I do not have a crazy autobiographical memory but with this blog I realized that I have tons of memories related to food going to back to even age 4-5. It is very ironic if you consider I was always a skinny child known as a very picky eater. But I always loved bread. When my mom sent me to the bakery I’ve always bought one extra for me to gobble on my way home. I loved the fresh bread smell and warm, soothing air coming out of bakerys. I have very vivid snapshots of me waiting on the line to get the breads, it was that much mesmerizing to me! Bakers here always (well, at that time) put stickers on breads with the bakery’s name on it. Most of the time I would eat those stickers as well because my dear cousin told me that if I ate them, I would learn to read and write! Dumb me ate those stickers for years but could not see any progress on the literacy part! I would make random masses on pages and ask mom/dad: “What did I write now? What does it say?” Well, now I do not eat the stickers but cannot live without the bread itself. I never feel like full without shoveling down some dough!
Take this focaccia for example. I can eat the whole tray myself in one sitting! To me it is not a breakfast bread because of the rich olive oil and herb content but cannot be beaten when it comes to seafood, salads or meat!
(adapted from Peter Reinhart`s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice)
For the Bread:
5 cups high-gluten or bread flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups water, at room temperature
1/2 to 1/4 cup Herb Oil
Extra olive oil for the pan
For the Herb Oil:
2 cups olive oil
1 cup chopped fresh herbs (any combination of basil, parsley, oregano, tarragon, rosemary, thyme, cilantro, savory, and sage) – OR – 1/3 cup dried herbs or a blend such as herbes de Provence
1 tablespoon coarse (kosher) salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic or 5 to 6 fresh cloves, minced
1. To Make the Herb Oil: Warm 2 cups of olive oil to about 100 degrees F. (Do not heat the oil, just warm it.) Add 1 cup of chopped fresh herbs or 1/3 cup dried herbs. Add the salt, pepper, and garlic. Stir together and allow to steep while you prepare the dough. You can keep any leftover herb oil in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks (it makes a fabulous dipping oil!).
2. Stir together the flour, salt, and yeast in a large mixing bowl. Add the oil and water and mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until all the ingredients form a wet, sticky ball. 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. 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.
3. Sprinkle enough flour on the counter to make a bed about 6 inches square. Using a scraper or spatula dippedi n 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Allow the covered dough to ferment on the counter for 1 hour. It should swell but not necessarily double in size.
7. Line a 17 by 12-inch sheet pan with baking parchment and drizzle ¼ olive oil over the paper, and spread it with y our hands or a brush to cover the surface. Lightly oil your hands and, using a plastic or metal pastry scraper, lift the dough off teh counter and transfer it to the sheet pan, maintaining the rectangular shape as much as possible.
8. Spoon half of the herb oil over the dough. 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. If the dough becomes too springy, let it rest for about 15 minutes and then continue dimpling. Don’t worry if you are unable to fill the pan 100 perfect, 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.
9. Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough overnight (or for up to 3 days).
10.Remove the pan from the refrigerator 3 hours before baking. Drizzle additional herb oil over the surface and dimple it in. This should allow you to fill the pan completely with the dough to a thickness of about ½-inch. Cover the pan with plastic and proof the dough at room temperature for 3 hours, or until the dough doubles in size, rising to a thickness of nearly 1 inch.
11. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
12. Place the pan in the oven. Lower the oven setting to 450 degrees F and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and continue baking the focaccia for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it begins to turn a light golden brown. The internal temperature of the dough should register above 200 degrees F (measured in the center).
13. Remove the pan from the oven and immediately transfer the focaccia out of the pan onto a cooling rack.
14. Allow the focaccia to cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing or serving.
Variations and notes:
1) If you prefer a crustier, chewier finished product, reduce the oven temperature to 400F and bake for 10-15 minutes longer.
2) Raisin Focaccia:
To make this, omit the herb oil but add 3 cups or more raisins during the final 2 minutes of mixing. Use regular olive oil on top in place of the herb oil, dust lightly with kosher salt or coarse AA sugar before baking, and prepare yourself for the best raisin bread you have ever had!
3) This dough also makes great pizza, but it is a little too slack for stromboli, or rolled and stuffed pizza. A popular hybrid is what can be called pizza-style focaccia, small round pies that begin as pizzas but are allowed to proof and puff up and then topped with intensely flavored toppings, rather than cheese and sauce toppings of pizza.