Olive Levain


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Dough Yield: About


    loaves at 1.5 lb each

Appears in


By Jeffrey Hamelman

Published 2004

  • About

The Olives Really Let Their Presence be Known in this Bread, and there are enough in each loaf that it would be hard to take a slice and not have the intense flavor of olives expanding in your mouth. The olives are drained, pitted if necessary (note that even olives that come “pitted” very often contain pits), and laid onto towels to dry for several hours or overnight. If they still seem moist, lay more towels on top and gently press to extract more of their liquid. Sliced olives or whole olives can be used. If the pieces are too small, however, which they often are when the olives are sliced, they tend to get a little lost in the dough and also might stain the dough a purple color.

The ingredient cost goes up dramatically when “high-octane” ingredients like olives are added to breads. The overall percentage of olives can be somewhat lowered, to about 22 percent, and the bread will still retain a discernible olive flavor.

The percentage of salt in the formula—1.5 percent—looks unusually low. This, of course, is because the olives contribute saltiness. If we were to add 1.8 or 2 percent salt, the bread would be too salty.

Pre-Fermented Flour: 18%


Overall Formula

U.S. Metric Home Baker’s %
Bread Flour 18 lb 9 kg 1 lb, 12.8 oz 90 %
Whole-Wheat Flour 2 lb 1 kg 3.2 oz 10 %
Water 12.6 lb 6.3 kg 1 lb, 4.2 oz 63 %
Salt .3 lb .15 kg .5 oz 1.5 %
Olives, Pitted 5 lb 2.5 kg 8 oz 25 %
Total Yield 37.9 lb 18.95 kg 3 lb, 12.7 oz 189.5 %

Liquid-Levain Build

Bread Flour 3.6 lb 1.8 kg 5.8 oz (1⅜ cups) 100 %
Water 4.5 lb 2.25 kg 7.2 oz ( cup) 125 %
Mature Culture (Liquid) .72 lb .36 kg 1.2 oz (2 T + 1 tsp) 20 %
Total 8.82 lb 4.41 kg 14.2 oz

Final Dough

Bread Flour 14.4 lb 7.2 kg 1 lb, 7 oz ( cups)
Whole-Wheat Flour 2 lb 1 kg 3.2 oz (¾ cup)
Water 8.1 lb 4.05 kg 13 oz (1⅝ cups)
Salt .3 lb .15 kg .5 oz ( tsp)
Liquid Levain 8.1 lb 4.05 kg 13 oz (all less 2 T + 1 tsp)
Olives, Pitted (See HeadNote) 5 lb 2.5 kg 8 oz ( cups, packed)
Total 37.9 lb 18.95 kg 3 lb, 12.7 oz


  1. Liquid Levain: Make the final build 12 to 16 hours before the final mix and let stand in a covered container at about 70°F.
  2. Mixing: Add all the ingredients to the mixing bowl, with the exception of the olives. In a spiral mixer, mix on first speed for 3 minutes, adjusting the hydration as necessary. Mix on second speed for approximately 3 minutes more. The dough should have a moderate gluten development. Add the olives and mix on first speed just until they are evenly incorporated. Desired dough temperature: 76°F.
  3. Bulk Fermentation: 2½ hours.
  4. Folding: Fold once after 1¼ hours or, if the dough seems to need more strength, fold twice at 50-minute intervals.
  5. Dividing and Shaping: Divide the dough into 1.5-pound pieces; shape round or oblong.
  6. Final Fermentation: The full character of Olive Levain seems to develop if the dough is retarded before baking. Therefore, retard for up to 8 hours at 50°F, or up to 18 hours at 42°F.
  7. Baking: With normal steam, 460°F for 40 to 45 minutes.

Olive Fougasse

A pleasant variation is to use Olive Levain dough to make fougasse. Take pieces weighing between 1 and 2 pounds, roll them flat, and brush the top surface with extra-virgin olive oil. Let rest for about 1 hour (because of the absence of baker’s yeast, the dough requires a comparatively long rest before the bake). Before baking, the fougasse is cut with a knife or pizza wheel (illustrations for a traditionally shaped fougasse are). Bake at about 450°F, with steam at the outset. By nature, fougasse is crusty—this enhances the eating quality while at the same time reducing the shelf life—so be certain the bake is full.