Apr 27, 2012

Rosemary and Olive Oil Bread

I believe myself to be quite capable in the bread baking department. I love baking with yeast. Love it. Can spend three days or three weeks nurturing a starter. Don´t mind planning my day around a certain two-day bread. So I set out to make beautiful bread from an even more beautiful book. I complain about books without pictures. This one has amazing photography; a perfectly good reason to buy books I might add. So with such enticing breads calling my name and fresh rosemary in my grocery bag I decided to bake the ever-magical-combination of that pungent herb and olive oil. The recipe calls for a few steps, something I particularly like when it comes to bread baking. Better flavor and all of that.
In the spirit of giving you step-by-step pictures of the whole process I had a plastic container with a little mark to show how the sponge grew. After the necessary amount of hours had elapsed, my sponge was not even close to tripling its volume. After double that amount of hours it had only multiplied itself once. I´m talking here of 16, yes sixteen, hours. I had to go to sleep at some point. So, since I had every other ingredient measured, I went ahead and continued with the recipe. I wasn´t very confident. And my ego was suffering. You see, I kept my la brea sourdough starter for eight years. Alive and well. Made lots of breads, especially bagels. And that´s not a small enterprise I might add. So being defeated by a mere sponge. You understand, don´t you?
Back to our bread (I promise there is edible bread at the end of this monologue); I went on with my little project as if my sponge had tripled. The next day (!), it took forever to puff again. And it was wetter than recommended. But the trooper in me shaped the dough into two wobbly rounds, set them on the cornmeal sprinkled sheet and waited until it doubled again. These loaves are moist and will spread, that´s what the recipe says. But, what I stared at, after two hours, were flat, thick pancake looking pieces of green speckled white dough. They had spread and looked horrible. They were even touching each other. The horror. I had already turned the oven on, the dutiful baker that I am, and when I was literally inches away from the trash bin, changed my mind and popped it into the hot oven. A few more minutes spent wondering what could possibly come out wouldn´t hurt. Maybe they would make good croutons. Whatever.
When I could get past the puffed focaccia-like thickness and missing crackly crust, the result was such a good tasting bread. Such a great tasting bread. I had some while it was still warm. Just what I had in mind when I set out to make this. We devoured what was left of it the next day at lunch. I´m craving for more.
So that I´m clear here, I´m making this bread again. Definitely.  
In case you were left wondering: my la bread sourdough starter didn´t die. I just forgot it somewhere; a story I will tell you in a future post, since I began making another starter two days ago. My ego is to blame.

from Amy´s Bread, by Amy Scherber and Toy Kim Dupree

Note: An overnight sponge starter bread. I used a standing mixer and baked the bread directly in the baking sheet. I copied the recipe here as it appears in the book. I just added metric measurements. For shaping instructions visit this page.

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
¼ cup (2oz / 60g) very warm water (105º to 115ºF/40º to 46ºC)
¾ cup + 1 Tbs (6.5oz / 185g) cool water (75ºF/24ºC)
3 Tbs (45g) extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup (15g) fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
2 cups Sponge Starter (16oz / 454g) (recipe below)
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (13.5oz / 385g)
½ cup organic whole wheat flour (2.5oz / 70g)
2 Tbs (30g) kosher salt
Extra virgin olive oil for brushing

Combine the yeast and warm water in a large bowl and stir with a fork to dissolve the yeast. Let stand for 3 minutes. Add the cool water, olive oil, rosemary and sponge to the yeast mixture and mix with your fingers for about 2 minutes, breaking up the sponge. The mixture should look milky and slightly foamy.
Add both flours and the salt and mix with your fingers to incorporate the flour, scraping the sides of the bowl and folding the dough over itself until it gathers into a mass. When sticky strands of dough begin to cling to your fingers, gather the dough into a ball and move it to a lightly floured surface. If the dough feels too firm, add 1 Tbs of water.
Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, until it becomes smooth and supple. Allow the dough to rest on the work surface, covered with plastic wrap, for 15 minutes. This rest period is the autolyse.
Knead the dough again for 2 to 3 minutes, until it becomes smooth and stretchy, using as little additional flour as possible. Shape the dough into a loose ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Turn the dough to coat with oil, cover the bowl tightly with oiled plastic wrap, and let the dough rise at room tº (75º to 77ºF / 24º to 25º) for about 1 hour, or until it looks slightly puffy but not doubled.
Refrigerate the dough for at least 8 hours, or preferably overnight.
Take the dough from the refrigerator and let it warm up until it begins to rise again, 1 ½ to 2 hours.
Sprinkle a peel or the back of a baking sheet generously with cornmeal or line it with parchment paper. Place the dough on a well-floured surface and divide it into 2 equal pieces (about 23oz/650g each); the dough may be quite sticky. Shape each piece into a boule. Don´t work the dough too long or make the ball too tight, or the skin will tear; you want surface tension, but you also want to leave some of the medium air holes in the dough. Flour the seam of each boule and place the loaves seam side down on the peel or pan, leaving 3 to 4 inches between them for rising. These loaves are moist and will spread. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let rise for 1 ½ to 2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.
Thirty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 450ºF / 220ºC. Place a baking stone in the oven to preheat and place an empty water pan on the shelf directly below the stone.
Using a lame or razor blade, cut a shallow tic-tac-toe pattern on the top of each loaf, being careful not to tear the dough. Gently slide the bread onto the stone. Pour 1 cup of very hot water into the water pan and immediately shut the oven door. After about 1 minute, quickly mist the loaves 6 to 8 times, then shut the oven door. Mist the loaves again after 1 minute.
Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 400ºF/200ºC and bake for 10 minutes longer, until the loaves are light golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Brush the loaves with olive oil. Place them on a rack to cool, and enjoy them while they´re still slightly warm and crusty.


1 ½ cups (very warm water (105º to 115ºF/40º to 46ºC)
¼  teaspoon active dry yeast
3 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (16oz/454g)

Mix all the ingredients together in a medium bowl and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon for 2 to 3 minutes, until a smooth, somewhat elastic batter has formed. The batter will be very stiff; it gets softer and more elastic after it has proofed. You may find it easier to mix the sponge using an electric mixer, with a paddle or dough hook, on medium speed for 1 or 2 minutes. Scrape the sponge into a 2-quart clear plastic container and cover with plastic wrap. At this point you have two options:
If you plan to make your dough later that same day, let the sponge rest at room temperature until it has risen to the point where it just begins to collapse. This may take from 6 to 8 hours, depending on the temperature of the sponge, the temperature of the room and the strength of the yeast. The sponge will triple in volume and small dents and folds will begin to appear in the top as it reaches its peak and then begins to deflate. The sponge is now in perfect condition to be used in a dough. It´s best if you have already weighed or measured out all of your other recipe ingredients before the sponge reaches this point so you can use it before it collapses too much.
If you´re not planning to make your dough until the next day or the day after, put the covered sponge in the refrigerator and let it rise there for at least 14 hours before taking it out to use in a a recipe. Be sure to compensate for the cold temperature of the starter using warm water (85º to 90ºF / 30º to 32ºC) in the dough instead of the cool water specified in the recipe. Or let the starter sit out, covered, until it reaches room tº (this may take several hours), but don´t let it collapse too much before you use it.


  1. I am glad I am not the only one who has moments like that with bread. I usually make bread every week & every once in a while, you get a batch that just makes you scratch your head.
    Glad this worked out well for you in the end!

    1. I´ll try again, see if it was only one of those bread days!

  2. I love Amy’s Bread Book…So glad in the end this worked for you. I think it looks wonderful…I would like to give this one a try! The flavors of olive oil and rosemary suck me in! Nice post!

    1. Maybe it´s supposed to be the way it turned out. I will certainly find out next time!


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