Daily Archives: January 9, 2008

Our not-so-daily bread: Focaccia

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The longer you let the dough laze through its final rise, the fluffier it’ll be in the end.

Kathy Galarneau, the wife, thinks there’s no finer way to spend an afternoon than picking sour cherries in an orchard in Burt.

I hate to cook. Yet somehow, despite being married to a man who adores concocting tasty meals, I wind up drudging through kitchen duty on a regular basis. You’d think he’d do me the courtesy of loading the dishwasher afterwards but no, not even that.

My repertoire is small. I’m grateful for fish sticks and bags of frozen vegetables. I’m feeding three children, two of whom won’t eat tomatoes (other than what comes on pizza), just about any sauce, and anything with black pepper on it.

I hate to cook.

But I love to bake. Cookies, bread and cake.

One way to get the kids drooling (and even Andrew) is a focaccia recipe from The Best Recipe by the editors of Cooks Illustrated. Those are the people who try out 101 variations of the same recipe, altering one ingredient a quarter-teaspoon at a time to find the best one.

Of course, in the end taste is subjective. Their white cake recipe calls for four teaspoons of baking powder. Yuck.

But their focaccia recipe is fabulous.

Focaccia
1-1/3 cup cooked grated potato
1/2 teaspoon dried yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil (for the dough, more for greasing the pan and adding to the top of the dough)
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

First you take one large potato and nuke it until it is tender. I’ll be honest – I have not tested the difference between a white and a russet. I’ve used both.

Once it is tender you have to let it cool down. Warm, room temperature, or cold – it doesn’t seem to matter.

Peel off the skin and grate the potato. You need about 1-1/3 cups of grated potato.
Then, make a starter with 1-1/2 teaspoons of yeast, 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup warm water. Warm water, in the world of bread making, means between 105F and 115F.

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Mix those together with a fork or whisk in the bowl you are going to use to mix up the dough. Then cover it with plastic wrap. Let it sit for about 20 minutes. It will foam and rise a bit.

After 20 minutes add: 1/2 cup warm water, 2 tablespoons olive oil, the grated potato and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt (thereabouts).

Then it’s time to add the flour. When it comes to making bread I rarely dump in all the flour at once. This recipe calls for 3-1/2 cups of all-purpose flour. I have never tried it with bread flour so don’t know if that would change the taste or texture. I’ve never used anything but all-purpose.

I prefer to mix the dough in my standing mixer with the dough hook. You can mix it with a wooden spoon, too. It just requires more muscle.

You’ve already used 1/2 cup of that flour in the starter so dump in 2 to 2-1/2 cups of flour and mix it together. Keep adding flour until it isn’t sticky. If you are using a mixer keep adding the flour until it hangs in a cohesive hunk and doesn’t ooze off the hook.

If you are kneading it by hand you should transfer it to a lightly floured counter once the ingredients are mixed together. Then knead it and knead it and knead it some more. It needs to be smooth and elastic.

Put a tablespoon of olive oil into a clean bowl and then add the dough. Toss it to coat the dough. Cover it with a towel and put it someplace warm to rise. It’s supposed to double in size.

I usually preheat the oven to warm and then put the covered bowl into the oven and turn it off. Especially in the winter, it’s hard to find a warm spot in my house.

Don’t try and rush this recipe. It needs plenty of rise time.
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Once it rises to double its size, spread it out on a cookie sheet greased with olive oil. Or you can use a Silpat, a nonstick reusable pan liner, without the oil.
Then brush olive oil over the top, sprinkle with kosher salt and some crushed rosemary, fresh or dried, if you like.

At this stage, it’s good to let it rise for as long as you can. The puffier it gets the more tender it bakes up. I usually let it rise on top of the oven and rotate the tray after a half hour or so.

After it is to the height that you want, or you can’t wait any longer, pre-heat the over to 425F. Bake the focaccia until it is golden brown (about 25 minutes in my oven).

Let it cool enough so that you don’t burn your mouth when you eat it. Then enjoy.

I’ve seen recipes that use focaccia in place of sandwich bread and I guess you can use this or even top it with bruschetta.

If there is any left.

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