Breadmaking has been a passion of mine for about 30 years. I was a teenager when I first learned to combine flour and water to make a dough, that adding yeast would make it rise and just enough salt would give it the perfect flavour. I learned that bread didn’t happen quickly. It had to be proved, not once but twice, to get the yeast working properly. It takes a couple of hours and a good bit of work to make a loaf of bread. If you do it right, the results are always worth the effort.
This bread is based very much on the focaccia style loaf. I used a large, square tin to bake mine, but you can do this just as well on a flat tray, which will give it a more natural, rounded shape. The important thing is to complete each process thoroughly to get the desired results.
Prep Time: 30 minutes. Total Proving Time: 2 hours 10 minutes, plus cooling time.
Makes 1 large loaf.
2 ½ tsp dried yeast (2 sachets)
1 tsp sugar
600-650ml lukewarm water
1kg strong white bread flour
1 tbsp salt
100g pitted black olives, chopped
120g sundried tomatoes from a jar, chopped
2 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
A pinch of sea salt
First put the dried yeast and the sugar into a cup and add a small amount (about 3-4 tablespoons) of the water. Stir until fully mixed and then leave to stand for about 15 minutes. If the yeast is working properly it will activate and become foamy. If this does not happen then the yeast is no good.
Put the flour, salt, olives, sundried tomatoes and rosemary into a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the yeast mixture and then add the rest of the lukewarm water. Add 2-3 tablespoons of oil from the sundried tomato jar to give the bread a little extra flavour. Use a table knife to bring the mixture together in the bowl, then use your hands to knead a little. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead with both hands for about 10 minutes, until it has a stretchy, elastic texture. This will be very messy at first, but as the dough smooths out it will become easier.
Once the dough is fully kneaded, put the 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a clean bowl that’s at least twice the size of the dough. Put the dough in the bowl with the oil and turn the dough over so that it is covered in the oil. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave in a warm place to prove for 90 minutes, or until it has doubled in size.
Grease a baking tray, or large baking tin and bring the proven dough back to a floured work surface. Knock all the air out of it and knead gently again for a minute or two. Place the dough on the tray or in the tin and form it into the shape you would like. Brush with more olive oil and season with sea salt, then cover with the tea towel again. Leave to prove for another 40 minutes, until about one and a half times its size.
While the dough is proving a second time, preheat the oven to gas 6/200C/400F.
Gently remove the tea towel, put the dough in the middle of the oven and cook for about 30 minutes. The bread is ready when it is browned, risen and makes a hollow sound when you tap the bottom of it.
Turn the cooked bread out onto a wire rack and allow to cool before serving.