Caramelised onion, olive and thyme dough balls

Old friends came to stay recently with their two beautiful young daughters. Our little one was transfixed – here were two little people just like him, but they could walk confidently and talk. Visits to the park become more fun when there are other people to ride with on the roundabout and take turns down the slide. Even better than that, they showed him tricks like climbing up ropes which he had no idea about. One afternoon, their Dad made dough balls for the children’s tea. Served with melted garlic butter, we all sat round dipping and sharing tea together. Three happy children then went off for bath and bedtime stories. At last it was the adults’ turn for supper and the evening later finished with a wonderfully competitive game of Mahjong.

The dough balls with garlic butter were delicious. Surprisingly so given they were – well, yes – just dough balls! It was all to do with their freshness, their warmth and their inherent flavour. The garlic butter was essential to the whole experience and I was left wondering about other flavours that would be yet another taste adventure.
So my recipe below adds the sweetness of caramelised onion, the salty taste of kalamata olives and the fragrant touch of thyme. Seriously good, Dave and I have managed to eat them with every supper now for three days and each time he tells me how good they are. They aren’t quick to make, but on a cold, miserable weekend, what could be better than making delicious tasting dough balls.

For me the kalamata olives are important because their dark purple colour and gutsy taste really add. They are the reason no additional salt is added because they bring enough to the mixture. If you can’t find kalamata, just replace them with your favourite olives and you’ll create your own variation of the dish.



Caramelised onion, olive and thyme dough balls

  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 35 minutes
  • Yield: Makes 18 dough balls


  • 225g/8oz strong white flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 15g/½oz fresh yeast or 1½ tsp fast-action yeast or 3 tsp dried yeast
  • a pinch of caster sugar
  • 170ml/6 fl oz warm water
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • extra flour
  • extra oil
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 onions, finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 100g/3½oz kalamata olives, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp thyme leaves, finely chopped
  • black pepper
  • 12g/½oz parmesan, grated


  1. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Measure the warm water out. Put the yeast into a small bowl, adding the sugar and 3-tbsp of warm water. Mix until creamy and with a slight foamy head.
  2. Add the yeast mixture to the flour and the oil and stir well with a wooden spoon. If you need to, add flour or more water to create a slightly sticky dough. Flour dust your workstation and then knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic.
  3. Lightly oil a large baking sheet. Put the dough on top of the baking sheet and cover with a damp clean tea towel, or a large piece of cling film that has been oiled. Place somewhere warm (optimum temperature for yeast to work is 35°C/85°F) for an hour or so until the dough has doubled in size.
  4. Heat the 2-tbsp of oil in a frying pan with lid. Add the onions and replace the lid to sweat them until soft and transparent; about 5 – 8 minutes. Stir in the caster sugar, reduce heat and let the onions slowly brown with the lid off for a further 15 – 20 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  5. Once the dough has doubled in size remove it from the tray (keep the cling film or tea towel) and roll the dough out a little. Place on top the onions, olives, thyme leaves and black pepper. Fold the dough over and then work the whole with your hands until everything is combined. Then, using your hands again, shape into slightly oversized golf balls, placing each onto the greased baking sheet. Cover again with a wet tea towel, or the cling film, and put somewhere warm for half an hour.
  6. Finally, sprinkle parmesan on top of each ball before baking for 15 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 200°C / 180°C fan / 400°F / Gas mark 6. When ready, the dough balls will be lightly browned on top and should have a hallow sound if tapped on the bottom.

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