on focaccia

my love of bread is my downfall. some people list ice cream as their great weakness, some others chocolate. but for me, it was and always has been bread.

i usually don't eat bread, not that i'm depriving myself or anything, but i make a point of not having any around the house except for a few rare occasions that i make it or have it calling to me from the Publix bakery (like that one time last week... yeah).

see, this sucks because i love to make bread. it's very therapeutic. pizza dough falls into the same category; there is nothing more satisfying than kneading dough. but sometimes when i just dont have that energy in me, i plop the whole thing in the kitchen aid bitch and let it rip. tonight we've been invited by some friends of friends to spend the night at their friends' lake house (sorry - that was long-winded, but i felt compelled to explain), and we're bringing all kinds of things along, and also a batch of focaccia that i started yesterday. because, and i'm totally going to toot my own horn here, i make THE BEST focaccia in the whole friggin' world. seriously.

and the recipe comes from the bread baker's apprentice, which is an evil book only because everything i've ever made out of it has been stellar. my pizza dough recipe comes from that book (although i halve it because my kitchen bitch can't handle that much flour at once and dough just comes straight out of the top of the bowl).

like every good bread recipe, this is a two day process.

because i'm nice, and probably violating every copyright law out there, ah who cares, really. i'm not giving out secret squirrel maps of where buried treasure is that the government doesn't want us to know about, i'm just passing along the best recipe ever. so there.

i apologize for the ridiculously long post, but i haven't figured out how to hide part of my post behind links, like an lj cut or something. i typed out the following about 6 months ago for a friend who doesn't cook, so don't think i'm such a masochist that on my day off from work i'm actually spending all this time on the computer. hell no.


Days to make: 2
Day 1: 15 minutes mixing; 3 hours fermentation and panning)
Day 2: 3 hours fermentation; 20 to 30 minutes baking

Makes one 17 by 12-inch focaccia

5 cups unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups water
¼ to ½ cup Herb Oil*

1. Stir together the flour, salt, and yeast in a large mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Add the oil and water and mix with a large metal spoon until all the ingredients form a wet, sticky ball (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment). If you are mixing by hand, repeatedly dip one of your hands or the metal spoon into cold water and use it, much like a dough hook, to work the dough vigorously into a smooth mass while rotating the bowl in a circular motion with the other hand. Reverse the circular motion a few times to develop the gluten further. Do this for 3 to 5 minutes or until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are evenly distributed. If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. You may need to add additional flour to firm up the dough enough to clear the sides of the bowl, but the dough should still be quite soft and sticky.

2. Sprinkle enough flour on the counter to make a bed about 6 inches square. Using a scraper or spatula dipped in water, transfer the sticky dough to the bed of flour and dust liberally with flour, patting the dough into a rectangle. Wait 5 minutes for the dough to relax.

3. Coat your hands with flour and stretch the dough from each end to twice its size. Fold it, letter style, over itself to return it to a rectangular shape. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil, again dust with flour, and loosely cover with plastic wrap.

4. Let rest for 30 minutes. Stretch and fold the dough again; mist with spray oil, dust with flour and cover. After 30 minutes, repeat this one more time.

5. Allow the covered dough to ferment on the counter for 1 hour. It should swell but not necessarily double in size.

6. Line a 17 by 12-inch sheet pan with baking parchment (you can find this in either the same aisle as baking items or tin foil). Drizzle ¼ cup of olive oil over the paper, and spread it with your hands or a brush to cover the surface. Lightly oil your hands and, using a plastic or metal pastry scraper, lift the dough off the counter and transfer it to the sheet pan, maintaining the rectangular shape as much as possible. Spoon half of the Herb Oil over the dough.

7. Use your fingertips to dimple the dough and spread it to fill the pan simultaneously. Do not use the flat of your hands – only the fingertips – to avoid tearing or ripping the dough. Try to keep the thickness as uniform as possible across the surface. Dimpling allows you to degas only part of the dough while preserving gas in the non dimpled sections. Don’t worry if you are unable to fill the pan 100%, especially the corners. AS the dough relaxes and proofs, it will spread out naturally. Use more Herb Oil as needed to ensure that the entire surface is coated with oil.

8. Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap, or place the pan inside a food-grade plastic bag. Refrigerate the dough overnight (or up to 3 days).

9. Remove the pan from the refrigerator 3 hours before baking. Drizzle additional herb oil over the surface and dimple it in. You can use all of it if you want; the dough will absorb it even though it looks like a lot. This should allow you to fill the pan completely with the dough to a thickness of about ½ inch. Add any other pre-proof toppings if desired**. Again, cover the pan with plastic and proof the dough at room temperature for 3 hours or until the dough doubles in size.

10. Preheat oven to 500 degrees F with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Gently place any pre-bake** toppings on the dough.

11. Place the pan in the oven. Lower the oven to 450 degrees and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and continue baking for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it begins to turn a light golden brown. If you are using any during-bake toppings**, sprinkle them on at this point and continue baking an additional 5 minutes or so. The cheese, if using, should melt but not burn.

12. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately transfer the focaccia out of the pan onto a cooling rack. If the parchment is stuck to the bottom, carefully remove it by lifting the corner of the focaccia and peeling it off the bottom with a gentle tug.

13. Allow the focaccia to cool at least 20 minutes before slicing or serving.

I highly recommend lining your oven bottom with tin foil before turning it on, as sometimes the oil spills over the top of the focaccia while cooking and hits the bottom of the oven. If you don’t line the bottom of the oven, it might smoke like hell.

* Herb Oil: You can use either dried or fresh herbs, or a combination. DO not heat the oil, just warm it, and then let the herbs steep in the warm oil, infusing it with their flavors.

Feel free to substitute your favorite herbs and spices. The olive oil you use does not have to be extra virgin because it will be cooked later, and the subtle flavor of extra virgin will be lost.

Warm 2 cups olive oil to about 100 degrees F. Add 1 cup chopped fresh herbs. The herbs may include basil, parsley, oregano, tarragon, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, savory, and sage. I recommend lots of fresh basil. Substitute 1/3 cup dried herbs or a blend such as Herbes de Provence. Add 1 tablespoon coarse or kosher salt, 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, and 5 to 6 cloves of fresh chopped garlic. You may also add 1 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon ground cayenne. Store leftover herb oil in fridge for up to 2 weeks.

**Pre-proof toppings:
Marinated sun-dried tomatoes; olives, roasted garlic; fresh herbs; walnuts, pine nuts; sautéed mushrooms, red or green peppers, or onions.

Pre-bake toppings:
High-moisture cheeses, such as blue cheese, fresh mozarella, and feta cheese.

During-bake toppings:
Dry or semi-hard cheeses, such as Parmesan, Romano, regular mozzarella, Jack, Cheddar, and Swiss.


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