Is that a Focaccia in your pocket?

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:
Combine

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
Herb 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!

Enjoy!

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris

Ch-ch-ch-CIABATTA!

I had put it off as long as possible. I had to remind myself of the advice I give my friends: ‘just try it, you may be surprised by the results’. So I did. I still have a hard time believing it. I measured. I mixed. I kneaded. I baked ciabatta and won! I mean, the last time I attempted making bread was eons ago and quite unsuccessfully.  

My mom makes awesome bread. But for me, it had never worked. The yeast taste was too strong. The water I used to bloom the yeast was either too hot or too cold. I’d end up with heavy little lumps of dough and a feeling of failure. But as I’ve lurked around the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge pages, I kept telling myself maybe, just maybe I could try again.  

  

First off, I read and reread Nicole’s recipe on Pinch My Salt. Her ciabatta looked so…, so… seductive. I had to try it. She used the poolish method. After I was done making jokes, I looked it up and realized that a poolish is nothing more than a dough starter, like is used for sourdough; how foolish did I feel (heh, I couldn’t help myself). I also think this might be the main reason I didn’t end up with that odd yeasty taste from past attempts. I think the poolish, since the recommendation is to make it a day ahead, allows the yeast to relax a bit and get rid of its uppity attitude.  

For the poolish, I was to mix:
2-1/2 cps bread flour
1-1/2 cps warm water (from the tap)
1/4 tsp dry yeast
I first stirred in the yeast into the water and allowed it to hang out for 10 minutes or so. Then it all went into my trusty Kitchen Aid for a whirl until it was smooth and looked like this.  

  

I covered it with plastic and left it on the counter for HOURS, and watched it bubble up and grow. Eventually it goes into the fridge overnight.  

  

The next day, remove the poolish from the fridge at least an hour before you mix the ciabatta. See? It grew even more!  

To the Kitchen Aid bowl I added:
3 cps bread flour
2 tsps dry yeast
1-3/4 tsp salt (you’ll need more if using sea salt)
4 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
1/2 to 3/4 cp warm water  

Then dropped the poolish right on top and let Kitchen Aid have its way with it. I started out with 1/2 cp of water, and added more to get to a wet and sticky dough. I allowed the mixer to do the heavy lifting. I beat the dough until it looked smooth and silky.  

Ciabatta dough should be wet and sticky, you will not knead in any flour. Once the dough looked smooth, I floured my counter with a LOT of flour and spread it out. I then dropped the dough right in the center of the floor pool and, following Nicole’s instructions, I shaped it into a triangle… of sorts.  

  

Cover it with plastic and let it rest for about 10-15 minutes. At the end of that time, the dough is ready to begin the stretching dance. Aside: this dough feels incredible! It feels cool and fluffy, like doughy cotton balls.  

Anyway, stretch out the sides of the triangle. I stretched it out to about 2-feet wide. Remember there’s a lot of flour around the dough, you’ll want to get rid of some of the excess. I used a brush to get rid of the flour on top.  

  

Next, fold it into thirds. Take one end and fold it over to about the center, brush off the excess flour, then take the other end and fold it over the top of the first fold. Now, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes. Walk away.  

I tucked the plastic in to make sure the dough didn't dry up

One more time. Stretch it out, brush off the excess flour, fold into thirds. Cover with plastic wrap and this time, let it rest for 90 minutes.  

During this period, you should get things ready to slice the dough into loaves and set them onto a couche to rest some more. I am not a baker, so I don’t own a fancy couche. Instead, I enlisted a few kitchen towels to do the trick.  

I lined up 2 towels, then took a third one and pooled it to create a rim on one end. Left a smooth space about 4-inches wide and made another ripple. I used 2 towels to be able to create 3 spaces with rims on either side. Sprinkle flour on each space.  

I also took a baking sheet and poured coarse cornmeal on the back side of it. This will serve as your traveling suitcase for the loaves. This way you can slide them onto your preheated baking stone awaiting in the oven.  

At the end of the 90 minutes, divide the dough into thirds. Stretch out each third, fold it into thirds as you did before and place the folded dough into one of the spaces of your makeshift couche. Once you have all 3 pieces tucked into their spot, cover with plastic again and allow it to rest while you get the oven going.  

Hopefully you have a baking stone, if you do, put it in the oven on the middle rack. Preheat the oven to 500, it’ll take a bit longer because of the stone. You will also want to put a pan on the bottom. Ciabatta likes steam while baking, it likes to pretend it’s in the sauna room of a fancy spa–so let it. Heat up some water and keep it at a simmer. You will add this to the pan at the bottom to get things hot & steamy up in der’. Nicole also recommended using a spray bottle to wet the sides of the oven while baking. Get all your gadgets ready.  

Once the oven reaches temperature, it’s time to move the loaves from the cozy couche to the cornmealed pan. As you remove the loaves from the couche, stretch them out and drop them onto the pan. I have a 16-inch or so baking stone, so I was only able to fit 2 loaves at a time. Now, get ready, the next part goes kinda fast.  

Slide the loaves off the back of the pan and onto the stone. You may need to help them along, but if you put enough cornmeal under it, it will slide quite easily. Push it all the way back into the oven. Then add enough water to that pan at the bottom, I added about 2 cps of already hot water. STEAM! Hurry, close the oven.  

  

Give it a couple of minutes, then grab your spray bottle and spray the sides of the oven. More STEAM. Close the door. Wait about 30 seconds and spray again. Wait 30 seconds and repeat. Now turn down the temperature to 450. I missed this part on Nicole’s post, so my loaves were a bit too dark. They looked like my children might have. They will bake for 15-20 minutes. And you’ll have awesome bread. Hope you left some butter out.  

Here’s a closeup:  

  

Now for the bragging part. I was so nervous about this. My ciabatta had holes, BABY!  

  

But wait, there’s more…  

  

Before I let you go, I have to thank my hubbz for the action shots. He does a really good job with those, doesn’t he?  

Cookingly (and bakingly) yours,
Anamaris