Sage Bread with Green Olives (Pane alla Salvia con Olive)

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Yield: 1 loaf

NOTE: The sponge for this bread must be prepared the night before you are planning to bake it. If fresh sage leaves are not available, substitute leaves preserved in salt.

To make the sponge, place 2 cups of the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water, stirring with a wooden spoon. Put the dissolved yeast and a pinch of salt in the well and mix in gradually with a wooden spoon until all the flour is incorporated. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of flour, cover the bowl with a cotton dish towel, and let it rest overnight in a warm place away from any drafts.

The next morning, the sponge is ready. Before starting the bread, pit the olives and cut them into 1/2" pieces. Tear the sage leaves into small pieces. Set aside.

Mound the flour on a pasta board, make a well in the center, and place the sponge in the well. Add the lukewarm water, mixing continuously with a wooden spoon and incorporating some of the flour until the consistency is that of a thick batter. Add the salt, pepper, olives and sage, then begin mixing with your hands, absorbing the flour from the inside rim of the well little by little. Keep mixing until all but 1 cup of flour is incorporated into the mound of dough. Sift the unused flour to clean it, then start kneading the dough with the palm of your hand, in a folding motion, until it is homogenous and smooth (about 10 minutes), incorporating almost all the flour. Shape the dough into a long loaf and place it on a floured dish towel. Wrap the towel loosely around the loaf, put it in a warm place away from drafts, and let it stand until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Line the middle or bottom shelf of the oven with ovenproof unglazed terra cotta tiles or a pizza stone. Preheat the oven to 400 F. When the dough has doubled in size, quickly remove it from the towel and immediately place it in the oven, directly on the tiles. Bake the bread for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. It is fully baked when the crust is thick and the inside airy. The bread must cool for at least 3 hours before slicing.

2 cups Plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 ounces Fresh compressed yeast or
4 packages Active dry yeast
2 cups Lukewarm or hot water depending on the yeast
1 pinch Salt

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