A popular item on the menu in Dayton’s restaurant was an absolutely delicious sandwich featuring thin slices of roasted lamb complemented with grilled sweet onions and tangy goat cheese tucked between two slices of savory house-baked green olive bread… an incredible lunch time repast! Through the years we have continued to bake this amazing bread at home and I recently decided to try baking a loaf using a cloche, an earthenware cooking bell designed to be used in an oven during bread baking.
Cloches have been used for cooking and baking for centuries. The Romans, for example, filled them with meat and fish and buried them in their campfires to roast the contents. In Northern Africa they have been used to prepare tagine for centuries. A cloche consists of two parts, a bottom baking stone and an upper domed lid. Many cloches have a baking stone with a lip, a design to retain the drippings and juices from foods cooked in the cloche.
There are a couple of great reasons to use a cloche for bread baking. First of all, the interior of the cloche stays moist by retaining the steam that is released by the bread as it bakes, yielding a moister final product. Secondly, cloches get hotter than the surrounding oven as the internal temperature remains regular and constant without the hot and cold spots which often develop in an oven. These factors impact the way the bread bakes, changing the texture and the flavor of the final product. A cloche can be used to cook a number of foods but many bakers prefer to dedicate a particular cloche to bread since meat, vegetables and fish can deposit unwanted flavors into the porous earthenware, even when thoroughly cleaned, that can be transferred to the bread during baking.
This simple recipe can be baked as one large loaf in the cloche or shaped into two individual loaves which can be baked on a regular baking stone or in loaf pans. Be aware that the method of baking will determine the amount of time the bread remains in the oven.
Green Olive Bread
12 oz Mt. Athos pitted green Greek olives, halved, approximately 1 1/2 C
Baker’s Note: Cracked Sicilian green olives also work beautifully in this bread.
3 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 C warm water
Combine the yeast and water in the stainless steel bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle and allow the yeast to bloom, approximately 10 minutes. Add:
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
the pitted green olives
3 3/4 C all-purpose flour, 1/3 C reserved for kneading
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
Mix with the paddle for 2 minutes on low speed then exchange the paddle for a dough hook and mix for and additional 4 – 5 minutes.
Baker’s Note: This bread is nearly impossible to make by hand because the olives need to be broken down to provide some of the liquid for the dough… the mixer works beautifully for this!
Using a scraper, transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead in the reserved flour as needed to achieve a firm dough:
Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover with film and let rise in a warm draft free location until doubled in size, 1-1/2 to 2 hours:
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and flatten it with the palms of your hands. Fold it into thirds as if you were folding a business letter, then again into thirds in the opposite direction, creating tension as it is shaped into a round loaf. Sprinkle the bottom of the cloche with:
Place the shaped loaf on the cloche baking stone, seams on the bottom, cover with the dome and allow to rise a second time for approximately 45 minutes – 1 hour. Slash the top of the loaf with a sharp knife, return the domed lid to the baking stone and bake for 15 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees and continue baking for an addition 30 – 40 minutes. Remove the cloche lid for the final 10 minutes of baking. To test for doneness, tap the loaf with your finger… it should sound hollow. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Individual loaves baked on a stone or baking sheet will bake in approximately 35 minutes at 400 degrees… always check for doneness to be certain!
This simple and delicious loaf makes mouthwatering sandwiches and is magnificent when toasted, slathered with sweet cream butter… Bon Appetit!
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