic food. This bread would be amazing with the hearty soups of this season, along stews, and as a sandwich bread. I'd even use it as the foundation of a broiled caprese toast (think pesto, fresh mozzarella, vine-ripe tomatoes).

If you have seen any of my other posts, you will see that I am insanely into this nice woman named Nancy Baggett and her fabulous bread cookbook, Kneadlessly Simple. By the way, the book has gone down in price on Amazon. And how can you not want to make something from someone that emails you back every time you email her with a question?! Anyway, I was so excited about this bread because it reminds me of the fantastic Italian bread served at Maggiano's Corner Bakery (in Chicago area). I usually get the tuna salad on this kind of olive bread and never imagined I could make something like it at home! And so easily!

The bread is very easy to make--you just have to patiently wait and go about living your life--which shouldn't be hard considering the holidays are around the corner...right? However, I will confess that while in a hurry, I misread the directions after the second rise, and let the bread rise on the counter instead of the fridge overnight. Imagine my surprise to see that the bread STILL turned out amazingly well--I'm not saying I recommend doing what I did, just that it was surprising to see that the dough continued to rise, air pockets were visible, the crust was intact, and it tasted wonderful with a piece of hard goat cheese and a crisp apple. YUM! Enjoy!

Make the basic white version if it's your first time making a bread, or add in the kalamata olives and fresh rosemary like I did (I brought in my outdoor plant and somehow it's surviving inside!)--you will be very surprised that you can make a bread with the same quality of that at your local European bakery.

NOTE: The crust softens if you store the bread in plastic wrap or plastic bags.

From the author, Nancy Baggett:

Pot boules — round, peasant-style breads that are simply popped into a sturdy, lidded pot and baked — are about the easiest loaves possible, but among the most gratifying. They puff up well, brown beautifully and always come out crusty, due to the moisture trapped inside the pot during the first few minutes in the oven. (In fact, the pot actually serves as a minioven.) As a bonus, the loaves need no hand shaping because the dough just conforms to the container shape as it expands.

Like the basic black dress, this basic white loaf is always appropriate and in favor. The interplay of light mild crumb, crunchy golden crust and deep, sweet yeast taste and aroma (coaxed out by long, slow rising) is downright amazing. In fact, eating this bread is a far more complex and exciting sensory experience than one might expect from the simple ingredients.

Should you ever want a change of pace from the basic loaf, it's an easy matter to add a few accents for a rather different effect. See the rosemary-black olive variation at the end of the recipe.


Makes 1 large loaf, 12 to 14 slices.

  • 4 cups (20 ounces) unbleached all-purpose white flour or white bread flour, plus more as needed (I used 3 cups white flour + 1 cup whole wheat flour + ~1 Tbsp. Vital wheat gluten)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons table salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon instant, fast-rising or bread-machine yeast
  • 2 cups ice water, plus more if needed
  • Corn oil, canola oil or other flavorless vegetable oil or oil spray for coating dough (I used olive oil for the Rosemary-Olive version I made)

First Rise: In a large bowl, thoroughly stir together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Vigorously stir the water into the bowl, scraping down the sides and mixing until the ingredients are thoroughly blended. If the mixture is too dry to incorporate all the flour, stir in more water, a bit at a time, just enough to blend the ingredients. 

Don't over-moisten; the dough should be very stiff. If necessary, stir in enough more flour to yield a hard-to-stir dough. Brush or spray the top with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. If desired, for best flavor or for convenience, you can refrigerate the dough for three to 10 hours. Then let rise at cool room temperature for 18 to 24 hours. If convenient, vigorously stir the dough once about halfway through the rise.

Second Rise: Using an oiled rubber spatula, gently lift and fold the dough in toward the center, all the way around, until mostly deflated; don't stir. Brush or spray the surface with oil. Re-cover the bowl with plastic wrap that has been coated with nonstick spray. Let rise using any of these methods: for a 1 1/2- to 2 1/2-hour regular rise, let stand at warm room temperature; for a 1- to 2-hour accelerated rise, let stand in a turned-off microwave along with 1 cup of boiling-hot water; or for an extended rise, refrigerate, covered, for 4 to 24 hours, then set out at room temperature. Continue the rise until the dough doubles from the deflated size; remove the plastic if the dough nears it.

Baking Preliminaries: 20 minutes before baking time, put a rack in the lower third of the oven; preheat to 450 degrees. Heat a 3 1/2- to 4-quart (or larger) heavy metal pot or Dutch oven in the oven until sizzling hot (test with a few drops of water), then remove it, using heavy mitts. Taking care not to deflate the dough (or burn yourself), loosen it from the bowl sides with an oiled rubber spatula and gently invert it into the pot. Don't worry if it's lopsided and ragged-looking; it will even out during baking. Generously spritz or brush the top with water. Immediately top with the lid. Shake the pot back and forth to center the dough.

Baking: Bake on the lower rack for 55 minutes. Remove the lid. Reduce the heat to 425 degrees. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes longer, or until the top is well browned and a skewer inserted in the thickest part comes out with just a few crumbs on the tip (or until center registers 209 to 212 degrees on an instant-read thermometer). When it seems done, bake 5 minutes longer to ensure the center is baked through. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the loaf to the rack and cool thoroughly.

VARIATION: Crusty Rosemary And Olive Pot Bread — Stir 1 cup pitted, coarsely chopped kalamata olives (well drained) and 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh (not dried) rosemary needles (discard the stems) into the dough along with the water. Proceed exactly as directed in the original recipe.

Serving And Storing: Cut or tear the loaf into portions; it tastes good warm but will cut much better when cool. Cool completely before storing. To maintain the crisp crust, store draped with a clean tea towel or in a heavy paper bag. Or store airtight in a plastic bag or wrapped in foil: The crust will soften, but can be crisped by heating the loaf, uncovered, in a 400 degree oven for a few minutes. The bread will keep at room temperature for three days, and may be frozen, airtight, for up to two months.

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