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In French, pain aux olives simply means “bread with olives.” This traditional bread comes in a wide variety of styles, and it is often available at French bakeries. It can also be made at home relatively easily.
The basic dough for pain aux olives includes flour, salt, and water. Many cooks also like to add oil, often olive oil to bring out the olive flavor in the bread, and a small amount of sugar may be added as well, to help develop a more complex flavor. Depending on the type of yeast used and the way in which the bread is handled, pain aux olives may develop a tight, closed crumb, or an open crumb, and the crust may be thick or thin.
By tradition, pain aux olives is made with an old dough or sourdough starter. These starters are the cornerstone of French breads, creating tangy, flavorful breads which often have intense flavors. However, it is also possible to use ordinary yeast, although the flavor may not be as stunning. For home cooks who are just starting to experiment with bread baking, it may be a good idea to get the basic skills down before branching out into the world of old dough starters.
As you might imagine, the defining ingredient in pain aux olives is olives. Technically, any sort of olive variety may be used in this bread, and some bakers like to mix their olives to make the bread more flavorful and visually interesting. Either green or black olives may be used, and any type of cure is acceptable, although bakers should be warned that oil cured olives sometimes develop strange flavors when they are cooked.
The olives are mixed in at the end of the kneading process, ensuring that they are thoroughly integrated into the bread without being smashed by the kneading. Many bakers like to shape pain aux olives into rounds, known as boules in French, but it can also be baked in a loaf pan, or shaped into a batard, an oblong loaf. However the bread is shaped, it helps to slash the top to ensure that the bread expands evenly during the baking process without cracking.
You may also hear this bread referred to as hearth bread, country olive bread, or peasant olive bread. As these names imply, pain aux olives is often a rustic bread, and it pairs well with an assortment of cheeses, fruits, and wines. Many people like to take it along on picnics, where it can be a filling and flavorful addition to a meal.
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