Thursday, November 17, 2016

Focaccia Bread

 Whenever we're shopping at Meijer's, Mom heads straight for the bakery to see if they have focaccia bread. A few months ago they told us it was discontinued but recently we've been able to find it again. She prefers a focaccia with herbs and cheese on the top.

 I decided I would try to make it. I couldn't find the recipe Meijer's uses but I found a basic focaccia recipe that I thought could be easily modified. This Easiest Focaccia Recipe was my jumping off point.

 I have to admit that what sparked my interest this week was a program I watched on PBS's "Create" channel. Lidia Bastianich is certainly one of my favorite TV chefs and I usually lust after her easy Italian recipes. So I also made use of the techniques Lidia showed, though not her recipe.

 A few hours later I took a lovely pan of a herb focaccia out of the oven that exceeded my wildest hopes. "That's the best thing you ever made," Mom said.

Focaccia Bread with Parmesan Cheese

 The bread is straightforward and simple but it takes some time due to two rises of the dough. There are only six ingredients (plus herbs and cheese):

1 teaspoon white sugar
1 package active dry yeast (0.25 ounce)
1/3 cup warm water
2 cups bread flour (all-purpose flour should be fine)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (olive oil is traditional)
1/4 teaspoon salt

 The yeast is proofed by adding it to the 1/3 cup of warm water into which a teaspoon of white sugar has been dissolved. Set it aside and in 5-10 minutes it should be foaming. At that point it's ready to add to the dry ingredients.

 In a large bowl combine the yeast mixture with herbs. I used 1/2 teaspoon each of parsley (home-grown), sage and thyme. I used a whole teaspoon of rosemary and this is a traditional focacchia ingredient and one of Mom's favorites.
 Add additional water gradually until the dough is workable but still a bit sticky.

 I mixed this with a large spoon and then turned the sticky dough out onto a floured pastry cloth for kneading. After a minute or two of working the dough, it looked like the above picture.
 I washed the same bowl I made the dough in, thoroughly oiled it and placed the dough ball into it. I turned the dough over so both sides were liberally covered with oil. [Focaccia bread is often called Olive Oil Bread]
 I covered the bowl with a damp cloth and placed it in a warm spot for an hour.

  After an hour of rising, this is what the dough looked like. It spread out and doubled in size.
 I punched the dough down and kneaded it again and the placed it on an oiled (non-stick) cookie sheet. Our cookie sheet measures 12 x 15.5".

 It doesn't seem possible that the dough ball can be worked into such a large size. But I worked the dough into a rectangle while still on the pastry cloth. I merely used my hands and fingers. No rolling pin needed. When I had it about half the needed size, I transferred the rectangle to the cookie sheet and worked it out to its full size.
 Note: the cookie sheet needs to be liberally oiled. I used a non-stick pan so the focaccia wouldn't have stuck anyway but the oil is necessary for a true crispy focaccia crust.
 If it's a little resistant to stretching that far, give it a few minutes to rest.I just pulled, prodded and pressed it into the full size of the cookie sheet.
 Liberally coat the top of the dough with oil. It should shine if you've added enough. Just use your fingers or a pastry brush (I don't have one).
 Then, poke holes in the dough with a finger. Some recipes call for the holes to go the whole way through the dough; others suggest just deep dimples. I did a little of both, depending on how thick the dough was. The holes give the focaccia its traditional look and also allow gas to escape while it bakes.
 Sprinkle the salt on the top. I used a large crystal "pretzel" salt and just pinched some and distributed it by hand.
 Now allow this to rise a second time briefly. It's suggested to cover it with plastic wrap but I didn't. How can it dry out if oiled? I probably waited no more than 15-20 minutes.

 I baked it at 475° for 20 minutes. I turned the pan around half-way through the baking (our oven bakes hotter at the back). Also, about five minutes before it was finished, I took it out and added shredded Parmesan to the top. I might have been able to add this at the start but I was afraid it would burn. In the last five minutes, the Parmesan melted and spread across the top.

  The recipe says to bake only 10 minutes for a "moist and fluffy" focaccia, 20 minutes for the more traditional crispy crust. I do not think mine would have been done in ten minutes.

 Allow the bread to cool a bit before cutting.

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