I am clearly not to be trusted. Peter Reinhart turns his back for one moment and I am off, sneaking clandestine relations with another cookbook. A pretty green one with drawings and clever stories, a slim volume that beckons with its warm prose and inviting recipes. Some of them are even bread recipes.
As you may know, starting this past May I took a bread-vow to bake my way through Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Our vows did not specifically state that I would forsake all other bread recipes, but it was sort of implied. After all, baking one bread per week from scratch is rather time consuming, plus there is the pesky result of lots and lots of leftover bread, cluttering the counter and freezer like I was afraid I'd get lost and need a crumbly trail back to the kitchen. So to throw a non-Reinhart bread into the mix, just for the heck of it, seemed a tad excessive. But honestly, I can't remember the last time I wasn't excessive.
So. Not far from my home is the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a real live national park, right here, in Ohio, with rangers and everything. It's a lovely valley, connecting Cleveland to Akron along the crooked Cuyahoga River with miles and miles of walking trails, bridle trails, small family farms and beautiful landscape features. There's even a waterfall.
And next to that waterfall is a quaint little bed and breakfast called, naturally, The Inn at Brandywine Falls. Several years ago the innkeepers, George and Katie Hoy, published a cookbook of the recipes they cook and share with their guests at their inn. It is a wonderful volume, filled with the stories, charm and color that one would expect from an inn that, at the time of publication, had hosted more than 7,500 guests. You're bound to get some good tales out of that many travelers. Then there is the small but significant matter that the Hoys thank, among other beings, their dogs, cats, horses and goats in the opening pages of the book. How could you not love a book dedicated in part to our four-footed friends? Seriously. How could you not love that?
So the other night, while I was delivering Mom's puggle Rosie home to her after a week of quality dog-sitting, I was thumbing through Inn Good Taste while sitting in her kitchen. I only had to get to page seven before I found a recipe that I had to try immediately. The conversation went something like this:
Di: "Hi. Welcome home! Here is your crazy puggle. I am borrowing this cookbook."
Mom: "She doesn't seem as happy to see me as I thought she would. Did you feed her broccoli? Did she sleep in your bed? What are you cooking now?"
The answers to Mom's questions: yes, but it was raw even though she prefers cooked; yes, and she carefully placed her rear end on my pillow each night; French bread with olives and sage. You see, French bread with olives and sage, to me at least, sounds too amazing to languish on a page, unbaked. Plus, Husband recently brought me a stash of Calabrian green olives from NYC, and my sage plant is large, leafy and overtaking its corner of the back porch. I put Reinhart on the shelf, for just a few days, and had my fling with another bread.
I could say something here like, "It was good. Don't tell Reinhart." But in truth, the reason this bread was so good was because of Reinhart. I brought the lessons of 11 (so far) Reinhart breads to bear on my baking of the olive-sage bread, and I'm convinced this excellent bread was the result of my knowing things I simply did not know before. Things like the windowpane. How to shape a boule. The difference between sticky and tacky. And when I make this bread again, I'm going to experiment with baking it under hearth conditions, meaning, on a stone with high and variable temperature and the addition of steam.
So, yes, I suppose it is cliche. My olive-sage fling -- while amazing and memorable and wonderful in every way -- made me appreciate my Reinhart commitment even more.
Until some other hot-to-trot bread comes along.
FRENCH BREAD WITH OLIVES AND SAGE
Adapted from Inn Good Taste, by George and Katie Hoy
The original recipe is written very simply and humorously. It includes directions such as, "When smooth and elastic, cover the dough with a cloth and do something else for awhile." Predictably, in the course of Reinharting this recipe, I added a little more fussy quantitative detail. But feel free to run fast and loose with rising times, etc. The Hoys certainly do.
In the book, the recipe is written to yield six loaves of bread. That seems a little excessive, even to me, so I cut the recipe in half. If you are feeding a small army, feel free to double what you see below.
3 c. lukewarm water (part of this liquid can be juice from the olives -- about 1/4 c. of my 3 c. of water was olive brine)
1 T. yeast
2 T. sugar, divided
About 7 c. bread flour, divided
1 T. kosher salt
1/2 c. fresh sage leaves, "hacked into quarter-inch pieces"
1/2 c. pitted green olives, roughly chopped
Coarse corn meal, for sprinkling
1 egg white
The night before you wish to have bread, place the water, olive brine (if using) and yeast in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add 1 T. of the sugar and whisk to combine. Add 2 1/3 c. of the flour; switch to a wooden spoon or a dough whisk if you have one and stir 100 times, until the mixture is well-combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let the sponge sit at room temperature overnight.
The next day, when the sponge is bubbly, add the remaining 1 T. of sugar, salt, sage and olives. Stir this mixture 100 times, then cover again and let rest for about 20 minutes.
When the mixture has rested, add 3 2/3 c. flour, reserving the remaining 1 c. of flour. Stir to begin to incorporate the flour, then turn the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface to bring the dough together. Knead the dough for 12-15 minutes, adding the remaining 1 c. of flour if the dough is too sticky. (I ended up using all of this 1 c. of flour, plus a little more.) You want the dough to be tacky, but not sticky; this means that the dough will feel sticky but you will be able to pull your hand away without dough residue on your fingers. You will know you are done kneading when the dough has formed a smooth, elastic ball and passes the windowpane test.
Cover the dough with a cloth and let it rise for about 1 hour.
Punch down the risen dough and, using a bench scraper or a serrated knife, divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Shape the pieces into loaves -- I chose to make a boule, which is a round loaf. You can make a boule by working the dough into a ball, then pulling down the "sides" of the ball and pinching them together underneath. This increases the surface tension of the dough and creates a tight sphere. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper and sprinkle the paper with cornmeal. Place one loaf on each sheet, then cover the loaves with a cloth and let rise for about 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Beat the egg white until frothy, then brush over the bread. Bake the loaves, one at a time, for 38 minutes, turning the loaf halfway through the baking. When done, the loaves should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove the loaves from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Allow the dough to cool for at least one hour before slicing and serving.
Makes 3 loaves. I kept one and gave one to Mom and one to Sister. They were grateful ladies.