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The Need to Knead

(post, Jennifer Greco)

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(originally published on Chez Loulou on January 22, 2009)

Seems like forever since I've dug my hands into some soft, squishy dough, stretched and kneaded it into a glossy, springy ball and made some homemade bread.

For a long time I was making my own bread almost every day. Or at least every other day. I had the luxury of time and love the meditative rhythm of this domestic activity.
Then things got so busy over the holidays that I simply got out of the habit.

This morning, once again, I was overcome with the need to knead.

This Olive Oil Dough is the perfect blank canvas. Some delicious combinations I've experimented with:

     extra bits of cheese (something we always have lying around) and tomatoes
     a mélange of raw onions and minced garlic
     a simple mix of fresh herbs such as rosemary or thyme, and a heavy drizzling of olive oil
     caramelized onions
     a gutsy mix of bacon and arugula
     roasted red peppers and ricotta
     coarse sea salt, red pepper flakes and olive oil

Today I made up an interesting mix out of a few things I had sitting in the fridge; a half a bag of arugula, a couple green onions and some feta. I chopped up the onions and arugula and mixed them in a bowl with some olive oil, salt and spicy red pepper flakes. Those were scattered on the dough and then dotted with crumbled feta cheese.

It was excellent!

Simple Olive Oil Dough

     1 1/3 cup (325 mls) lukewarm water
     1 packet yeast
     1/3 cup (75 mls) extra-virgin olive oil
     3 to 4 cups (450-600 grams) all-purpose flour
     2 teaspoons fine sea salt

Whisk together the water and yeast in a large bowl until yeast is dissolved. Whisk in olive oil. Add one cup of the flour and whisk until combined.
Switch to a wooden spoon and stir in the salt and slowly incorporate enough flour to make a soft dough.
Turn out onto a floured surface and knead, using as little extra flour as possible, for about 5 minutes. The dough should look satiny and feel moist but shouldn't stick to clean hands.
Place the dough in a large, clean bowl, cover with a tea towel and let it rise at room temperature until it has doubled in size, at least 1 hour. Two hours is better.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
Punch down the dough and stretch onto a cornmeal sprinkled or olive oil drizzled baking sheet.
Add toppings of your choice and let it rest while the oven warms up.
Bake until golden about 30-35 minutes.