Ooops! I did it again. I’ve been seduced and I succumbed. Bread baking has my heart all pitter-patter. I even committed to a proper bottle of yeast! No little throw away packets for this girl. No! I’m an honest bread baker now.
This time it was Focaccia. I needed some for a salad, so I looked at a million recipes and made a choice. Well, I settled on 2 separate versions: one is by Peter Reinhart and the other is a much simpler method by Suzanne Dunway. I really like Reinhart’s use of a poolish; I’m convinced that is the reason the bread tastes so good and not overly yeasty. He’s a bit of a Martha, though. His method is definitely on the elaborate side of things, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But, I am a novice bread maker and find myself intimidated quite easily. That’s probably why the ‘No Need To Knead’ method offered by Dunway is so appealing.
Because I was using a poolish, I followed Reinhart’s recipe and ‘day before’ preparations. Let’s get to it, shall we?
For the Poolish:
1-1/2 cps barely warm water (I measured it from the kitchen’s tap)
1/4 tsp dry yeast (like ActiveRise)
Mix in the yeast until it has dissolved and set aside for a few minutes. In the meantime, measure out
2-1/2 cps bread flour
and dump it into your mixer’s bowl. Now add the yeasty water and mix this using the paddle attachment until it is fully incorporated and smooth. You’ll probably want to beat it for about 3-4 minutes. Give it a scrape around and cover with plastic wrap. The dough will be very smooth and elastic.
Allow it to rest at room temperature for an hour or so before putting it in the fridge overnight (or longer, if you’d like).
The next day or when you’re ready to bake the focaccia, remove the poolish from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature at least an hour before using it. You will notice that it is bubbly and that it has expanded. This is what mine looked like after fermenting overnight.
While the poolish comes to room temperature, work on the herb oil. Here’s what you’ll need:
For the Herb Oil: in a small saucepan combine 1 cp olive oil with about 1/2 cp fresh or 2-3 tbsp dried herbs of your choice. Heat it over medium low temperature for about 20-30 minutes, you want to make sure it doesn’t get hot enough to scorch the herbs. All you’re trying to achieve is to perfume the oil.
For mine I used rosemary, garlic cloves that I didn’t peel but just cut in half, and roasted garlic. Feel free to use any herbs you love, or you can add olives, sun-dried tomatoes, onions—there are no limits.
Now is time to finish the dough, for the Focaccia:
1-1/2 tsp dry yeast
3/4 cp warm water
1-1/2 tsp sugar
2-2/3 cps bread flour
3-1/2 tsp sea salt
6 tbsp olive oil
Dissolve the sugar and yeast in the warm water and set aside while you get the rest of the ingredients together. To the bowl with the poolish, add the flour, salt and oil, then the water/yeast mixture. Using the paddle attachment, begin beating it slowly—if you have a guard for your mixer, you may want to use it at this point. Once all the flour has incorporated, switch to the bread hook and continue beating at a medium speed for another 5-7 minutes.
You’ll know you’re done when the dough clears the sides of the bowl but still sticks to the bottom of it. You may need to add more flour or water if that isn’t happening. Remove the hook and any dough that may be stuck to it, scrape the sides of the bowl and cover it and let it rest for 20 minutes or so.
Prepare the baking sheet you’ll use to bake the focaccia. Some recipes suggest lining it with silpat or parchment paper. I did neither. Instead, I spread about 3 tbsp of herb oil, trying to avoid the herbs, on the bottom of the sheet and I smeared it really well all over and up the sides.
Dump the dough right onto the middle of the sheet, use a spatula to push out any dough stuck to the bottom of the bowl. Remember the ciabatta and how the dough is allowed to rise then it is pulled and folded? Reinhart’s focaccia follows the same principle, I followed it once and didn’t use flour.
After dropping the dough on the oiled baking sheet, I spread it to fill the sheet (as best as possible). Then I folded it into thirds, covered loosely with plastic wrap and allowed it to rest for 30 minutes.
By now the dough should have swollen nicely. Dip your fingers in the oil and stretch the dough out to fill the sheet again. You may need to rotate the risen dough to better fit the sheet. Don’t worry if you don’t get dough into all the nooks and crannies, it will rise again and it will fill it up.
Pour more of the herb oil over the top and massage it into the dough. This will create the dips and creases characteristic of focaccia and will also allow the oil to work its magic in the dough. Feel free to allow as much or as little of the herbs to dot the top of the focaccia. Give it a sprinkling with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set it aside while you prep the oven, at least another 30 minutes or so.
In the meantime, preheat the oven to 500°. If you have a pizza stone, put it the oven as it preheats. I like leaving the stone under the baking sheet, it helps to diffuse the heat more evenly. Once the oven reaches temperature, place the focaccia sheet on top of the stone, close the oven and reduce the temperature to 450°.
Bake for 1o minutes, then rotate the sheet to make sure it bakes evenly and bake for another 10 minutes or until golden brown.
Remove from the oven and brush with more of the herb oil. Allow it to cool for about 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool. If you’re anything like me, you will cut into it while its piping hot, who can blame you. Just look at that face!