Olive Oil Loaf
3/4 C. warm water
4-1/2 C. unbleached bread flour
1 packet dry yeast
1 t. sea salt
4 T. olive oil
Pour 1/2 cup water into a large, warm bowl and with a fork whisk in a cup of the flour and all the yeast. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place for an hour or so until the mixture froths. After an hour, this sponge, as it is known, will have become a warm mass of creamy bubbles and will have risen quite dramatically.
Put the remaining flour into a large bowl or the bowl of a mixer. Pour in the remaining water, sprinkle in the salt, then scoop in the frothing sponge. Gently bring the ingredients together with your hand, in which case you should expect to get in a sticky mess, or, if you are using a mixer, a flat beater dough hook. After a minute of mixing, you will have a sticky dough. Drizzle half of the olive oil over the top and loosely mix it in by lifting the dough and letting the oil run under it. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and return it to its warm resting place for half an hour.
The dough should by now be glossy, soft and have doubled in size. Pour the rest of the olive oil over the top then push your finger down all over the warm, wet dough to make 30 holes or more. This is a thoroughly pleasurable task. Cover once again and return it to the warm for a further 30 minutes.
When the dough is glistening and risen to twice its size, tip it out on to a heavily floured work surface. Press the dough with your hands to deflate it, pull it into a rough oval and place it on a floured baking sheet. Dust with flour, cover with film and return it to the warm for the last time. Give it 30 minutes or until it starts to spread alarmingly. Remember this is a shallow loaf. Set the oven at 475°F.
Drizzle a little more olive oil over the loaf, it will collect in the hollows and creases in the surface. Put the tray on the middle shelf of the oven. After 5 minutes, reduce the temperature to 400°F. and continue to bake for 35 minutes.
Makes 1 loaf