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Focaccia Bread and all of its Majesty!!!

May 19, 2010

Okay, I realize that bread of any kind is not necessarily majestic, but Foccaccia Bread may be one of the more noble starches of the world.

A while ago I had a thought.  Believe me, it was impressive.  I decided that I wanted to make Focaccia Bread, mostly because I hadn’t had it since my sister had made it a long time before.  And since she had charitably given up the recipe to the whole family instead of concealing it and stealing all the glory, I decided to make it!!!!  (Which means that the aforementioned sister had BETTER be reading this blog and commenting on how I must have a wonderful sister!  Actually, I have two wonderful sisters, but I digress.)  And then I had another thought, which went something like this:

Focaccia Bread is supposed to be really difficult to make…

…I’m not sure that I can make Focaccia Bread…

You know what?  I’m going to try anyhow!  I mean, what’s the worst thing that could happen?

I guess it could fail miserably…

OOOOH!!!!!!!  I feel a BLOG coming on!!!

Seriously, it went kind of like that.  I figured I had about a 50 50 chance of success, so I decided it was probably worth trying.  I mean, people in Vegas don’t have nearly so good of a chance of success, so what could possibly go wrong?

Goodness, I would love to start talking about how everything went horribly wrong right now.  *Insert Evil Grin Here.*

But I won’t.  It actually went surprisingly well.  Probably most Foccaccia Veterans wouldn’t precisely say it was a success, but I think even they might concede that it was a strong effort.

Here is the recipe I used, courtesy of my sister and Rose Levy Beranbaum!!!

Focaccia Bread

This bread has a chewy crust, large air bubbles, and a fabulous flavor from the olive oil.  It’s one of our all-time favorites.  Although the recipe is really long, it isn’t complicated to make, just be sure to read through the entire recipe before you start.

3 cups (1 lb) bread flour (Gold Medal Harvest King Brand is preferred)

1/4 cup (1.25 0z) whole wheat flour

1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast

1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

1 1/2 cups (12.5 oz) room temperature water

1 teaspoon mild honey

1/4 cup plus 4 teaspoons olive oil

2 teaspoons of your favorite Italian herbs, such as oregano, basil and/or marjoram (optional)

2 tablespoon fresh rosemary

large-grained salt, to taste

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a mixing bowl whisk together the bread flour, whole wheat flour and yeast, then whisk in the salt (if the salt comes into direct contact with the yeast it will kill it, so make sure to add them separately).  Stir in the water, honey and oil.  Using a mixer with a dough hook or a wooden spoon in your hand, knead or stir vigorously for about 3 minutes, until the dough begins to come away from the side of the bowl.  It will not pull away completely and will be very sticky.  DO NOT add more flour.

Lightly oil a separate bowl with some of the extra olive oil and then scrape the dough into it.  Lightly oil the top of the dough with some of the extra olive oil; cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours total.  After the first 30 minutes scrape the dough onto an oiled surface and give it two business letter turns.

(This is done by slightly flattening the dough, pulling the left side up over the top, and then folding the right side up over on top of that (just like folding a letter, hence, the name), then rotating the dough 90 degrees and doing it again to the other two sides.  Do this gently, try to keep most of the air in it.  Turning the dough like this helps redistribute the yeast and you can maintain large bubble formation, if desired, and turning it strengthens the dough and gives the yeast more room to grow.  During the second rising it will get bigger than it did the first time, because you don’t squish all the air out of the dough when you turn it.  After it has risen the second time, shape the loaf or loaves and let rise the final time before baking.  Side note– Fortunately, these directions about how to let the bread rise are completely accurate to the recipe, so don’t worry about if they follow the recipe or not.  As far as I know, these instructions inside the parenthesis are courtesy of my sister and I don’t need to give credit to anyone else).

After performing this operation the dough should not stick to your fingers as much.  Set it back in the bowl and let if finish rising.  For the full-flavor variation, give the dough two more business letter turns, oil the top and refrigerate overnight.  Remove from the fridge and let it come to room temperature about 1 hour before forming the bread (this step requires planning ahead, but it is totally worth it).

When you’re ready to shape the dough, spread about 2 teaspoons of olive oil on a large sheet pan or a 14 inch round pizza pan, set the dough on top and flatten gently until it is about 12×5 inches and about half an inch high. Try to keep as much air inside the dough as possible because the air bubbles are fantastic (seriously).  Oil the top of the dough with 2 more teaspoons of oil, then cover with plastic wrap and let rise until double to about 1 inch high, about 1 hour (mine usually spreads out a lot more than it rises up).

While the dough is rising, put the oven rack toward the bottom of the oven with a baking stone on it, and place a heavy baking pan or cast iron skillet on the floor of the oven itself or on the very bottom shelf.  Preheat the oven to 475° F for 45 minutes or longer before baking.  Just before baking, deeply dimple the bread all over using your oiled fingers, if desired.  Sprinkle the top with the rosemary, large-grained salt and black pepper.

Gently place the baking sheet on top of the hot stone, and toss about 6 ice cubes on the baking sheet or cast iron pan beneath and quickly shut the oven door and bake for 5 minutes.  (the steam from the melting ice will help the bread rise to its maximum capacity and form very large bubbles before the dough sets.)  Turn the sheet around for even browning and bake for 10 more minutes, an instant thermometer inserted into the middle will read 210° F.  Remove to a cooling rack to cool completely or until just warm.

Notes (also from my sister): * Don’t skimp on the olive oil; it is part of why this bread has such a good flavor.  * I’ve tried this with more whole wheat flour, and it didn’t rise as much and didn’t really have the big bubbles.  If you really want to do it with more whole wheat flour than you would need some vital wheat gluten added to provide more structure.  * Bread flour is necessary to make this bread because it has the right amount of gluten-developing proteins.  * Instead of using fresh rosemary needles on top, poach some garlic cloves by boiling in water for 15-20 minutes, drain and cool, and then cut them into slivers and insert them into the dimples just before baking.

So much for the easy stuff… Now I get to write about what I did!!!!

As  I was re-typing the recipe, I think I picked up on a few more of my mistakes, which might explain why my bread doesn’t stand up to my high expectations.

I was thoroughly irritated when I finally discovered that in spite of the fact that basil, oregano, and marjoram are mentioned in the ingredients, they are never mentioned in the directions.  Which is just irritating.  I think my attempt would have at least tasted more awesome if I had put these spices in, especially because I even had them in my arsenal of spices!  My guess (for future reference because I would like to try this again at some point in my cooking career) is that these are supposed to go on when the rosemary, pepper, and salt are put on the “dimpled” dough.

The first part of this whole thing really did go quite well.  I am of course referring to the mixing ingredients, especially the dry ingredients.  A whisk works quite well, by the by.  I was a little confused about the wet ingredients though.  Does one add them one by one to the mix, or all at once?  And if so, in what order?  I decided to go with the all at once, which meant that I mixed them together in a separate container and then poured them in, since  I figured out that when I add ingredients one at a time I tend to have problems with having a lump of egg in one place and not having an even consistency.

Did you know that honey will in fact dissolve in water if you stir it long enough?  It was a little bizarre.  However, once you add the wet ingredients, ditch the whisk.  Really.  The friend who was helping me tried to use it to stir the wet and the dry ingredients, and it is a mess.  We changed to the dough hooks (which saved us from three minutes of beating dough by hand, which is admittedly fun sometimes when one is making cookies and can snitch the dough, but in this case, we preferred the hooks), which was actually pretty fun to watch, since I hadn’t ever used dough hooks before.  It didn’t throw dough around, instead it just picked it up and turned it.  This may be nothing new to consistent makers of bread, but I found it thoroughly entertaining.

Once we got to the stuff about letting the bread rise (raise?) for forever, my friend very wisely sat down to watch a movie, and I joined her, until I had to give the dough the “business letter turns.”  I was a little bit confused about how much one was supposed to fold it when it says two business turns.  Does that mean two or four folds?  Just to be on the safe side, I went with four gentle turns.  And believe me, when I was letting it sit, I did not skimp on the olive oil at all.  It was coated.

I really kind of wish that I had gone with the full flavor version, but I didn’t for two reasons: 1) I’m not sure that there was enough space in the fridge 2) apparently I don’t have that much patience.  I wanted results, and I wanted them now! Especially because since my friend was helping me for some of it, I wanted some results to feed her and my mom very soon.

Once I got it onto the pan, I think I made one of my more crucial mistakes.  I didn’t see the 12×5 part, I think I only saw the 12, which means that I flattened the dough into a 12 inch circle.  I guess in one sense this shouldn’t have affected it too much, but then again, I think it might have destroyed some of the bubble formation from the earlier risings.  If I had realized that at the time, I probably would have let it rise longer than an hour while I was waiting for the oven (and everything in it) to heat up.

The bubbles that did form. I think they're supposed to be much bigger.

The next part, putting the toppings on (if toppings are something that one puts on bread, and if they can be called toppings), makes me sit back and shake my head at my own sad ability (or lack thereof) to follow directions.  My first mistake was when I decided that $2.00 was too much to pay for fresh rosemary, and so I decided to go with the cheaper option of using poached garlic (the alternative is written in the notes), since garlic only cost about 48 cents.

This would have been fine if I had actually followed the directions.  As it is, total disaster.  First of all, it is generally not a good idea to attempt to poach minced garlic.  And secondly, do not try to poach it in the microwave because it will be faster.  Especially if you don’t know what you’re doing.  As I said, disaster.  I think not having properly poached garlic or rosemary did nothing for the overall awesome Focaccia taste that I was expecting.  And as I said, I think this might be the point where one would use the basil, oregano, or marjoram, which would have also contributed to the taste.

The baking part was incredibly fun.  Incredibly fun.  I admit, I was a little confused about why they said to put the pizza pan on top of the baking stone (the baking stone is courtesy of my mom, and is actually a gift from my other sister and I from Mother’s Day), but I think I may have come up with a theory, which is that the stone might help to transfer the heat evenly to the whole loaf of bread.  However, you probably don’t want to bake the loaf directly on the stone, because the copious amounts of oil that you have been spreading on the dough will seep into the pores of the stone, which may have undesired results.

The part that completely fascinated me was the idea of the cast-iron pan beneath the stone.  Normally, I would have dismissed this as the writer trying to make things more complicated than they needed to be, but fortunately as my sister explained, it seriously helps with the final rise of the dough.  And besides, tossing six ice cubes into a cast iron pan that has been heated up to 475 degrees is totally fun and awesome.  It’s pretty cool to see them simultaneously melt and evaporate!  I would almost recommend doing it for the fun of it, but I have a feeling that it would not be such a good hobby when it comes to one’s gas bill.  But still, totally awesome.

The thing that was kind of sad, is that after hours of letting the bread rise and slathering olive oil all over it, you only cook it for fifteen minutes total!!  In a way, it’s a horrible let-down.  But, when you open up the oven after the first five minutes, the bread has puffed up beautifully, and then when you open it again, it’s turned golden-brown-ish, and it looks reasonably beautiful.

Overall, the taste wasn’t too bad at all, although it wasn’t as wonderful of a taste as I wanted it to be.  It also didn’t have nearly as many huge bubbles as I expected (probably a result of the shape that I chose to cook it in), which was kind of a let-down.  But when you think about it, my attempt did not fail miserably like I might have expected it to.  Which means that I am going to try this again, and I am going to get the bubbles and the flavor right!!

My attempt at Focaccia Bread, with a heavenly glow surrounding it. 🙂

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 19, 2010 3:51 am

    YUM!!!

  2. Kaimalino permalink
    May 19, 2010 3:53 am

    I want some! And no regrets for leaving out spices this time; you were making PURE focaccia. (Plus, it’s that much more versatile for dipping in soup!)

  3. May 19, 2010 7:31 am

    The focaccia looks glory. I love the recipe. Thanks for sharing.

  4. May 27, 2010 12:17 am

    I have been putting off commenting on this for AGES.

    Firstly: Rivenheart, you make me very hungry. As I read this for the first time late at night, I had this deep and irrepressible craving for focaccia which could not be indulged. Then I carried on reading, thinking, hey, this isn’t so bad – I can do this! Even though recipes involving yeast usually make me squirm.*

    And THEN I got to the stone-in-the-oven thing, which a) I totally did not get, and b) I don’t think I could ever conceivably manage in my humble oven, should I at any point figure out the part where there is a stone in your oven at all.

    In conclusion: I will come to your house for dinner the next time you make it, k? And then I will make sounds of eating in the manner of ‘nom nom’. ^_^

    * Because it’s a lot of fuss for a little bread. Chapattis are good, I can make them as quickly as most amateurs, but bread seems to require superhuman diligence. Which it must be said that I choose to avoid. Cooking for me is one half improvisation and the other half asking my mum.

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