Part of the traditional Christmas table in Provence this delicious olive oil bread is supposed to be torn into pieces with the hands and never cut with a knife. Pompe a l’ Huile is served along with twelve more desserts on Christmas Eve on the festive tables all around the Mediterranean coast of France. The thirteen sweetmeats include various dried fruits –figs, different kinds of grapes, plums etc.—candied pears and apples, as well as oranges and other citrus fruits, cookies and nougat.
Makes THREE 12-inch flat breads
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cubes yeast (40 grams)
3 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
1 ½ cups slightly warm water, as needed
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup aniseeds, coarsely ground
Zest from 1 large, fresh, and preferably organic orange
1 ½ cups olive oil (not very fruity)
1 tablespoon honey, diluted with 1 tablespoon orange-flavored liqueur
In a medium bowl add 1 cup of the flour, crumble the yeast and stir in the sugar and 1 cup of the war. Whisk well to mix, and let stand for 5-10 minutes until frothy.
In the bowl of a standing mixer add the rest of the flour, the salt, the aniseeds and the orange zest. Stir well with a spatula to sift the flour, then pour in the olive oil and the frothy yeast mixture. Stir briefly with the spatula.
Attach the bowl to the mixer and fit it with the dough hook. With the motor running in slow speed, pour in the rest of the water slowly, in the side of the bowl, and increase slightly the motor speed. Work the dough for 5-6 minutes, adding a tablespoon or more water if needed, to get a soft, smooth dough.
With the spatula transfer the dough to a bowl, cover with film (no need to oil it, the dough is quite oily) and either let rise for about 1 ½ hours or transfer to the refrigerator and let the dough rise slowly overnight. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and let stand for 1 hour before you proceed further.
Divide the dough into three pieces.
Flatten each piece and transfer to a baking dish lined with parchment paper. Press and flatten the dough further, to get roughly a 12-inch (31cm.) disk. With a spatula or dull knife make cuts any way you like, then cover loosely with plastic film and let the bread rise for about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400 F (200 C).
Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Take out of the oven and brush the surface with the honey, then bake another 5 minutes.
Let cool on a rack before tearing pieces to eat!
NOTE: The Pompe a l’ Huile can be baked further in a low oven (170 F or 80 C) for 40 minutes or more, until completely dry and crunchy.