Olive oil bread is any bread made with olive oil as an ingredient. The range of different sorts of olive oil bread is expansive, including very basic recipes that call for little more than olive oil, flour, and salt to more complex breads that simply use olive oil as the binding liquid, often in place of water or milk. All bread requires some form of liquid as a key ingredient. Using olive oil necessarily creates an olive oil bread.
The most traditional olive oil breads are those made according to centuries-old Mediterranean recipes, particularly those originating in France, Italy, and Greece. Olive trees grow prolifically in this region, and olive oil has long been a staple of locals’ diets. Bakers in these countries have long baked bread with the oil as a key ingredient.
Italian focaccia bread is one of the simplest olive oil breads to make. Its ingredients are minimal, usually comprising only flour, yeast, olive oil, and salt, as well as a bit of water and sugar to activate the yeast. The oil concentration in this bread is usually high, making the finished product dense and thick. Focaccia is typically made as an olive oil flat bread, often taking up an entire baking sheet as it rises. This Italian bread is considered “common,” meaning that it is made in most homes and served with even the most humble of meals.
A Greek counterpart is psomi, a “country bread” made with flour, olive oil, honey, milk, and sugar. The oil concentrations in psomi are less than they are in focaccia, making the bread a bit lighter and arier. It is usually fashioned into oblong loaves and is served drizzled with olive oil or topped with cured meats and olives.
French olive oil bread tends to be a bit more intense. Pompe a l’huile, for example, is a decorative bread often served on special occasions or with formal dinners. The recipe calls for olive oil as well as lemon and orange zest, and often a rather significant amount of sugar. One of the most characteristic things about this bread is its shape. Bakers fashion the bread into loaves with intricate patterns cut out, such that the end results resemble leaves, sand dollars, or stars.
Bakers need not follow traditional recipes in order to make olive oil bread, however. Really any bread with olive oil as an ingredient will qualify. All breads need some form of liquid to bind the ingredients — particularly the flour — together. Most of the time, water, milk, or vegetable oil fills this role. Substituting olive oil tends to add a denser, richer flavor to the bread.
Olive oil rosemary bread is a common combination, as is olive oil and garlic. Many recipes can even be made in bread machines, using olive oil quick bread starters or mixes. Cooks can usually also make unleavened olive oil bread by leaving out yeast or adding the oil to a favorite unleavened bread recipe.