As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists. ~Joan Gussow

A Staycation Full of Homemade Bread and Olive Oil

These past two weeks I’ve had a “stay-cation”–something I’ve never taken as a working professional. Most of the time when I know I will have time off, I’m busy planning months in advance–road trip to West Texas? Visit family in Maine for a white Christmas? Laugh for a week straight with a best friend in Chicago? Fly across the Atlantic to feast on divine offerings in the Mediterranean? These are just a few of the ideas that danced through my head as my two weeks in December grew closer. But having been to Bolivia in September, the Caribbean in November and with an impending February trip to NYC (!!!), I decided it would be good for my wallet to lay close to home this time around.

Two “To-dos” during my staycation were (1) Bake bread and (2) Visit Con’Olio.

Why I wanted to bake bread you ask? Frankly, I’m sick of paying $4-$5 per loaf. Especially since I cook so many other things, why not learn to make my own bread? I did bake my own bread when I was in the Peace Corps in Bolivia as I grew tired of the bread available. But living in Austin, there are lots of varieties of great bread. But for a price. The recipe I used is based on the Master Dough recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

Ingredients (Yields about 4 one-pound loaves. Note: I halved the recipe)

  • 3 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp yeast
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 6 1/2 cups unbleached, unsifted all-purpose white flour
  • Additional flour to form loaves
  • Cornmeal


  1. Combine water, yeast, and salt in bowl. Stir to mix. Add all flour at once and stir with wooden spoon until dough is wet and sticky with no dry patches. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap (NOT air tight) for 2 hours at room temperature. If you are not using the dough immediately, put in fridge, covered, for up to 2 weeks.
  2. To make loaf, lightly sprinkle flour onto the dough’s surface. Scoop a handful the size of a grapefruit and cut or tear it away from the remaining dough. Rub the dough with a layer of flour while forming a round loaf, tucking the edges underneath. Put the now formed loaf on a cutting board dusted with cornmeal (or flour) to prevent sticking. Let it rise, uncovered, for at least 20 minutes and up to 90 minutes. The loaf will plump but not change radically in size.
  3. 20 minutes before baking pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. Place a broiler tray or metal pan on the bottom rack of the oven. Put the baking stone or cast iron skillet in the oven on the middle rack.
  4. Dust the loaf liberally with flour. Slash the top with a cross or three lines and slide onto the pre-heated cast iron skillet or baking stone. Carefully pour 1 cup hot water onto the broiler tray or metal pan and close the oven door to trap the steam. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the crust is browned and the loaf feels light and hollow. Cool at room temperature. (Note: I put Herbs de Provence in the water in the tray to give the bread some flavor, which the recipe recommended. However, in the actual bread I could not taste it. Next time I will probably add some herbs to the dough itself.)

Dough just made and about to sit for 2 hours

The dough has risen!

Loaves are formed

Looks good to me!

Sandwich: Arugula from the garden, egg from my backyard and bread from my oven.

For not having made bread in 4+ years, I was very happy with the result. But, I wanted to keep trying. And I also wanted to add some fiber and flair to the next batch, so I checked out the follow up book to Artisan Bread, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I have not yet made a whole grain dough, but I am enjoying the book with all the dough making tidbits and suggestions. Also, I might add that the basic premise of these books is that it only takes minutes to have fresh baked bread daily and it’s CHEAP! Music to my ears!

As I experiment with new recipes from Healthy, I will be sure to share the failures and/or successes!

I had heard of Con’Olio somewhere through the grapevine. Con’Olio is an olive oil and balsamic vinegar tasting boutique store in Austin. What inspired me to put it on my list of “staycation to-dos” was an interview I heard on Fresh Air featuring Tom Mueller and his new book, Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil. It’s wasn’t long ago (July 2010 to be exact) when I had tasted my first olive oil and had that ah-hah moment. It was while on the wine trail in Sonoma. Preston Vineyards of Dry Creek produces organic wines, vegetables and olive oils. It was the first time I had tasted an olive oil that was heavenly, grassy and alive.

Cycling through Preston's Olive Grove

So yesterday a friend and I made the trek up to the busting Arboretum shopping center where we sampled olive oils, truffle oils, walnut oils, infused olive oils, and a vast array of balsamic vinegars (including an 18 year one which was superb). I won’t go into much detail about why mass-produced olive oils found at the grocery don’t taste like much or what the secret is to producing olive oils that literally are peppery, as I think Extra Virginity would do a better job (as would the kind folks at Con’Olio). But I will say it’s just like sampling different types of wines or beer–there are slight subtleties to each type of olive based on geography and climate as well as the actual production and age of the olive oil.

I ended up purchasing a bottle of the harissa-infused olive oil and a bottle of the expresso balsamic vinegar. (Harissa is a North African hot chili sauce.) When combined, it is a lovely combination of spicy, sweet and warm, perfect for a salad dressing or marinade. The woman who introduced me to the combination commented it was like a barbeque sauce–she was completely right! As with my bread adventures, I’ll keep you updated on uses for my new flavor combination!

Oh, and Happy New Year!


One response

  1. Linda Casnovsky

    Your bread baking adventures may prompt me to try it out—the bread looked wonderful and not really that difficult. Mom

    January 3, 2012 at 6:10 pm

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