The origin of this recipe goes back over a year, to these chocolate cherry rye twists I made around Valentine’s Day. I love enriched breads (“enriched” refers to breads like brioche, challah, panettone, which are higher in fat because of eggs and butter) and I’d been thinking for awhile about how to make something just as luscious and pleasurable for people who don’t eat dairy. Focaccia came to mind — that’s a high-fat bread that gets all the fat from olive oil. I began experimenting with focaccia dough in other forms, from cinnamon rolls to twists to babkas. As I worked with it and adjusted the ratios of fat, liquid, sugar, and baking method, the dough evolved away from focaccia and into…I don’t know, this delicious chewy fluffy olive-oil based bread that I think works for anything with layers of filling.
In this newsletter, I’m going into detail on some of what I learned through the dough evolution. If you just want to make a delicious filled bread with an olive-oil based dough, scroll to the bottom for the recipe. And if you want to make a very special sweet-and-savory Martini Twist Babka, with layers of green olive tapenade and orange marmalade, become a paid subscriber and get Friday’s recipe!
The role of fat in bread dough
Fat provides flavor. It makes bread more soft and tender and prevents dryness. It also inhibits gluten formation. In an earlier iteration of the twists, I added a ton of olive oil in pursuit of that unctuous bite. What happened is that the bread was too soft. It was difficult to work with, because it broke when I tried to roll it out, and then during its final proof and in the oven, it sort of melted and sagged a bit. The bread was nice and moist, but it didn’t have the chew that I wanted it to. I pulled back the fat in the final recipe so that it still tastes rich, but holds up to some working.
Oil and butter also behave slightly differently in the final product. Because oil (an unsaturated fat) is liquid at room temperature while butter (saturated fat) is semi-solid, baked goods made with oil feel more moist than butter-based baked goods. That works in our favor with this dough, which I found to stay moist and chewy days later.
One way to add fat back in to the baked good without compromising the texture of the bread is with a rich filling (like the olive tapenade in the Martini Twist Babka recipe). Like a cinnamon roll, the additional fat ends up in layers between the dough but isn’t worked in to the flour. That’s essentially what lamination is — layers of fat between dough (though in the case of croissants, the fat used is butter, which also provides additional rising when the butter melts in the oven).
The role of liquid in bread dough
Initiates gluten formation
Some amount of liquid is needed for gluten to develop. Like fat, however, too much water can get in the way of gluten formation and the bread’s rise. One of my favorite baking projects is bagels, which have a very hard dough (hard is in not-soft, not as in difficult!). There’s not much water in the dough because you want to create a really chewy texture.
Breads that get around this (called high-hydration doughs) are often “lean” (low in fat) because combining the gluten inhibition of fat plus excessive liquid can lead to that sagging that you can see in the picture above. We used a high-hydration high-fat focaccia dough at Archestratus, but that was fine for what we were doing with it, which was baking large flat breads to turn into panini sandwiches.
With this dough recipe, I wanted to add as much water as I could without leading to that sagging. Most of it goes in to the tangzhong roux, as you’ll see below, which is a good way to sort of “hide” the water so that it doesn’t get in the way too much.
The role of sugar in bread dough
Aside from flavor, what sugar adds to dough is moisture. (I made my students repeat this multiple times when we were baking muffins the other day.) Sugar is hygroscopic, meaning it holds in water. Any kind of sugar will do this, but in this recipe I wanted to use honey (or maple syrup for vegans) for the added flavor. Those liquid sweeteners also increase the dough’s hydration, so if you were to use cane sugar instead, you’d want to add a little more water.
Some amount of sugar also becomes food for yeast, but because yeast can digest the glucose from flour once it’s mixed with water, you don’t necessarily need sugar.
Bread flour vs AP flour
The difference between All Purpose and bread flour is all about the flour’s protein content (higher protein = more gluten development). Protein content is one of those things that varies widely with brand, however; King Arthur AP is 11.7% and bread is 12.7%, while Gold Medal AP is 10.5% and bread is 12.3%. With the kind of bread we’re making here, these differences in protein content don’t make a big difference. Our bread is rich with a dense crumb, so while we want to achieve enough gluten formation to be able to shape it and keep it from falling apart, it’s never going to get the kind of big airy holes you might find in a baguette or a different kind of focaccia.
King Arthur is my favorite choice among supermarket flours because the quality is a bit better and it’s 100% employee-owned (maybe this doesn’t affect the taste of the bread…but does it?). So I used King Arthur AP for this recipe, but if that’s not what you have, it’s no big deal.
About the tangzhong roux
Makes the bread softer and last longer
The final tweak to the recipe was to incorporate a tangzhong roux, to bring back some of the softness once I’d removed some oil. I became familiar with this method when I was making niiice buns every week at the beginning of the pandemic. Basically, you cook a small amount of flour in water (or another liquid) until it becomes a paste. What’s happening is that the starch molecules are breaking apart and gelatanizing, forming a mesh network that’s similar to a gluten network. It holds a lot of water, so that’s what keeps the moisture in. And the moisture is what keeps the bread soft and chewy days after you bake, instead of becoming dry and crumbly.
The effect of mix-ins
They might add unexpected hydration
In one direction for my Martini Twist Babka, I tried mixing orange zest into some dough and chopped olives into another. What happened is that my perfectly textured workable dough instantly became too wet and unmanageable. I probably should’ve anticipated this, but it can be hard to think about just how much liquid you’re adding when you mix in stuff like that. In a bread dough, you’d generally add mix-ins after doing most of your kneading (in order to not break up the bits of olive or whatever too much), so you’d want to work with a stiffer dough at first if you’re going to be adding in a wet mix-in.
Alternatively, don’t add the mix-ins to the dough itself. Just sprinkle them between the layers that you’re going to be rolling or twisting, and they’ll still provide that flavor and variation in texture that you were going for.
I think most people don’t give filled breads long enough to rise (and most recipes don’t advise enough time). Though it’s possible to over-proof, in my experience that tends to happen when using dedicated proofing chambers, and rarely with home baking. (At Dominique Ansel, occasionally we took the croissants out of the proofing chamber and they looked like deflated balloons. They baked up small and dense.)
For anything I’d make with this dough, I’d give a very long rise: something like 2 hours for the first rise (aka “bulk fermentation”) and 2.5 hours for the second one. I leave the dough in my turned-off oven with a bowl of boiled water next to it. You can see the puff when something is sufficiently risen: often there are little tiny air holes, or a sort of differentiation in layers visible on the sides of cinnamon rolls.
Use a thermometer
Focaccia bakes hot (400°F and up) and babka bakes cool (I’ve seen 300°F, but more typically around 350°F) and while a variety of temperatures will get you where you need, I’ve gone with preheating the oven to 400° and then turning it down to 350°. My goal was to capture the height of the rise by getting the gluten structure set, and then letting it bake a little lower so that it doesn’t get dark on the outside.
Regardless, the most important thing is that the interior is cooked through. It’s very hard to know you’ve fully cooked a filled bread (underbaked cinnamon rolls are the saddest Christmas breakfast I’ve ever made). The best way is to insert a thermometer into the center and check that it reads 190°F. Check on the early side though, since the longer the bread sits in the oven after that point, the dryer it’ll be.
Recipe: Olive oil dough for any kind of filled bread (vegan)
This dough is great for any kind of bread that’s twisted around fillings: think babka, pesto swirl, or cardamom bun. Just remember that it will taste like olive oil! So that flavor would be great with almost any savory filling and plenty of sweet ones, but it could be too strong with a simple cinnamon-and-sugar filling, for example (honestly, I struggled to consider where I wouldn’t want the taste of olive oil, because I think it’s usually complementary). The directions below are for making a cinnamon roll-style swirl bun, but check out this recipe if you want to make a twist, or this one for making a babka.
I wouldn’t use this dough for brioche or challah by itself. While it holds up to filling really well, I think I’ll have to iterate towards something a little lighter and fluffier if it’s going to be eaten on its own.
Here are some filling ideas that I think would pair nicely:
goat cheese + cream cheese mixed with honey and rosemary
porcini butter, mushroom bits and chopped herbs
nutella and dried cherries
a little chili crisp and scallions
a little tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella
jam and cream cheese or nut butter
tahini and honey (with crunchy salt sprinkled on top)
butter melted with sugar, cardamom, and ground pistachios, with more chopped pistachios
Yield: ~10 big rolls
3 tablespoons (23 grams) AP or bread flour
½ cup (113 grams) water
3 ½ cups (420 grams) AP or bread flour
3 tablespoons (64 grams) honey or maple syrup
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1½ teaspoon salt
½ cup (113 grams) water
⅓ cup (66 grams) good olive oil
½ - 1 cup of your choice of filling
To make the tangzhong roux: In a small pot, combine the 3 tablespoons of flour and ½ cup water. Heat the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly. After a few minutes, the mixture will begin to thicken up into a paste. Whisk a little more and turn off the heat. Put the roux to the side to cool down.
In a stand mixer with the dough attachment (or by hand), mix together the flour, honey or maple syrup, yeast, salt, water, and olive oil. Mix in the roux.
Knead for about 5 minutes (with stand mixer) or 10 minutes (by hand). By now, the dough should have formed a soft ball that pulls away from the edges of the bowl (if not, keep kneading).
Sprinkle a little more olive oil into a medium-sized bowl and put the dough ball into it. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm place for at least an hour, and up to several hours (you can also let the dough proof overnight in the fridge).
Lightly flour a workspace and take out the dough ball. Roll it out into a large rectangle — about 10”x18”. Spread your filling across it, leaving a ½-inch margin along one of the long edges.
Starting with the other long edge, roll it up into a log.
Use a sharp knife or bench scraper (or even better, dental tape!) to divide the log into about 10 equal rolls 1-inch tall.
Nestle the rolls face-up next to each other on a casserole dish or Silpat-lined sheet pan. Cover them with plastic and leave them to rise in a warm place for at least another two hours and up to several.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Put the rolls into the oven and immediately lower the heat to 350°F.
Bake the rolls for about 22 — 28 minutes. They should be lightly browned, but the only way to really know they’re ready is when a thermometer inserted into the center reads 190°F.
Let them cool for at least 10 minutes (preferably half an hour) before trying to move them or eat them.
During this time, you could prepare a glaze or other kind of topping if you want. Glaze the rolls warm (not hot).
Step 5, spreading the filling
Step 6, rolling the log
Step 7, cutting the rolls
Step 8, the proof!
This recipe is golden! Thank you! We filled it with Sicilian pistachio paste, some powdered sugar, and chopped almonds. We drizzled some honey on it after baking. It was perfect!