I think I've already made around 6 breads from Hamelman's book Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes and so far, I've not been disappointed with any of them. This Olive Levain bread is definitely the tastiest one out of the 6 that I made and I regret only making one loaf instead of two. I've developed this habit of halving bread recipes that make 2 or more loaves (especially if I'm a little uncertain about how they would taste like) and if I only knew that we would be finishing this within mere minutes, then I would've made two or even four loaves for that matter...it's really that good! But since this bread includes, as Hamelman puts it, "high-octane" ingredients like kalamata olives, it would be extremely expensive to make 4 loaves at once given that I would have to buy a pound of olives just for them! So I guess it will only be 2 loaves max the next time I make this LOL. Hamelman did mention though that the amount of olives in the recipe can be decreased by about 20% which would still give the bread a distinct olive flavor. Well, since I was baking this for our own consumption I didn't bother lessening the olives and went for the full amount which was 4 ounces for half the recipe. I think you can even play around with the flavor of this bread by using a variety of olives or even the ones that have stuffing in them like anchovies, peppers, etc. I'm going to try that next time.
Kneading the olives into the dough was a little tricky as you're suppose to evenly distribute them all throughout the dough but at the same time doing it in a gentle manner that the olives won't stain the crumb completely purple (It's perfectly fine to have purple marbling in the crumb though). Hamelman suggests to dry the olives completely for a few hours (even overnight) to control the hydration of the dough but I think it also prevents their juices from bleeding too much into the dough as well. I used oil-cured kalamata olives and even though I dried them well for a few hours on tissue paper, the dough became a little loose and oily (which brought me in a state of panic for a little while hehe) but a few kneads brought the dough back to its previous consistency (thank goodness!). I did 2 stretch & folds during bulk fermentation and retarded the dough overnight for about 12 hours at 40 F.
VERDICT: The bread was mildly sour and the decrease in salt in the overall formula was definitely compensated by the saltiness of the olives which you can really taste in every bite as I made them extra chunky (chunky as in I only sliced these large kalamatas in half). The small amount of whole wheat flour in the formula makes it even more flavorful (I recommend using the coarser WW flour). Next time, I will knead in the olives using the mixer so they'll be incorporated into the dough more evenly.
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