It’s no secret that I love to use homegrown or foraged produce whenever possible. So when my friend Vana hand-delivered some olive oil direct from her friend’s olive oil farm outside Cape Town in South Africa, I couldn’t wait to try it. There is something special about knowing exactly where your food came from and how it was produced. And even better if it’s someone you know. Bread and extra virgin olive oil are two very simple things that are very good together and it made sense to put the olive oil in the bread as well as using it as a dip. Ciabatta has been on my list of things to make for a very long time but I am always put off by the need to make a “ferment” the day before. In fact it only takes a few minutes: you just need to plan a day ahead (something I’m not so good at…).
Olive oils can vary hugely in taste and this one is quite different to many I have had before: it has quite a fresh, peppery taste that is particularly good with fresh bread. It’s made from classic Tuscan olive varieties on a farm of 450 trees. The best quality olive oil comes from olives that are cold pressed as soon as they have been picked and this olive oil is pressed as soon as it reaches the shed. Time, subsequent pressings and the use of solvents to extract the oil all lead to a reduction in quality so unless you are just cooking with it it’s important to know you have proper extra virgin olive oil. There is a link to a really interesting article on myths and facts about olive oil on the Franschhoek Olive Oil Company’s Facebook page which is worth a read if you are interested: http://www.facebook.com/fholiveoilco/timeline. I would absolutely love to visit an olive farm and see exactly how the process works. If I am ever in Cape Town I will definitely be visiting but I think it is more likely I will have to find something a bit closer to home!
This is a Richard Bertinet recipe that makes four loaves. They can be part baked and kept frozen until ready to use so I baked two to eat and two to freeze. As it’s quite a long process it is definitely worth making a larger quantity. At the time I didn’t notice that the ferment uses flour rather than strong bread flour: I just assumed it needed bread flour so that is what I used and it still worked. Maybe I would have had more of the typical holes had I used plain flour!
For the Ferment
½ teaspoon fresh yeast
For the Dough
450g strong white bread flour
10g fresh yeast
50g olive oil
Prepare the ferment 17-24 hours in advance:
Mix the flour, water and yeast together for around five minutes: it should be a rough dough.
Put the dough into a bowl and cover with clingfilm and a tea towel.
Put the flour into a mixing bowl and rub in the yeast.
Add the ferment, water, oil and salt and mix well, initially with a dough scraper.
When a dough starts to form turn out onto a surface and work it for at least five minutes. It will be very wet. Alternatively it can be mixed in a mixer with a dough hook.
The dough needs to be light and silky.
Put the dough into an oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel or oiled clingfilm.
Flour the work surface and turn the dough out of the bowl in one piece and flour the top.
Fold each strip into three by folding one side of the dough into the middle and using the heel of your hand to press it down and seal. Do the same with the other side. Then fold in half lengthways and seal the edges.
Put the pieces of dough onto a well floured tea towel and cover with another tea towel.
Leave for around 40 minutes to prove and set the oven to 250ºC. If you have a baking stone or tray put it in the oven.
With one ciabatta at a time, turn it over and stretch it lengthways at the same time.
Slide it onto the hot baking stone and turn the oven down to 220ºC.
Bake for 18-20 minutes.
Allow to cool on a wire rack.
Enjoy with your favourite olive oil!