This is a vegan version of a bread I’ve been making for decades, and it never fails to look beautiful and taste delicious. The original recipe can be found in Deborah Madison’s delightful book, “The Savory Way”.
Braided Olive Bread
1 cup soy milk, unflavored and unsweetened
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 teaspoons active dry yeast
20 ounces green Sicilian olives (use the strongest-tasting you can find)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups organic whole wheat pastry flour
4-6 cups unbleached organic white flour
8-10 whole green Sicilian olives, as above, for decoration
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
Warm the milk, water, and sugar until warm to the touch (a bit warmer than body temperature). Stir in the yeast and leave it until it foams up a bit. Some yeast packets aren’t very foamy, but a little island of paleness will show up after about 10 minutes…and that’s enough!
Next, remove the pits from the olives. I highly recommend buying pitted olives. It’s worth the money in laborious time saved! I do this by laying a large chef’s knife on top of an olive and giving the flat of the blade small *thump* with the heel of my hand. This loosens the pit enough to pick it out of the olive’s flesh. Chop the olives into pea-sized pieces. You need to end up with two cups of chopped olives.
Once the yeast has shown signs of life (a bit of foaminess, or that little pale island), stir in the chopped olives, olive oil, salt, and whole wheat flour.
Stir until a batter begins to form, then begin adding small amounts of the white flour until the dough is stiff. This is where things become a little flexible: different flours, the yeast, even the weather, has an effect on how much flour it will take to create that stiff ball of dough. So take it slow and have fun watching your dough develop.
When you have a ball of dough too stiff to handle, turn it out onto a floured counter or table and begin kneading. The olives will add a few bumps to the dough, but you’re still aiming for a smooth, even consistency. I knead for about 10 minutes, but again it depends on the flour and how everything is coming together.
Film a bowl with olive oil, and roll the dough ball around a little so that it has a film of oil, too. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth or plastic wrap and place in a warm—not hot—spot to rise.
Once the dough has doubled in size, anywhere from an hour to and hour and a half, punch it down and divide it into three parts of equal weight. Cover the three dough pieces with a clean towel and rest the dough for for 20 minutes to let the gluten relax a bit.
Next, roll each piece into a rope 3-4 feet long. Each rope should be about 3/4″ wide. Braid tightly, then form the braid into a spiral with the edges of the dough just touching, tucking the ends underneath.
Set the braid aside to rise again. (1) If you’ll be using a baking stone, rise the braid on a peel dusted with cornmeal. (2) If baking on a baking sheet, place the braid directly upon the sheet. Cover the braid with a clean towel, return it to its warm place to rise, and wait another hour or so.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, with the baking stone inside, if you’re using one.
After the braid has risen, brush with some of the melted coconut oil. Push the whole olives into the braid at juncture points of the braid. Slide the bread onto the hot baking stone (if using) or place the baking pan in the oven. After about 15 minutes, brush a little more melted coconut oil on the newly-exposed surfaces. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the bread is nicely colored. Let the braid cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Wonderful with ratatouille…