Saturday, March 7, 2009

Good Bread, Bad Bread

I had a wonderfully successful day of baking though there were some setbacks.  For starters, I realized early on that I would not be able to bake all that I planned.  I decided to remove baguettes from my baking, and I'm glad that I made that choice.  Overseeing three breads was plenty for one day!  
Oddly enough, the breads that I am most familiar with had the poorest showing.  I had a few guests over this afternoon, lost track of time, and overbaked the Rosemary Bread and Honey-Wheat Sandwich Loaves!  Oh well.  I suppose that's how it goes sometimes.
The focaccia worked out quite well.  However, I'm not convinced that it's any better than the recipe I usually use (in fact, I think my normal recipe may have a slightly better texture).  It certainly takes more time to prepare, but it is quite delicious.  I tested it with some friends, and they all seemed to like it.  
The recipe I used today for the focaccia is as follows:


1 1/2 cups room-temperature water (68 - 76 degrees F)
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup bread flour

Remaining Ingredients
2 1/4 cups bread flour plus extra for dusting
4 tsp extra-virgin olive oil plus extra as  needed
2 tsp table salt
Coarse salt or salt flakes for garnishing (I think sea salt would be nice)

To make the sponge, combine the water and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook or in a large mixing bowl.  Stir until the yeast is dissolved.  Stir in the flour to make a soft batter about the consistency of pancake batter.  Mix by hand until very smooth. 

Cover the bowl and let rise in a warm place until the sponge is thick and foamy and nearly doubled in size, about 3 hours.
To make the final dough, add the bread flour, 4 tsp olive oil, and table salt.   Mix and knead the dough with the dough hook on medium speed until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and let rise in a warm place until nearly doubled in size, about 40 minutes.
Fold the dough over on itself by lifting the edges up and over the center.  Cover and allow to relax for another 15 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Coat a baking sheet liberally with olive oil.
Turn the dough out onto a well-floured work surface and, using your palms, gently stretch the dough into a rectangle that is an even 1 inch thick and nearly the same dimensions as your baking sheet.  Avoid tearing or puncturing the dough with your fingertips.  Transfer to the baking sheet, cover, and let rise until the dough springs back slowly to the touch but does not collapse, about 40 minutes.


Use your fingertips to gently dimple the surface of the focaccia and drizzle with additional olive oil.  Scatter with the coarse salt or other toppings if desired.  
Bake until the focaccia has a golden brown crust and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, 25 - 30 minutes.  Let cool completely on wire racks. 

(I forgot the photograph the finished product until after it was half eaten!)

A few notes:
  • The dough was much stickier than expected.  By making a point to completely coat my hands in flour I was able to handle the dough more easily, but it was still quite difficult to deal with.
  • After stretching the dough into the shape of the final loaf I had some difficulty moving it from the floured cutting board to the oiled baking sheet.  If I had to do it over again I would stretch it on a pizza board so I could carefully slide it off.
  • If I make this bread again I will make a point to shape the dough more carefully before baking.  I like the rustic look I ended up with, but I think it will have that appearance even if it is a bit more uniform.  
  • I'm also interested in trying various toppings: perhaps rosemary and caramelized onions.
The final product had a strong yeasty flavor and was pleasantly chewy.  Charlie (my husband and primary taste tester) noted that it was fluffy and quite salty.  I used kosher salt this time, but I think flaky sea salt might have a better flavor.  

More to come on this weekend's baking...

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