A few years ago, a small revolution  took place among American bakers  after the publication of the no-knead bread recipe.  It was hard to surf the internet food world without daily encounters of posts about it.  Like many other people, I boarded that train, which I do not regret.  As a result of the “no-knead” recipe, I baked good bread at home, which was something I’d struggled with for years.  Also thanks to the “no-knead” recipe, I gained the self-confidence to attempt more elaborate breads, until my travels took me to an unforgettable turning point:  the “Handmade Loaf“, by Dan Lepard.

I now have too many bread-baking books,  but  The Handmade Loaf is the one that I cherish, in part because his respect and love for everything about bread shines through in every sentence.  Technically, his instructions are flawless and his photography is superb.  Sure, I can make and enjoy a loaf of bread that was mixed in five minutes, but that’s not the bread that I fell  in love with.  Rather, this is it….

(Dan Lepard’s  Handmade Loaf)

350 g bread flour
1 tsp sea salt
150 g water
150 g sourdough starter
1/2 tsp fresh yeast (I used instant)
25 g olive oil
100 g pitted green olives
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped

Combine the flours with the salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk the water, starter, yeast, olive oil, olives, and thyme.  Add the liquid to the flour, then stir with your hands. Form a loose ball with the ingredients and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.

Proceed to kneading the dough three times at 1o minute intervals. Each kneading cycle will last only 10-15 seconds.  After the last kneading cycle,  let it rest for 10 minutes and form it into a rectangle.  Fold it by thirds like a letter, let it rest for 1 hour.  Stretch the dough again, fold it by thirds, allow it to rest for another hour.  Shape the dough very gently into a rectangle and pat the surface with your fingers  to flatten it slightly.   Sprinkle cornmeal on the surface, cover with a cloth and allow it to rise for 45 minutes.

Bake in a 425F oven for about 40 minutes.


I am submitting this post to Susan’s Yeastspotting….

Comments: I’m not sure why this bread wasn’t called “White Thyme Bread with Green Olives,” as they are so obvious in the loaf.  Make sure to use best quality green olives;  Dan suggests piccolini olives from France, even if you have to pit them yourself.

The bread is supposed to be quite flat, but I decided to form a more rounded shape.   I could have slashed the surface,  but I didn’t expect as much oven bounce as it achieved during baking.

This bread is a departure from his white levain, because it calls for a small amount of commercial yeast in the dough.  That adjustment reduces the fermentation time, and creates a slightly less “creamy” crumb.  The addition of olive oil allows the flavor of thyme to permeate  the crumb, imparting an assertive, but not overpowering taste.

It’s bread as bread should be.  Thank you, Dan!

Here are some photos of the process…  Keep in mind that I gave only a short, summarized version of the recipe.  In the book, Lepard goes through all the steps in detail.  So, if you want to make  a loaf of bread in your own home that you can write a poem about later, then consider buying The Handmade Loaf.   It’s worth every penny.

Easy to fall in love…



Like a Mother who adamantly refuses to name her favorite child, I have a hard time picking a favorite cookbook. But, if someone asked me which cookbook had the greatest impact on my cooking,  I’d pick “The Handmade Loaf” by Dan Lepard, hands down.

If you dream of making great bread, if you feel that calling those preserved abnormalities at the grocery store “bread” is disrespectful to bakers everywhere, then you need this book.   Not only are the photos  gorgeous, but Dan’s writing will excite you to try every single bread from the book.  Isn’t that the mark of a great cookbook? Each page you turn makes you want to stop reading and start cooking! 😉

His main message is simple: if you want to become great at baking bread, forget about using a bread machine, or even a mixer. You won’t be pushing buttons, you will be using your hands to knead the dough. But his kneading technique is miles and miles ahead of the traditional, back-breaking, sweat-inducing method. You’ll fold the dough instead,  allowing time to accomplish what brute force used to do. You will also, for the most part, use yeast captured from your own kitchen, starting from flour, water, and a few raisins.  This book will completely change your approach to bread baking.

Yes, you will make the sourdough starter. Yes, at first you will feel intimidated. Yes, you will make mistakes, but you’ll soon realize that the starter is a very forgiving creature. Some of you who read my profile might be mumbling: “yeah, right, she is a biochemist who works with bacteria, easy for her to make starter”.  Believe me, I felt intimidated too.  I was afraid of the sourdough turning rotten, of my breads not rising, tasting flat, ending up hard as a hockey puck. In part because those things happened to me in the past, I was convinced that bread baking was simply not my cup of tea.

That all changed with “The Handmade Loaf”.  My first starter was born on March 2008 (I now have more than one). Since then, I’ve baked sourdough bread on a regular schedule, by far the MOST rewarding activity in my Bewitching Kitchen. I will share many of my bread baking adventures here, so stay tuned. 😉

Meanwhile, would anyone care for a piece of levain bread with black olives?

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