Olive Levain and Cheese ‘n’ Roasted Onion Bread

Olive Levain Jeffrey HamelmanI have been somewhat remiss in my Mellow Baking lately but decided to rev up the levain this week and tackle the Olive Levain.

I was all set to make the final dough when I discovered I only had one little jar of straight olives (dry weight 90 grams)

So I shelved the idea of making giant fougasses and split the levain into two lots.  I made one batch of  dough with the jar of green olives and turned it into rolls. I like using green olives in bread, the colour doesn’t leak like it does with black olives. Whatever you use though, the important thing is to rinse the olives, pat them dry and then ideally leave them to dry a bit more overnight before you finally include them in the dough. Too much wet brine will change the dough if you are not careful.

What to do with the other half of the levain?  Brian suggested cheese and onion bread.

I grated 150 grams of strong cheddar, the real kind that comes from Somerset and then remembered, (this is where I turn into Delia with her cheat ingredients) that I had a tub of Rostad Lök from Ikea, those lovely roasted onions that Swedes sprinkle on top of their open sandwiches. So I added 30 grams of that into the bread, reduced the amount of added salt by half and used the same proportions of flour, water and levain as the earlier bread.

And that was that. Two breads, one dough. Lovely!  I think I might use these onions in the potato and onion bread that is on the Mellow Bakers  list for this month too.

Here is how I made the Cheese and Rostad Lök Levain

  • 200 g bread flour
  • 160 g strong (high gluten) bread flour
  • 50 g wholewheat flour
  • 200 g water
  • 200 g levain (125% hydration)  (make  250g levain like this:  25 g old starter, 100 g new flour, 125 g water that will give you a bit more than you need but you can use it in something else or feed it up for the next loaf)
  • 150 g roughly grated cheddar
  • 30 g roasted onions from Ikea
  • 5 g salt ( you might want less than this as the onions have a lot of flavour and the cheese has salt in it of course)
  1. Prepare your levain 12 – 16 hours before you want to bake.
  2. The following day :
  3. Whisk or stir your flours together until they are well mixed.
  4. Put your levain in a large bowl.
  5. Add the water, room temperature or a little warmer but not too hot. Stir well.
  6. Add the flours and the salt.
  7. Mix till you have a firm and shaggy dough.
  8. Leave for about ten minutes.
  9. Sprinkle the grated cheese and the roasted onions on to the dough and start to mix it in. Once it is all more or less mixed in, take the dough out of the bowl and knead it on a lightly oiled surface for a short while.
  10. Leave to prove, folding once after an hour if you remember,  for about two and a half hours.
  11. Shape and leave for another hour or two till it has increased in size by about a half.

It was a bit chilly today and the dough wasn’t moving very well, so I put the little top oven on to its lowest setting of 30 C and used it to warm the dough and help it get more active so I could get it baked. After an hour in there it was lively and well risen so…

The bread went into a pre-heated oven at 220 C for 20 minutes with steam (boiling water in tray under oven stone) and then once the top had taken on a nice colour I turned it back down to 200 C for another 25 minutes for the bigger loaf and took the smaller ones out after a total of 28 minutes.  I made one 500 g loaf and two 25o g loaves.

They sound small but they are more than enough for a lunch for two people with some summer salad and a slice or two of salami or with a bowl of vegetable soup. The cheese adds a lovely softness to the crumb of the bread and the house sings with the happy smell of toasted onions!

Do you like onions?

Edit: For some reason I posted the crumb shot on Flickr here and some thrilling pictures of poached eggs on toast.

33 thoughts on “Olive Levain and Cheese ‘n’ Roasted Onion Bread

  1. Jeannette

    Your bread looks good, Joanna and the planned lunch sounds very tasty! You seem to have much more confidence with doughs than I have, obviously you practice more than I do.
    I notice you use two different strengths of bread flours in this mix, is this essential?

    1. Joanna Post author

      Absolutely not necessary. Use the flour you like to use. Vary the flours according to what you have. I have run out of my Shipton Mill bread flour so had to use something else I had in the cupboard. It was one of those days… If you had seen me changing my mind over and over this morning you would have laughed, one minute I had stretched out a fougasse then I changed my mind, then I shaped long rolls, then round ones… I am surprised the bread survived really….

  2. caro

    I haven’t had any onion bread since I lived in Berlin so am going to try this recipe hope my bread looks as good as yours does

  3. heidi

    I also like onions! and BREAD! and cheese and olives and… any bread you make!
    I’m going to make this this weekend. Because my family likes onions, as well!
    Thanks, Joanna!

  4. teawithhazel

    love the little rolls with the green olives and the other bread looks fantastic too..i would really like to make this but i am not sure how to do the levain..i do have a sourdough starter that’s about 3 weeks old..i feed it every day and i’ve used the discarded dough with a little bit of yeast in a couple of loaves..but i haven’t braved a real sourdough loaf yet..so i would really appreciate your advice joanna..thanks in anticipation..jane

    1. Joanna Post author

      Jane, it sounds like you’re almost there! Levain = sourdough starter, it’s the same thing. To get a quantity with the right proportion of water to flour for this recipe you need 125 g of water for every 100 g of flour, plus about 30 g of your old starter – that’s what the 125% thing means. Starters are made with more or less water and this affects how acidic they are and how they behave and bakers have all sorts of ritual ways of preparing them. If you have an active bubbly starter that bubbles up nice and strong within eight – 12 hours of being fed then it should be strong enough to raise your bread for you, it just does it more slowly than yeast. The secret is to only use a small, and I mean small, amount of your old starter to create the starter for the new bread. If your starter is being fed every day it should be raring to go any day now. From mixing the dough ( on a warmish day) to baking it takes maybe 6 – 9 hours, so you’re looking at a longer time span than yeast, slow motion bread, (that is till it hits the oven!).

        1. Joanna Post author

          Write notes as you go along. Mix the dough with luke warm water or water that has been stood at room temperature if it is a warm day, and don’t expect miracles with the first loaf, but view it as an experiment. My first sourdough loaves were overproved and looked like this: I was very proud of them at the time, in fact I still am :) I think I made everyone eat these and smile too… Edit: Did I say Good Luck? Good Luck and Happy Baking Jane !

          Zeb's first attempt at a sourdough loaf...

            1. Joanna Post author

              I’ve just visited your blog and read your great post about baking bread in Greece. Chickpea starter? Can you remember how to make it? I would love to hear more about it one day :)

  5. Abby

    Oh, Joanna, your olive levain rolls look just perfect…and I just had a major Mellow Bakers fail with this recipe just this morning. =( You give me hope that I could do better…if I had the nerve/time/patience to try. The cheese and onion looks more like our type of bread anyway…yum! =)

    1. Joanna Post author

      Oh dear, what happened? I will pop over to your blog later tonight. I’m out now for the rest of the day. Cheese and onion bread is very smelly and delicious, give it a go next time :)

  6. Mitchdafish

    Excited to say that I have tasted these lovely breads! Joanna you have angel hands, doughy fingers, or some similar gift. My husband said ‘I didn’t know sourdough could taste nice’. What more is there to say?

    1. Joanna Post author

      Can I tell everyone that I have a box of your finest beetroot, potatoes, broadbeans and three precious eggs and I am going to poach the eggs for breakfast? Fresh eggs are a really special treat! My husband would love to meet your chickens. The beetroot is boiling and will make a splendid beetroot and onion salad with dill.

      Edit : Sunday Morning Brunch

      Egg on toast

  7. cityhippyfarmgirl

    Cheese and onion eh? Yes indeedy I think that could be listed for quite soon. You used Ikea onions, and I’m embracing anything vaguely scandinavian at the moment so clearly it’s a sign. The bread was meant to be!… oh and olive one looked lovely too :-)

    1. Joanna Post author

      I used the Ikea onions that had been bought to go on sandwiches and didn’t get used for that. They are very pungent, I was eating the bread tonight and thinking maybe a bit overenthusiastic there, but Brian says it’s delish so who am I to argue?

  8. Melanie Corley

    What a great idea to make olive rolls! I think that’s better than an olive loaf, but I did have so much fun shaping the fougasse. I’ve never seen roasted onions in a tub like that before. I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for some at the store. Onion and cheese in bread sounds perfect!! We are big on small loaves here too, since its just us. My sourdoughs don’t seem to rise very much during fermentation. Is there something wrong with my starter? How would I fix it to make it raise the dough more? (starter smells fine and gets very, very bubbly after I feed it)
    Thank you for any help/advice you might be able to give!!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Mel, I was just trying to leave this comment on your blog, but I don’t know if I can persuade blogger to do it… Your Olive Fougasse doesn’t need any advice from me, I think I need yours, that’s a great bread you’ve baked there :D

      ” Hey that’s beautiful! … Only thing maybe is use the levain a bit earlier. Ideally you want to use it when it is at its frothy peak. Mine does this in about 12 hours, sometimes in 8 hours if the weather is warm and I am refreshing it frequently. Observe its rise and fall and see if you can figure out its time cycle.

      The dough doesn’t have to rise a lot during the first period. It depends to a certain extent on the ratio of liquid to flour in the dough, the wetter ones tend to rise more than the firmer ones. As long as the dough rises by about half (not double) then that’s fine, as long as you can see a network of bubbles when you cut into the dough that is a sign that fermentation is happening, that’s what Dan Lepard says in his book The Handmade Loaf, and that’s how I check the dough if I am unsure if it is ready to shape.

      Anyway, I wish I could make a fougasse as gorgeous as yours!

  9. drfugawe

    I know why those black olives bleed – it’s because of the magic-marker they use to color them (I speak of the California olives, of course). Do you have magic-markers in the U.K.?

    Have you ever tasted a fresh olive? Ummm.

  10. Joanna Post author

    I worked for a few weeks on the Cretan olive harvest many years ago Doc. Happy times and good memories. I have tasted freshly picked olives, so bitter you spit them straight out again. As far as I know most varieties have to be soaked in water for a good while before you can eat them, and most of them are fermented in some way or other as well. There is one sort which ripens and shrivels on the tree which can be eaten direct from the tree, called throubes, do they grow those in California?

  11. C

    The little olive rolls look really lovely – olives are something I’ve come to appreciate fairly recently.

    I love the look of the cheese and onion bread – did the cheese come through well in the loaf? I almost always have cheese sandwiches for lunch (boring I know, but I like them!) and onions in the bread to complement the cheese sounds like a great idea. Not sure my colleagues will want to speak to me after lunch though….

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thanks C! The cheese comes through really well, I used a strong Somerset cheddar. I saw Dan had a recipe for cheese and onion torpedos this weekend, a yeasted one – he puts mustard in the bread which is a good idea, as mustard enhances the taste of the cheese. I would have baked that one had I seen it just a little earlier, but I had already started these. The cheese softens the texture of the bread quite a lot and gives the crust that wonderful colour. There are some extra pics in my Flickr Photos. Link at the bottom of the blog, bottom right corner.

  12. sallybr

    Cheese and olives are soooo good in this type of bread! It’s been a while since I made something along those lines, my last sourdough was a failure, and kind of traumatized me a little, not sure what happened. I might be losing my touch :-(

    Great post!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Oh dear, I’m sure it was just a one-off sort of thing. You are a great baker Sally :) Did you figure out what happened ?

      1. sallybr

        I don’t think the recipe called for enough folding cycles – I should have followed my intuition, but I picked the recipe because it was reasonably fast and we had to go out for dinner…

        you know how it goes – there was not enough gluten structure, pancake city! But the crumb was open, and the bread/pancake tasted ok. Anyway, I need to make a nice loaf of bread to exorcize my demons ASAP

        1. Joanna Post author

          Everyone creates a pancake once in a while… I sometimes think it’s an over acidic starter combined with weak flour for too long, the starter chews up the gluten and leaves a sort of limp weak dough behind…

  13. Amanda

    I love onions – but not unequivocally. Caramelised, crisp fried and in onion bhajis – they are not safe around me. But when fresh in salads or sandwiches we don’t get on at all. Must be something to do with the chemistry of them once they are cooked.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Brian eats onions in any shape or form. I prefer them processed, ideally cooked, so they get sweeter. Though I quite like them in a salsa with lime juice, chilli, salt and coriander – but that is a process too isn’t it?

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