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Focaccia, Revisited

I love focaccia. The husband and I used to go to an Italian Deli when we were newly married that had these marvelous sandwiches stuffed with an inch of various Italian meats and cheeses and veggies, all served on thick slabs of focaccia. It was then that I fell in love with focaccia. But, strangely, I have never bought or been served a focaccia that has lived up to that first deli’s standard. I’ve been making focaccia off and on for years with various recipes and they have all been pretty good. However, the focaccia recipe from Rustic Italian Food that I made a few weeks ago was the best I have ever had and the best I have ever made. And let me tell you, I have made some good ones.

Unfortunately, this week’s twd recipe for focaccia, to be found in Baking with Julia was much less than stellar. Part of its problem was that it followed the recipe from Rustic Italian Food, which, as I have already mentioned, was the best. Ever since that focaccia, the boys have been begging me to make more. That one was so sublimely delicious, that I knew it would be a tough act to follow.

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Firstly, the dough was too stiff.

All the focaccia recipes that I have made and really liked have been really loose doughs. You could almost pour these doughs, they are that loose. This dough was more like a pizza dough.

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Secondly, I thought the dough was too active. Look at how much it rose in an hour. Now, this could be because I used instant yeast or my water was too warm or some other variable, but I sensed some trouble. It was just too active for a dough that would eventually be retarded in the fridge, which brings me to my third issue with this dough.

I love using the fridge for holding bread dough, but this time, it did not work for me. Because of some oven timing issues, I was not able to give the dough the minimum 24 hours needed in the fridge. It was more like 20 hours and it was tough to shape. I understand that the longer the dough rests, the easier it is to shape. This was really my fault, but it was kind of the last nail in the coffin, so to speak.

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I opted to bake the bread into one giant, flat loaf because we like to cut it into nice rectangles for serving. It looked great before it went into the oven, with its rosemary, sea salt, and olive oil toppings.

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However, there was just not much oven spring to the dough. It was ok. It rose, but it had the texture of a thick pizza dough. It was too dry and tough to be called focaccia, in my opinion. This will not be repeated in my kitchen. The boys were initially excited about the focaccia, but both declared it to be just ok, not nearly as good as the “other one.”

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Now, dear reader, please take this post with a grain of salt. I am not saying that this bread is bad. In fact, it is tasty, and if you go and make it (you can find the recipe here), I am almost sure you will like it. After all, what’s not to love about freshly baked bread? Just don’t make it after making the one from Rustic Italian Food, The Bread Bible, or La Brea Bakery, ok? Then, you won’t be disappointed.

Fruit Studded Not Flatbread

We are near mid winter. It is cold. Produce at the store is looking sadder and sadder and spoils more easily when you get it home. Last week, the husband went to the store and brought home some beautiful looking apricots. They were a nice warm orange with blushes of red. They were also from South America and kinda firm. Oh, how bad can they be if they look so good? It turns out, they can be pretty bad. Not bad as in spoiled. No, they were just so sour and hard that it was impossible not to spit them out. So, I was left with almost a dozen apricots that no one wanted to eat. What to do?

Well, make bread, of course. My original inspiration for this recipe is the recipe for blueberry schiacciata from Rustic Italian Food, but, in the end, the bread I made probably does not resemble the one in the book at all. Still, it provided the inspiration for me that I needed.

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I wanted something like a fruity foccacia bread that we could eat for breakfast; not too sweet like a sticky bun, but nice and substantial, you know, to start the day off right. The recipe starts wih a sponge, in which I used my sourdough discard from feeding my monsters. You could easily make this bread without it (directions below).

The great thing about this recipe is that from start to eating, it only took 3.5 hours, which is pretty quick for a yeast bread. The rising times are short, each less than an hour, but the oven spring of this dough is really and truly impressive.

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The dough looked like this when I put it in the oven. It barely comes over the top of the rim of the pan, so it’s maybe an inch thick.

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When the bread came out of the oven it looked like this. Whoa! What happened in that oven? I don’t know. What I do know is that this bread was fabulous. The juices from the berries bake into a nice slightly sticky glaze. The sugar that was generously sprinkled on top before baking was caramelized and slightly crunchy. The apricots remain a little firm, but tender enough to bite through easily and their sourness has turned into a pleasing tartness that is balanced by the sweet, crunchy sugar. It can only be called a flatbread in the sense that its width and length are greater than the thickness, but since we all had a tough time getting our mouths open big enough to take a bite, I think that other flatbreads might be a little offended if we called it that. That’s why we’ve named it Fruit Studded Not Flatbread.

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Fruit Studded Not Flatbread

This makes a huge loaf of bread: 12 by 18 by 2.5-3 inches high. You can make a smaller one by cutting the recipe in half and using a smaller pan. Be warned that the syrup may run over the sides of the pan and into your oven. For me, it just joins countless other little spots on the floor of the oven, but if you don’t want this, put a piece of foil under the pan to catch the drips.

Depending on the size of your portions, this could yield 12 humongous portions, 20 average sized portions, or 30 snack-type portions.

475g 100% hydration sourdough starter OR 250g water and 225g bread flour
25g water
195g eggs or 4 large
10g or 1 tablespoon osmotolerant instant yeast
80g sugar
200g bread flour
500g all purpose flour
12g or 2 teaspoons kosher salt
120g or 1stick unsalted butter, softened
Grated zest of one medium orange
Extra water, if needed
8-12 small apricots or other stone fruit, halved and pitted
1-2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries or other berries
Extra sugar for sprinking on top- I used about one half cup, but you’ll want to adjust according to the sweetness of your fruit

Equipment: spatula, stand mixer, rolling pin, 12 by 18 inch rimmed baking sheet

With a spatula, mix your sourdough starter (or the alternate ingredients) in a large mixing bowl with the water, eggs, yeast, 80g of sugar, and the 200g bread flour. It should be the consistency of pancake batter (see photo below). Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place for 30 minutes or until nice and bubbly.

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Add the all-purpose flour, salt, soft butter, and orange zest to the sponge and mix on low-medium until the dough is nice and smooth. It should be a soft dough. If the mixer sounds strained, it is too stiff. Add extra water, one tablespoon at a time and mix until the dough is soft and smooth, but not sticky. It might be tacky, but it should not stick to your hands when you touch it. The dough should have cleaned the sides of the bowl really well.

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Leave the dough in the bowl and place in your warm spot for 30-60 minutes. It should be well-expanded, but perhaps not quite doubled.

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Roll out your dough on a sheet of parchment paper that is about the same size as your half sheet pan. Place the dough, with its parchment onto your pan. Press the apricots into the dough firmly. Scatter the blueberries over the dough and, using your fingers, press those firmly into the dough as well. You want to get the fruit as close to the bottom of the pan as possible to discourage them from rolling off during the rising and baking process.

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Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rise in your warm place for 45-60 minutes. Meanwhile, place a baking stone, if you have one, in the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.

Before baking, sprinkle the fruit and dough generously with granulated sugar. Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Check on the bread after 15 minutes. Turn the pan around to encourage even baking. If there is a lot of liquid pooling on the top of the dough and you happen to have a convection oven, lower the heat to 325 and turn on the convection fan for the last 15 minutes of baking. If not, try moving the pan to a higher rack in the oven to encourage the liquid to bake away.

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When you take the pan out of the oven, transfer the bread out of the pan and onto a cooling rack. Eat some immediately.

Day 10: A Visit to Provence

We are back in France today to sample a Christmas bread that I had never heard of until a week ago and, of course, have never tried. Isn’t this fun?! I love learning and trying all these new things. Anyway, Gibassier is considered by some to be the best enriched (meaning made with butter and eggs and good stuff like that) bread out there. Better than challah or pandoro or (gasp!) panettone? Well, of course, you understand, I Just Had to Try this one.

Here is the recipe I decided to try.

Gibassier requires one special ingredient: orange blossom water. Knowing that I did not have the time to drive all over town to look for it, I ordered it from the internet. (On a side note, I have pretty much ordered all my Christmas present this year off of the internet. I have hardly stepped foot in a store to shop this whole month!)

The bread also has a generous amount of anise seed in it and I also used citron, instead of the usual candied orange peel. I ran out of candied orange peel a couple of weeks ago and have not had the chance to make more. I compensated a little by adding the grated zest of one orange.

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The dough was a little tricky to mix up. I was really worried at first that my mixer would blow up and give up the ghost because the dough was really, really stiff at first. As a result, I think I may have not let the dough develop properly before adding all the rest of the ingredients. The final dough was a little greasy feeling to me. This could have been caused by the large amounts of olive oil and butter that went into the dough. Doesn’t this sound like an interesting bread so far?

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I chose to do an overnight rise in the fridge, and I have to say, there was no apparent rise when I looked at them this morning. I began to be a little anxious that this bread was not going to turn out well. Nevertheless, I pressed on and set it in a warm place to rise for a couple of hours.

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This bread is reminiscent of a foccacia. It’s flat, and you cut slits in it to create its final shape. The traditional shape is these crosses to symbolize Christ. I chose to do three crosses to further symbolize the trinity and also because I think they fit better in my more oval shaped breads.

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The bread ended up puffing nicely and baked up rather well. It has a nice brown crust when you pull it out.

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Then, you brush the breads with clarified butter and cover them with a fine coating of sugar. I am pretty happy with the way they look, but how do they taste?

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They taste like nothing I have ever had before. Ever. The orange blossom water gives the bread a wonderful floral aroma. Unlike many of the sweet breads I have been baking lately, this one actually has a crusty crust, but the inside of the bread is soft and citrusy with the citron and orange. The anise seed is not too overpowering (I was really worried about that) and lends a nice texture to the softness of the crumb. Biting into it is a little like biting into a freshly made doughnut; slightly crispy on the outside and soft and flavorful on the inside. It’s not as airy as I would like, but it is not dense either. Next time, I might try letting them proof a bit longer or maybe this is the way it’s supposed to be. In any case, I still have a lot of orange blossom water left, so I think I am going to have try this again. I can’t wait until the husband tries it. I think he’s going to love it.