Happy New Year! It’s been cold here the past few days, down in the 20s at night. And since I’ve been in warm environments for the past eight years that is darn cold to me. But I was born and raised in the frigid state of North Dakota, so people are shocked to find that I’m from there and actually get cold (and also because I’ve lost all traces of my Northern accent. Seen the movie Fargo? Yup, that’s how they talk). In my defense, I was not a very good North Dakota girl. Up there people will start leaving their coats at home when the temperatures rise, yes rise, to the 30s. I was still bundled up. People start wearing shorts when the temperatures hit 50, meanwhile I was still wearing my warmest sweaters. So I was never very good at being a North Dakotan.
And now when I’m cold the first thing I do is make some hot soup. And you can’t have soup without bread right? As part of my New Years goals I want to blog about bread more. It’s easier than you think and can easily be worked into a busy schedule. I know lots of people are starting their “eat healthy” New Years Resolutions, many which will die in a matter of weeks, and may be cutting out bread entirely. I long ago quit trying to lose weight by cutting out the things I love. I love bread and I love desserts so any diet not involving those will fail. So instead I eat some every day. But not a lot, just normal serving sizes (with the holiday period excluded, of course; all willpower is out the door). It works for me and I hope it can work for you too.
Focaccia is a great bread for beginners because there is no shaping involved. Unfortunately it is not a bread that you can just leave alone for hours; it does require a minute (literally) of your attention every 30 minutes for about 2 hours. But total hands on is about 45 minutes. Basically you just have to be home.
This recipe is from Ciril Hitz: Baking Artisan Bread. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to make bread. Lots of pictures and very clear step by step instructions. And it comes with a DVD with videos on shaping, which is also quite helpful for a new bread bakers.
Focaccia is a very versatile bread. You can keep it simple and just sprinkle with salt & pepper. You can do what I did and put caramelized onions and cheese on it. You can use it to make a sandwich or just dip it in olive oil. And no one can resist the light and airy texture, so perfect for dipping in soup.
A couple of tips on bread making: a scale is not necessary but will give you better results. And it is much easier. All of my bread recipes use instant yeast, which is different from the active dry yeast found in grocery stores. Instant yeast requires no proofing. You just throw it in the bowl with the rest of the ingredients and away you go. I find it much more convenient and cheaper. You can find it at Sam’s Club or at King Arthur Flour. That 16 oz bag lasts me a year stored in the freezer, so you can see how much more affordable it is compared to active dry. And really, who wants to sit around waiting for yeast to proof?
And the most important tip yet: use good flour. You know I use King Arthur. In the summer I can get a local flour at the farmers market which also works great. Stay away from store brands and anything bleached. Also, bread flour will give you the best results but if you can’t find bread flour AP will work, just expect it to be less chewy.
Enough chit chatting, let’s make some bread!
Focaccia by Ciril Hitz
Yield: One half sheet pan of delicious bread
Time: Less than one hour total hands on/20 hours including rising time
Starter (Poolish, which is equal parts water and flour to make for a very wet starter)
- 330 g (11.6 oz) (2 1/2 cups) Bread flour
- 330 g (11.6 oz) (1 1/2 cups) Water, room temp
- Pinch of Instant Yeast
The day before make your starter by putting all ingredients in a medium bowl and stirring until you have a sloppy dough. It will be very wet and look like this:
Cover and let rest overnight for about 16 hours. After resting it will look like this, all bubbly and ready to use:
When your poolish is ready, gather the remaining ingredients:
- 613 g (1 lb + 5.6 oz) (4 1/2 cups + 2 TB) Bread Flour*
- 405 g (14.3 oz) (1 3/4 cups) Water at 104F**
- 2.6 g (0.09 oz) (7/8 tsp) Instant Yeast
- 18 g (0.6 oz) (3 1/2 tsp) Sea Salt
- All of the Poolish
*I used 413 grams of Bread Flour and 200 grams of KAF Italian Style Flour, which has a very low protein content. I wanted the chewiness of the bread flour, but also wanted an light bread. I’m guessing you aren’t like me though and don’t have
five six seven different kinds of flour in your pantry, so if you want to mix it up use both bread flour and AP flour.
**If you are making this bread in the summer time in a warm kitchen lower the temperature to about 80 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer, first, get one, and until then just use your finger. If it feels hot, it probably is and will kill your yeast. Better to go with cooler water than warmer water. It will just take your bread longer to rise.
Place all ingredients into your mixing bowl. (Since this is such a wet dough, it’s really hard to do by hand. You can though, just use a wooden spoon to stir or a dough whisk.) Using a dough hook, turn the mixer speed to low and mix for six minutes, stopping every two minutes to scrape the bowl. If you don’t scrape the bowl you will have blobs of flour that didn’t get mixed.
After it is done mixing it will look like this:
There’s really no structure yet at all since it is a wet dough. We’ll fix that though with multiple stretch and folds. I tried to take a picture of myself doing stretch of folds which was nothing short of disastrous, and instead found this video of Ciril Hitz doing a stretch and fold, as well as explaining the purpose.
He’s using baguette dough which is much stronger than focaccia, but it serves the same purpose. The first stretch and fold you do will be quite difficult so don’t fret. Just do the best you can and know that the dough will get stronger.
So after mixing, scrape all the dough into a bowl (or I suppose you could just leave it in the mixing bowl) for rising and do a stretch and fold. Since this is a sticky, wet dough, it helps to dampen your hands with a bit of water first. It will look like this:
You should notice the dough getting stronger and easier to stretch at this point. Set your timer for another 30 minutes and then the final stretch and fold for a total of four including the first one right out of the mixing bowl.
More bubbles! Set your timer again for 30 minutes for the final resting before transferring to a pan. Look at all those bubbles! And you can see it pretty much doubled in size. That may not always be the case though. The signs that your bread is ready: dough should be noticeably stronger than when you first finished mixing.
At this point, prepare a half sheet pan with parchment and olive oil. Alternately, you can use round cake pans. Ten inch work best and you’ll have to divide the dough in half.
Dump all the dough onto your prepared pan:
Now we are going to gently stretch the dough so it fills the pan. Put some olive oil on your hands and “…spread your fingers apart like a pianist” (Ciril Hitz) and gentle stretch the dough by dimpling with it with your fingers. It will not stretch all the way the first time and will look like this:
At this point, preheat your oven to 450F. Set your timer for 10 minutes. If you are going to add toppings, add them on the second stretch, with the exception of cheese. The cheese is added during baking to prevent it from burning. I added onions but well, forgot to add them at this point. But you won’t do that, right? Right. This is what it looks like after the second stretch:
Looking yummy, huh? Let rest for another 15 minutes before baking. Then bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until golden. If you are adding cheese, add after about 20 minutes of baking.
The final product:
For the soup, I used this recipe for a guide: Tomato Soup but am out of celery and carrots. Sheesh, guess I need to head to the store!
I hope you enjoyed making focaccia. The possibilities are endless with this bread. Enjoy!
Check out Yeast Spotting for more bread tips and recipes!