New World Sourdough: Muffaletta Rolls

New World Sourdough is a 2020 cookbook by Bryan Ford. I will not be reproducing Ford’s recipes in my blog. Read his blog, buy his book, support his work.

Muffaletta* has always been a four-letter word in my head. Growing up, olives ruined any food they touched. Even picked off a pizza, their residue rendered the slice inedible.

When I was 16 I ate a muffaletta at Central Grocery in New Orleans, which claims to be where the sandwich was invented. I hated it, and I haven’t tried one since. Despite growing to like olives, my opinion on muffalettas has been locked in place for 15 years.

All this to say, there was a lot riding on these rolls.

Hand holding a notebook listing the steps and corresponding times for making muffaletta rolls.
I wanted to push the bake as late as possible. Feeding Bradley at 2PM felt very strange.

For the first time in weeks, I made no errors with my starter or the oven temperature. The quality of the bake would depend on all the steps in between.

Counter with various bread ingredients, including a jar of sourdough starter on a kitchen scale, a bowl of flour, two small bowls with salt and sugar, a bowl of olive salad, and a glass jar with warm water.
All dressed up and ready to party.

I had no parsley, but my sources indicated that chervil (which I did have for some reason) is an acceptable alternative. I reviewed various muffaletta salad recipes online and there was no consistent herbal requirement, giving me the green light to substitute.

I made the olive salad while Bradley was feeding to give it more time to marinate. My scale wasn’t recognizing the weight of the herbs, so I eyeballed those additions—shaking until the bowl was sufficiently green. With plenty of garlic and a touch of olive oil, the olive salad was delicious on its own. This was a good sign.

Working this dough made me nervous. Ford instructs very specific and very few folds. There is little added oil, but the olives and capers make the dough extremely greasy. My instincts were telling me to work it a lot more. Reminding myself I’ve never made a roll like this, I left the dough alone.

Three images in one block. Top left is dough flattened out with olive salad on top. Bottom left is the same dough folded over the salad. Right is the worked dough with excess olive salad piled on top.
These olives did not want to be contained.

Everything in the olive salad incorporated smoothly into the dough except the olives themselves. I cut them in half, as instructed, and I was nervous they were simply too big.

Dough, covered in olives, after bulk fermentation
Can dough be sassy? Because this is some sassy dough.

I’ve never ever enjoyed shaping bread more than making these little guys. One of my favorite sensory bread experiences is pulling dough into tight rolls, and this recipe let me do that 13 times. Additionally, I love the flavor and crunch of sesame seeds, so I relished covering these with sesame seeds aplenty.

Table set up to shape rolls. Top right is a baking sheet with parchment paper. To the right is a bag full of sesame seeds with a measuring cup inside. Bottom half of table has a rubber mat. On the bottom left of the mat is a bench scraper. next to it is the fully bulked olive dough. Bottom right of the mat is a blue plate with a green towel on it; the towel is soaked in the middle with water. Above that plate is another blue plate with a pile of sesame seeds.
Bread making is 70% preparation, 30% fermentation.
Close up of shaped rolls, covered in sesame seeds, on parchment paper.
I see dough. Needs more sesame seeds.

I baked the rolls a few minutes longer than prescribed, chasing that “golden brown” color. I’m not sure if I caught it, but they were fully baked regardless.

Muffaletta rolls on a cooling rack next to an open window.
Golden brown, texture like sun

All my youthful olive anxiety bubbled up and made me incredibly hesitant to eat the rolls. What if they are underbaked? What if I didn’t work the dough enough? What if the garlic or sesame seeds are too raw? What if I don’t like the olives? What if I’ve had too many carbs from eating off the box-mix brownies I baked while the oven was still hot? (The last concern may have been legitimate.)

Muffaletta rolls on a cooling rack
How could I have doubted these beauties?

When I sucked it up and took a bite, all my inner child’s fears were extinguished. These rolls are incredible. Thick and chewy, with a complex, savory flavor—the word that immediately comes to mind is “meaty.”

Green cutting board with scattered sesame seeds and halved muffaletta roll, showing crumb.
They’re bigger on the inside.

Our friend Artisan Bryan is from New Orleans, and I’d like to think he’d be proud that he converted this muffaletta-hater into a muffaletta-believer.

Next week: English muffins

*Ford uses the spelling “muffaletta.” I would prefer to use what appears to be the more accepted spelling “muffuletta,” but since the experts differ, I follow his spelling throughout. Can you tell I am pained to misspell a made-up word?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s