Well, now I know for sure that with the electric controls on my gas oven, the oven does in fact shut down when there’s a power outage. Haven’t been able to post much over the last week as we’ve had incessant rain, sleet, hail or snow daily since last weekend. And, when you rely on a satellite to get your bits and bytes to your destination, stormy weather can play havoc – so please forgive my absence. With the weather exceedingly damp and gloomy, I love to have something baking in the oven to generate a warmer, cozy feel. However, had to be sure it would be an item I could drag from the oven and throw into a pot to finish cooking, should the need arise. The knobs on the gas top range work whether or not recipes my electricity is able to crawl along the wires. Focaccia met my requirements.
True to form, without a favorite recipe to grab right off, I lingered with a cup of chai, my tenuous Internet connection and my cookbooks. Found a Mario Battali recipe on Food Network that was intriguing requiring five eggs – his Easter recipe. Being a fan of egg breads, decided to try this someday, but not today. With the particular ease of focaccia recipes, I was surprised at how many of Food Network’s choices started with frozen pizza dough. Others, like one of Mario’s, Emeril’s or the kitchen’s, ask for fresh pizza dough and give you the recipe. They’re useful to scan as once you poke your dough into the pan, you can use any number of toppings and oils to drizzle across the top. Cookbook recipes by Jacques Pepin, Martha Stewart and Craig Kominiak called to me. Like many of you, I sought out Julia Child’s cookbooks after the movie Julie and Julia. Mastering the Art of French cooking didn’t look like something I would use very often, but I’ve come to love both Baking with Julia and Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home. Yes, I’m digressing again. But have been meaning to take a moment to point out these exquisitely presented cookbooks to you (haven’t watched the PBS series, that you can still buy or rent; Julia looks so frail I think it would be difficult to watch). So, focaccia – the recipes are combinations of yeast, water, olive oil, flours and salt. Some use a dash of sugar or more in proofing the yeast. The main differences between recipes are the amount of yeast to flour, the amount of oil or salt, the types of flours and the flavorings.
Much as I love yeasted breads, I am so not a fan of the taste of recipes requiring higher percentages of yeast to flour. The yeast flavor then overpowers everything else. With the advent of bread machines and “idiot proof baking” the percentage of yeast to flour has increased. Sometimes I search out vintage recipes or vintage cookbooks specifically to find recipes with a smaller percentage. This was the deciding factor in my choosing a focaccia recipe to adapt from a Martha Stewart cookbook (one of those Barness/Borders sale table finds - her Annual Recipes 2003). It takes one envelope of yeast to 6 to 7 cups of flour. It also takes 4 tablespoons of oil that I expect it would help the bread stay fresh longer. I swapped out some of the all-purpose flour for whole-wheat, added 2 tablespoons of water to compensate, and chose flavorings of garlic and rosemary. Unfortunately, the base recipe is not on her web for me to easily link you to.
Before you settle on the recipe, decide how you’d like to use it. Do you want to make those marvelous sandwiches with fresh, thinly sliced vegetables drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar? Do you want to slice it into rectangles and use it with your favorite dipping recipe? Is it a party appetizer where people will be standing up and mingling? Once you decide, you can choose your flavorings: thinly sliced onion, sun-dried tomatoes, grated cheeses, herbs – tarragon, thyme, chives, truffle oils, specialty salts even lemons or dried cherries (the last two at MSL). This makes a large focaccia with a light crust. If folks will be mingling over a summer picnic or if all party I encourage you to use a focaccia that will have a crust and hold it shape. Adding twice as much all-purpose flour to whole-wheat results in a pleasing texture and taste. You can choose to add any of your addition in your last meeting of the bread were to leave them on top of your shaped loaf only.
Focaccia – whole wheat with garlic and rosemary1 pinch sugar 2 1/2 cups warm water plus 2 tablespoons 1 envelope active dry yeast (1/4 oz) 4 tablespoons olive oil plus more for bowl, baking sheet, and drizzling 2 cups whole wheat flour 4 to 5 cups all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon coarse salt plus more for sprinkling Flavorings – I chose fresh rosemary (1 tablespoon chopped for light taste, 2 for a bit more) plus 8 large garlic cloves
In a large bowl, stir sugar into 1/2 cup of the water, and sprinkle in yeast. Stir well; let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.
Add remaining 2 cups and 2 tablespoons water and the olive oil, and mix well. Add whole wheat flour mixing well. Then add salt than remaining flour one cup at a time. Knead dough until smooth and elastic, 4 to 5 minutes in an electric mixer fitted with a dough-hook attachment, or 8 to 10 minutes by hand.
Form dough into a ball, and place in a lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat ensuring you’ve covered with oil (I confess I use a lot of olive oil here). Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel, and let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours. If your house is cool and you’d like to speed this process, place boiling water in an oven dish on the lower rack of your oven and allow your bread to rise in a bowl on the rack above it. With this method, or in a very warm environment, check your dough after one hour. Thinly slice your garlic cloves, chop your rosemary and stir with 2 tablespoons olive oil (or prepare the flavorings of your choice).
Spread the dough evenly onto an oiled 11 x 17 baking sheet. Cover with a damp towel, and let rise for 30 minutes. If your dough is shrinking back, cover with the damp towel and let rest 10 minutes, then pull to fill the sheet before proceeding. (I chose to cut a piece of parchment the size of my pizza stone and use the back of a large pan (or a pizza peel) when moving it to the warmed stone in the oven). I really like the look of the large round bread.
Dimple surface of dough with your fingertips, leaving deep indentations. Cover with towel again, and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.
Heat oven to 425 degrees, move one rack to the bottom position and put a baking dish with boiling water on it. The steam created will give this a pronounced, but light crust. Many recipes omit this step. Some spray or paint the focaccia with water instead. Counter to intuition; omit the steam/water for the lightest crust.
Drizzle oil/garlic/herb mixture on top of dough, allowing dimples to fill. Gently spread oil over surface without deflating dough. Uses fingertip to further press the garlic pieces into the dough, then sprinkle with salt if desired.
After 20 minutes quickly remove your pan of water. Bake another 5 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Do not over bake, this is a thin bread and you could easily dry it out. Remove from oven, and slide onto a wire rack. Serve as soon as possible. Very tightly wrap with plastic any bread you will not be eating the same day as baked.
My recipe search resulted in oh so many flavoring combinations I’m just dying to try with others that I’ve thought of. I’ll happily stick with this light whole-wheat recipe as my focaccia base. It truly was everything I love in a bread. The garlic and rosemary flavoring is so adaptable to sandwiches and dips. My next version will have about a cup of lightly sautéed, finely chopped onion kneaded into the dough with thin slices of onion and grated Parmesan cheese decorating the top. I think this will make a great sandwich to switch off with the garlic.
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