No-Knead Kalamata Olive Bread

I adore no-knead bread. It’s so cheap and easy to make… once you spend that starting cash on the baking stone. But that’s only 20 bucks–50 for a really big pretty one with a lifetime guarantee. Think of all the money you spend on bread and pizza, and how easy it is to devour a whole loaf of artisan bread before you even get home from the grocery store. You just ate five dollars! You could have instead bought enough ingredients for 20 loaves of this bread.

This bread book is incredible. It has a wonderful index of ingredients, ways to fix what goes wrong, and lots of little recipes to make along with your breads. Better yet, it’s the laziest method ever. I remember looking at a sourdough bread cookbook and thinking, “Wait, I have to do something to this blob of dough every few hours?” and “I have to get up in the middle of the night?” Not to mention, I could kill my bread. Sure, yeast cultures can be cleaned and restored, but I wasn’t sure whether I was getting a pet or a snack.

After making sourdough bread, I know now that it’s not all that complicated, but still! I believe a big reason people don’t cook is because of how intimidating all of the instructions can be, or how vague. If your parents didn’t teach you, why should you know how to slice an onion? Why should $5 be a ridiculous price to pay for something you have no clue how to make?

Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

3 cups lukewarm water
1.5 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets)
1.5 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
6.5 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method*
More flour for dusting the pizza peel
1-2 cups pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped

Baking stone
Broiler tray
Pizza peel or wooden cutting board
4-5 quart plastic container with a not air-tight lid
Mixing bowls, especially one large one for rising bread
1 and 1/2 measuring cups for scooping and sweeping*
Small, sharp knife for cutting a hunk of dough off the rest of it
Cooling rack

The scoop and sweep method is probably the most important little step for getting this bread just right. Flour will compress into a smaller amount of space while it is in its bag, then it fluffs out when you pour it into another container. Scooping a cup directly from either of those would make your measurements super inconsistent, so there’s this handy technique to get closer the right amount without a scale.

Get your flour into a large bowl so that you can scoop it without making a mess. Scoop flour with the 1/2 cup measure and shake it into the 1 cup measure.

When it is overfull, use the bottom of the 1/2 cup measure to simply sweep the top flat. Don’t pack it in or press it down, just sweep off the top.

There you go, you have 1 much more accurate cup of flour. 5 and a half to go!

Timing is important in baking, so it’s a good idea to go ahead and measure everything out before you start mixing.

Chop the olives at least in half; pitted olives aren’t really great at not having pits, and it’s no fun to bite into one when you’re trying to enjoy your freshly-baked, butter-slathered bread.

Got all that stuff ready? Alright! Put your lukewarm water into your plastic container. Lukewarm means at least 100ºF, so really hot tap water should do it. Dump in your salt and yeast and swirl the container around a little. Don’t worry about making anything dissolve.

Next, dump in your scooped and swept flour and mix everything up with a wooden spoon.

Don’t knead it; it’ll be fine! When the dough is almost mixed, toss in the olives and use the spoon or your fingers to make the dough uniform.

Don’t like olives? You can skip them! This bread is great plain. You could also add in roasted peppers or garlic, or cheese, or herbs, or whatever your heart desires!

Now, put the lid on it. If your container is an airtight one, leave a corner up; the gases released in the rising process can cause your container to crack. I leave one of the lock-tight flaps open on mine and it works beautifully. On that note, do NOT use glass containers, such as mason jars. They can and will explode!

Place your lidded container of dough somewhere warm (say, a windowsill in the summer, or right in front of your space heater in the winter) and leave it to rise for 2 hours. It will at least triple in size.

Your dough is ready to use now! It’ll be much easier to work with if you refrigerate it overnight, but you can bake it now if you’d like. First, get your baking stone and broiler tray set up in a cold oven. Preheat the oven to 450ºF.

Next, you’ll need your pizza peel (that big wooden paddle thing) or a large cutting board to slide the bread into the oven, some flour, and your dough. Make a 1/4 inch thick pile of flour in the center of the pizza peel.

Wet your hands with cold water to prevent the dough from sticking to you too much. Grab a large handful of dough and slice it off of the rest with a sharp knife.

Quickly form it into a ball.

Drop that onto the flour pile and gently stretch out the sides until you have a 3/4-inch tall oval shape.

Cover this with a bowl and let it rest for 20 minutes somewhere warm but not hot (I just put mine on the cold stove top and the preheating oven does its warming thing). Cover the rest of the dough and put it back into the refrigerator.

Time’s up? Remove the bowl and use a spatula to make sure the dough isn’t stuck to the pizza peel. The whole idea with the flour was to prevent that, but it doesn’t always work! Next, slide that baby into the oven, pour almost 2 cups of hot tap water into the broiler tray (Watch out for steam! Wear your oven mits!), and shut the door.

I’m pretty bad about peeking in the oven and stealing bites of whatever’s cooking, but this is one case where you want to keep the door shut. For one, if you stick your face or fingers into an oven that’s full of steam, there will be pain.  For another, the steam that the broiler tray creates is the key to the soft inside and crispy outside for this bread. If you do open the door for a long period of time and your bread isn’t done, pour some more hot water into the broiler tray and shut the door again.

20 minutes is the recommended baking time for this 1 pound dough blob, but mine usually takes closer to 30, probably because I grab a huge handful of dough. Generally, the larger the loaf you make, the longer the cooking time. The bread is done when it is a nice golden color on the outside. You can’t poke it or slice it because the steam in the oven will hurt your hand! Just give it a look.

Turn the oven off and carefully slide your newborn loaf of bread out of the oven and back onto the pizza peel or wooden cutting board and then onto a cooling rack. Let it cool and later slice to make sandwiches, french toast, croutons, or just burn your fingers eating it right away, dipping it into herb butter or olive oil. If it gets stale, whiz it up in the food processor and you have bread crumbs for all of your frying needs!

You should have 2-5 more loaves left in your bucket of dough. It will keep for 2 weeks! Good luck forgetting about it, though because it’s so easy to put together. I’ll sometimes bake a loaf to take out the door with me in the morning, letting it rise while I’m in the shower and bake while I’m getting dressed and making coffee. Fry and egg, throw on some pickled hot peppers and cheese, and you have a the best egg sandwich ever. The best part? Your wallet. Oh, and your kitchen will smell amazing.

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