Olive Bread from Nice

Olives are a natural complement to bread, especially when they’re baked inside it. Be sure to buy firm unpitted olives for this—pitted olives tend to be softer, and though buying them that way may save you time, the olives will easily disintegrate and add extra moisture to the dough.

Makes one 10- to 12-inch loaf

1 2/3 cups room temperature tap water, about 75°F

1/2 teaspoon instant or fine granulated active dry yeast

3 3/4 cups bread flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)

1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

1 1/4 cups Niçoise olives, or other firm-textured black olives, pitted after measuring and coarsely chopped, see Note

One heavy cookie sheet or pizza pan lined with sprayed or lightly oiled parchment paper, plus a spray bottle filled with warm water

  1. Pour the water into a 3-quart or slightly larger mixing bowl and whisk in the yeast. Wait 30 seconds, then whisk again.
  2. Combine the flour and salt and use a large rubber spatula to stir the flour mixture into the liquid. Scrape the side of the bowl and make sure that no flour remains stuck there. Once the dough is a coherent mass, beat it for a few seconds. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough ferment at room temperature for at least 8 hours. It will more than double in bulk.
  3. A couple of hours before you are ready to form and bake the bread, use a plastic scraper to transfer the dough from the bowl to a well-floured work surface. Flour your hands and pull the dough into a long rectangle. Scatter the olives over half the length of the dough, then fold the other half of the dough over them. Gently press to adhere the dough back together. Fold the two sides in to overlap at the middle, then roll the top toward you all the way to the end, jelly-roll style. Invert, flatten, and repeat. Move the dough to a well-floured place and cover with a towel or sprayed or oiled plastic wrap; let rest for 1 hour.
  4. Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 450˚F.
  5. Use a scraper to invert the dough to a floured work surface and pull the sides of the dough in toward the center to give the loaf a round shape, pinching the pulled-in pieces in place at the top. Invert the dough to a banneton or a basket lined with a floured cloth and cover it with a flat-weave towel. Proof the loaf until it puffs visibly, about 1 hour—it will not double in bulk.
  6. Invert the paper-lined pan onto the banetton and flip the banneton over onto the pan and remove it. Use an X-Acto knife or a single-edge razor blade to cut a slash across the diameter of the loaf. Spray the loaf with water and place it in the oven.
  7. Wait 5 minutes and spray again, then decrease the oven temperature to 425˚F.
  8. Bake the loaf until it is deep golden and the internal temperature reads 200°F on an instant read thermometer, 30 to 40 minutes
  9. Cool the loaf on a rack.

NOTE: Niçoise olives are too small to be pitted using a cherry or olive pitter. Smash the olives, a few at a time, with the side of a knife blade, then carefully pick through to separate them from the pits. If you can’t find real Niçoise olives, substitute Kalamata olives or Moroccan oil-cured olives for them.