Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Herb and Olive Focaccia

I'm not really a dunker. I think that dunking generally makes things soggy, which isn't a texture I enjoy. I even eat cereal in a hurry to minimize sogginess. Austin, on the other hand, is a serial dunker. So when I decided we were having ministrone for dinner and realized we didn't have any bread I decided I had to do something about it. Enter the focaccia.

The focaccia recipe below was inspired by Michael Ruhlman's book "Ratio". In it he attempts to demystify cooking by providing you with ratios that unchain you from cookbooks and open the door to thousands of recipes. The book has chapters dedicated to doughs, sauces, stocks, custards and sausages. For example, the basic bread ratio is 5 parts flour to 3 parts water by weight. The dough can then be salted to taste. But how much yeast should I use?, you ask. Well, it depends. Less yeast will result in a longer rising time but will yield a more flavorful bread; more yeast will make your bread rise faster but the bread will be slightly less flavorful. If all this sounds interesting and freeing to you I highly recommend the book. It essentially teaches you to just relaaaax. If your bread is an epic fail it's no big deal. You'll get it right next time.

Armed with the 5:3 ratio I decided I would make a focaccia, which I'd never done before. I had some herbs de Provence kicking around from another bread I made as well as some unopened kalamata olives staring at me from the cupboard, both of which made it into the bread. The result was savory, delicious and perfect for Austin's dunkfest.

Herb and Olive Focaccia
  • 20 oz or 565 g of all purpose flour (bread flour would be better, but don't worry if you don't have it, I didn't!) or about 4 cup plus some extra for flowering surface.
  • 12 oz, 340 g or scant 2.5 cups of water.
  • 1 package of active dry yeast or one 0.6 oz or 17 g cake of fresh compressed yeast. (If you'd like to use rapid rise or instant yeast just add it to your dry ingredients. Instant yeast doesn't require you to let your bread rise a second time.)
  • 1 tablespoon of herbs de Provence. (You could also use thyme, rosemary, a combination thereof or another herb mix of your choice).
  • About half a cup of chopped kalamata olives (any olive will do).
  • 2 teaspoons of salt plus extra for sprinkling on top.
  • 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast (absolutely optional, I added it for some "cheesy" flavor).
  • 5 or so tablespoons of olive oil.
1. Heat the water in the microwave for about 45 seconds, until warm but not hot. If using active yeast, dissolve it in the water and wait until it forms foam on top, which should take 5-10 minutes.
2. Mix your flour, herbs, salt and nutritional yeast (if using) in a large mixing bowl. Once the yeast has formed foam, add it to the dry ingredients. Once all the flour and water are combined, drizzle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the dough. Now it's time for your arms to get a workout. Knead the dough (like you mean it!) on a floured surface for 10-15 minutes. Take your frustrations out that dough ball, meditate, sing...just don't skimp on your kneading! Kneading develops the gluten in the flour which gives the bread dough elasticity. If the dough is too tacky, add some more flour, if it's too dry add more water.
2. Form a ball with the dough, rub the outside of it and the inside of the bowl with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and leave it in a warm place to rise until double in volume. Yeast likes heat so the warmer the environment the quicker your bread will rise. I left mine on top of a 200 F oven for about 2 hours.
3. Preheat your oven to 400 F. Once the dough has risen, punch it down and form it into either a round disk or a rectangle that's about 2 inches thick. Dimple it by pressing your fingers into it. Put the olives on top and sprinkle with about a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of olive oil and and let it rise again for about another hour. If you used instant yeast you can skip this second rise.
4. I baked my focaccia on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal. You could also bake it on a greased or floured sheet or on a pizza stone. Bake until brown on top and hollow sounding when tapped, about 20 minutes in my case.

I know homemade bread takes some time but the end result is well worth it. Also, this recipe is almost infinitely variable so just use whatever toppings (thinly sliced onions, dried tomatoes or chipotles in adobo) or herbs (cilantro, parsley, rosemary or thyme) you have on hand. Just remember to minimize the bread making drama and maximize the fun.

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