Last week during my snow-cation from work, I was loving all of the time I got to bake (and do exercise videos, of course). But after 4 days of it, I was starting to run out of the necessities: butter, all-purpose flour, vanilla, etc. Scouring my cookbooks and folders of loose recipes, I found something that I could make without any substitutions: olive oil bread. Ingredients: water, dry yeast, bread flour (somehow I had this but no regular flour, hm), salt, olive oil, and cornmeal. Easy easy easy. But if there is one area of baking with which I haven't had much experience, it's bread-making without a doubt. Something that's so readily available in a million different varieties at your neighborhood grocery store... would it be worth it?
Answer is yes, heck yes. I'd read that once you taste homemade bread, you'll never want to buy bread again. That, my friends, is a true story. The thin crust on the outside of the loaf was so flaky and the tiniest bit crunchy. The inside was fluffy and light and flavorful and good enough to just eat plain, though butter only improved the already-sublime experience. Oh, and good luck cutting neat slices of it forever. I started out that way but by the second day, I was just tearing off pieces of the bread to munch every time I passed it. Yum. And, with this being so easy (most of the time is spent letting the dough rise/rest), why not make it every week?
Olive oil bread
(adapted from the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook)
-makes one 12-inch round loaf
**Time from start to cooling loaf of goodness: approximately 3.5 hours**
2 cups water, room temperature
4 1/2 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting
2 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for bowl and plastic wrap
1 tablespoon salt
Cornmeal, for dusting
In the bowl of an electric mixer, dissolve yeast in water until dissolved. Add flour and olive oil and stir with a wooden spoon until all ingredients are incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, between 1 hour and 1 hour, 15 minutes.
Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the salt and mix to combine on low speed. Raise the speed to medium, and beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl (see below) but is still sticky, about 3 minutes.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead it for 1 minute, then transfer to a large lightly oiled bowl. Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Do not throw away the oiled plastic wrap! Return the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Fold in the following order: fold the bottom third of the dough up, the top third down (like a tri-fold letter), and the right and left sides over, tapping the dough after each fold to release excess flour, and pressing down to seal (see below). Flip the dough seam side down on the work surface, and cover with oiled plastic wrap to let dough rest for 15 minutes.
Dust a large wooden peel (I just used a large cutting board) with cornmeal -- be liberal, here! Set aside. Transfer dough to a clean work surface. If dough is sticky, dust surface with flour. To shape the dough, tightly tuck the edges under to form a nice smooth ball. Transfer the dough round to the peel and drape with the oiled plastic wrap. Let the dough rest until it's slightly puffed, about 30 minutes.
While the dough is resting, place a baking stone on the bottom oven rack and preheat the oven to 450F. When dough is ready, using a very sharp knife, make four slashes (forming a square) on top of the bread. Slide the loaf onto the stone (one swift movement is best, don't be a wimp here).
Bake until the crust is darn golden brown, about 35-40 minutes. With oven-mitted hands, remove crusty beautiful loaf of goodness to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.