On a recent visit to a local bookstore, I purchased Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout1. A friend had told me the movie was really good, but I rarely watch TV, so the recommendation made me buy the book. I loved every page of it. The writing is superb and the characters of the stories are drawn with delicacy, precision and empathy.
I also like the author's choice in writing a collection of short stories, rather than a novel. In some of them Olive is the protagonist, in others she makes an appearance. Having been a math teacher in the school of her small town in Maine, she knows a lot of the residents. And her husband Henry was for many years the pharmacist and is a well-liked member of the community.
Olive's stern manners make students fear her. Christopher, Olive and Henry's only son, gets crushed between his parents and moves to California to build his own life, rather than the life his parents had planned for him (they design and build a house for him, which he promptly sells after getting married). Sometimes it is hard to imagine what Olive wants. She may say something rather rude one moment and the next she empathizes deeply with a stranger or refuses to leave alone a former student whose emotional trouble she senses.
There are a lot of doughnuts in the book: people eat doughnuts at the local cafe on the bay, Bonnie expects a doughnut (not cinnamon) when her husband, Harmon, comes back home from running errands, which include a visit to Daisy, for whom he will eventually leave his wife. Olive talks about her preference for doughnuts with Nina, a young woman with anorexia:
Olive finished the doughnut, wiped the sugar from her fingers, sat back and said, “You’re starving.”
The girl didn't move, only said, “Uh—duh.”
“I’m starving, too,” Olive said. The girl looked over at her. “I am,” Olive said. “Why do you think I eat every doughnut in sight?”
“You’re not starving,” Nina said with disgust.
“Sure I am. We all are.”
Olive Kitteridge was crying. If there was anyone in town Harmon believed he would never see cry, Olive was that person But there she sat, large and big-wristed, her mouth quivering, tears coming from her eyes.
Olive shook her head again, blew her nose. She looked at Nina, and said quietly, “I don’t know who you are, but young lady, you’re breaking my heart.”
I don't understand doughnuts: They don't appeal to me. Good bread, on the other hand, attracts me like a magnet. At the Temescal farmers' market, in Oakland, I purchased some chocolate sourdough from the Midwife and the Baker bakery2 Made with 40% whole-wheat flour (farina integrale), it beats all the doughnuts of the world. I decided to try making some chocolate bread and to that end, I reworked a beloved recipe for buns3.
I ran a few tests and below is the version I liked best. I suspect Olive would mumble if I arrived at her place with a bag of buns instead of doughnuts. I would leave the bag on her table without making a fuss. She would eat one, thank me brusquely and add a morsel of her sharp wisdom, like: "Don't be scared of your hunger. If you're scared of your hunger, you'll just be one more ninny like everyone else." That's the best one can expect from Olive. But if I were going through a rough time, Olive would be there and not leave, sensing the sadness welling up from deep down inside me.
The recipe calls for a long, slow rise (lievitazione) in the refrigerator to enhance flavor. Make sure to allow time for it.
Note: I specify the brand for the flours I use, because flours are not created equal; however, this in not an advertisement, i.e., I don't get receive any payment for mentioning the brands.
Ingredients (for 10 rolls)
For the sponge:
- 3/4 cup / 180 ml water
- 2 grams (slightly more than 1/2 teaspoon) instant yeast
- 100 grams King Arthur Flour all-purpose flour
- 15 grams sprouted whole-wheat flour
- 10 grams Ultragrain all-purpose flour (or King Arthur Flour all-purpose flour)
For the dough:
- 25 grams millet
- 20 grams hemp hearts
- 35 grams walnuts, finely chopped
- 1 large egg, possibly from pastured poultry, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons / 30 ml olive oil
- 70 grams whole-spelt flour (I use stone-ground from Capay Mills4)
- 150 grams whole-wheat flour (I use stone-ground, hard red whole-wheat flour from Beck's Bakery5)
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
- 55 grams extra-dark chocolate, finely chopped (I use 88% cacao, but I am used to eating 100%, so it tastes sweet enough; if you are not used to unsweetened chocolate, I suggest you use 70-72% cacao)
- 1 teaspoon / 5 grams sea salt
- a bit more all-purpose flour to dust your work surface
Pour the water into a mixing bowl, add the yeast and stir to dissolve. Whisk in the flours to make a batter. Cover the bowl with some plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature for about 30 minutes, at the end of which you should see tiny bubbles (yeast at work).
In the meantime, put the millet, hemp hearts and walnuts in a small bowl and cover with boiling water (1/2 cup / 120 ml). Leave to soak for 30 minutes, then drain the excess liquid (some will remain in the mix and that is fine). Stir the mixture into the sponge.
The bread dough
Add to the sponge and millet mixture the egg, the olive oil, the spelt and whole-wheat flours, the cocoa and chocolate. Mix well with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together in a shaggy mass. Sprinkle the salt on the surface and let the dough rest, covered, for 5-10 minutes.
Lightly oil your work surface. Transfer the dough on it and knead with wet hands until smoother (a minute or two). The dough will be a bit sticky: use a dough cutter to help you knead. Avoid adding flour: during fermentation the flours will absorb water and by the time you cut it and shape it into rolls, the dough will be easy to handle.
Fold the dough and place it into a clean, oiled bowl. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight. Better still, make the dough in the morning and bake the rolls the following morning or later in the day. The slow rise in the refrigerator allows a more complex flavor to develop.
Shape the rolls
When ready to cut and shape, prepare a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Take the bowl with the dough out of the refrigerator, uncover it and flip it onto a lightly floured work surface. Scrape all the dough from the bowl. Cut the dough into 10 pieces, each weighing 77-80 grams.
Shape each roll as follows: Flatten the piece of dough then fold the corners towards the center, then fold again inward into a small bundle. Flip it seam side down on a piece of clean work surface and roll it with lightly floured hand to shape it into a tight ball. [This short video shows my hands rolling a larger piece of dough, but should still give an idea.]
Place the roll on the lined baking sheet, seeded side up, about 2 inches / 5 cm apart from the others.
Repeat until all the rolls are shaped. Cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap and place the baking sheet in a warm place until the rolls have doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hour, depending on the ambient temperature. Check the rolls' progress and when they are 15-20 minutes from being ready to be baked, turn on the oven to 375 F / 190 C.
Bake the rolls for 15 minutes. The internal temperature will be close to 210 F / 99 C (bake a minute or two longer, if needed). Take the baking sheet out of the oven then transfer the rolls onto a rack. Let cool. Enjoy!
I LOVE these rolls. You can nibble one by itself or with cheese6 or with a slice of prosciutto. They are delicate, a bit crunchy, ever so slightly sweet. Move over doughnuts!
1 The book's page on the author's website and the miniseries page on HBO
2 the MIDWIFE and the BAKER bakery
3 On this blog: seeded whole-wheat dinner rolls
4 Capay Mills
5 Beck's Bakery
6 On this blog: English-style coulommiers
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the panini integrali al cioccolato e noci audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]
This is my second contribution to the 33rd edition of Novel Food, the literary/culinary event that Lisa of Champaign Taste and I started some time ago and that I continue to host.
Visit the linkup page to see what others have read and cooked.
FTC disclosure: I have received the placemat free of charge from the manufacturer (la FABBRICA del LINO). I have not and will not receive any monetary compensation for presenting it on my blog. The experience shared and the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.