But little by little,
As you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own
-Mary Oliver, The Journey
I am an excellent rule follower, and what is a recipe if not a list of rules? Precise instructions that, if followed, will produce a delicious outcome. As I set out to make this Spicy Olive Bread, I read the headnote to the recipe. The last line grabbed my attention….We do not recommend mixing this dough by hand. Oh, okay. I obediently began setting up my KitchenAid mixer. Suddenly I stopped and thought, but wait. I want to mix this dough by hand! Getting my hands in the dough is pure sensory joy! And then the part of me that wants everything to turn out perfectly said, but it might not turn out if you don’t follow the instructions.
It might not turn out if I don’t follow the instructions.
How often do we disregard our own desires and inner knowing simply because it’s not the proven path of success? We are hard-wired to follow the those familiar voices outside of ourselves claiming they know what’s best for us. “Get married and have children”, they might say, or “get a secure, stable job with a good company” or maybe they are simply pointing out that whatever it is that you are longing to do “isn’t practical” or “won’t work out”.
But if you are listening, you’ll know what to do. You will pour the water over the flour, yeast and salt and with a great deal of courage, you will slide your sacred, beautiful hands into the mixture. They were meant for this. You will feel the soft flour between your fingers and the cool water in the palm of your hand as you gently mix everything together. You will forget the voices for a moment as you remove the wet dough from the bowl, slop it onto the counter and begin to knead. Clumsily at first, perhaps, and undoubtedly with a great deal of sticking and mess. Just as it should be.
A small risk taken, to be sure, but practicing courage in the small gestures of our lives not only can create a gorgeous loaf of hand-made bread, but also an authentic life lived with soul and intention.
Spicy Olive Bread
(adapted from Bread Illustrated by America’s Test Kitchen)
This is a very lively yet rustic sandwich loaf that packs a spicy, olive-y punch. I highly recommend this bread toasted and topped with a little cream cheese, salami, arugula and a drizzle of olive oil.
3 cups (16 1/2 ounces) bread flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 1/3 cups (10 2/3 ounces) water, room temperature
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 cup pitted olives (I used a mix of black and green greek olives from the Whole Foods olive bar), rinsed, patted dry with paper towels and coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons salt
1. Whisk flour, yeast and red pepper flakes together in a large mixing bowl. Combine water, sugar and olive oil in a separate bowl until sugar has dissolved. Hold back the salt for now.
2. Pour the water mixture over the dry mixture and with your very clean hands (I usually just use one hand at this stage) gently mix the wet and dry ingredients until they are just combined. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.
3. While dough is resting, combine olives and garlic in a small bowl. Set aside.
4. Sprinkle salt over dough and fold the dough in and over on itself, encasing the salt inside the dough. Remove dough from the bowl and place it on a clean counter. The dough will be sticky. Resist the urge to add more flour. Sticky is okay. Using a metal bench scraper as needed, pick the dough up from one end holding it by your thumb and forefingers, pincer style. The dough will be hanging down toward the counter, probably threatening to ooze back down into a blob. In a quick, sure motion, slap the dough back down onto the counter with a hearty whack, as if the dough were a beaver tail slapping the water. And then, using your bench scraper, fold the dough back over on itself. Repeat the process until the dough starts to develop strength and seems more cohesive. This may take 5 minutes or so. This is fun! Enjoy the process.*
5. Towards the end of the kneading process, begin adding the olive and garlic mixture as you slap and fold, slap and fold. Your olives will try to escape but be persistent! They will fully incorporate themselves given enough time and kneading.
6. Once the dough has developed strength and formed a cohesive ball, return to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest 45 minutes.
7. Uncover dough and, leaving it in the bowl this time. Use the same pincer finger grasp to pick up a corner of the dough, stretching it up and then folding it back down to touch the other side. Rotate bowl slightly and repeat process 5 more times. This is a process known as “folding” the dough. You just completed one fold.
8. Let rest 45 minutes and than fold the dough again as described above. Let rest for 45 minutes.
9. Transfer dough to a lightly floured counter. Pat into a round shape about 8 inches in diameter. Begin folding the edges toward the center creating a ball. Secure into a seam at the center This side of the dough where the edges are all gathered is known as the seam side of the loaf.
10. Flip the dough seam side down and cupping your hands around the ball, use the tension of the counter top and pull the ball toward you while turning it ever so slightly. Repeat, rotating the ball and gentling pulling it towards you until you’ve created a round, taut shape, keeping the seam side down facing the counter. Sometimes I will start the dough ball in a more floury part of the counter top and then move it to a less floury area to do the shaping. A counter top with too much flour will not provide the tension you need to create a taut surface on your dough. When you are finished, the dough should be smooth and tight in appearance on the top.**
11. Lightly grease a 16 x 12 piece of parchment and transfer the loaf seam side down to center of parchment.
12. Using the parchment as a sling, set loaf gently in a bowl, basket or large colander and cover with lightly greased plastic. Let rise until dough rises by about half and the dough springs back slowly when poked gently with your finger. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, this will take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.
13. Meanwhile, place a baking stone on bottom rack of oven, and place a Dutch oven with lid on top of baking stone. Preheat to 450 degrees.
14. Using a sharp paring knife or a lame (or a razor blade), score the top of your bread with a cross shape, about 5 inches long in each direction and 1/2 inch deep.
15. When dough is ready and oven is preheated, carefully remove the pot from oven and remove lid. Using your parchment as a sling again, carefully lower the parchment and loaf into the pot. Replace lid, place back in oven and bake for 20 minutes.
16. Remove pot from oven and carefully using the sling and mitts to protect your hands, lift loaf out of the Dutch oven by using the parchment sling and place onto a peel. Using the peel, transfer parchment and loaf directly onto the pizza stone in the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
17. Using peel, remove loaf from oven and transfer to a wire cooling rack. Remove parchment. Let cool before serving.
*For a good read on how to knead wet dough and a link to a YouTube video that demonstrates this technique, check out this King Arthur Flour blog post. It is an excellent tutorial on the subject.
**For a short tutorial on how to shape your dough into a ball as described in Step 10, watch this YouTube video.