Monday, February 8, 2010

In Praise of Focaccia

Jeremy's birthday was this weekend.  Unlike me, he was not cursed with a sweet tooth, so in lieu of cake he opted for some fresh baked focaccia.  This time with some thinly sliced tomatoes and rosemary from the hearty plant out front.  There are many good things about making focaccia from scratch.

The yeasty and warm smell of dough rising


The aroma of fresh baked bread permeating your house for the whole day


and most importantly,


The totally kicked up creations you can make with the leftovers.


My favorite recipe I've found so far comes from the Nordstrom Friends and Family Cookbook:

2 packages active dry yeast
2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
1 Tbsp sugar
5 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
fresh ground black pepper


In a bowl, using a wooden spoon, stir together the yeast, water, sugar and 2 Tbsp of the flour.  Let stand until foamy, about ten minutes.  In a large bowl, stir together 5 cups of the flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt, then form a well in the center. Pour the yeast mixture into the well along with two Tbsp of the olive oil.  Stir with a wooden spoon, incorporating the ingredients until a soft dough forms.  Use floured hands to mix the dough when it becomes too stiff to work with a spoon.
Dust a work surface with the remaining flour (about 1 1/2 Tbsp).  Turn the dough out onto the work surface and knead ten minutes, adding the flour if the dough becomes too sticky.  When the dough is smooth and elastic, shape it into a ball and place it back into the bowl with 1 Tbsp of the olive oil.  Turn the dough once to coat.  Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and allow the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 30 to 45 minutes.  Punch it down, cover, and allow to rise again in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 35 minutes longer.
Use 1 Tbsp of the oil to grease an 11 x 15 inch rimmed baking sheet.  On a lightly floured work surface, spread and press the dough flat until it is about the same size as the baking sheet.  Place in the prepared pan.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise one last time until doubled in bulk, about 15 minutes.  Poke a pattern in the dough with your fingertips.  Position your oven rack in the middle to upper two thirds of your oven and preheat to 425.
Sprinkle dough with the rosemary, remaining teaspoon of salt, and pepper.  Drizzle evenly with the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil and bake 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown.  Serve hot.


This recipe looks long.  It might look complicated.  It isn't!!  Even if you are a novice baker, you've got a great shot at impressing even your most skeptical relatives with this one.  A few changes I've made to the recipe:
Mix an additional teaspoon of chopped rosemary and one thinly sliced clove of garlic into the dough.
When dough has been formed and pressed into the baking sheet, additionally top it with thinly sliced tomatoes, a sprinkling of grated parmesan or a white/yellow cheese of your choice.  Also, do you want this to be even easier?  Good.  Me too.  That's why I do ALL the mixing and ALL the kneading in my stand mixer.  If you have one, please use it.  Unless of course you need to unleash some stress and make that dough pay with your hands and you just dare someone to try to stop you...

Here to our left you will notice maybe the most superb methods of transforming your leftover day or two-day-old focaccia into pure bliss.  It's also super easy.  After you've had enough morning coffee to avoid cutting yourself, split a square piece of focaccia about the size of your hand into two thin layers.  One top and one bottom.  We're making a sandwich- not a rocket.
Toss a piece of breakfast meat into a skillet on medium.  Country ham is about as quick, easy and delicious as it gets.  Canadian bacon is a tasty and more calorie-conscious choice, but man would some bacon be sublime!
Cook until it's done (a matter of a minute and a half for country ham!) and put it on your bottom layer.  Cut the cheese.  I know I am juvenile, but I get my smiles where I can, okay?  Use a sharp cheese that is full fat for optimum results.  Top the bread and meat with the cheese and put in your toaster oven or oven just until the cheese melts.  Take it out carefully.  While it gets toasty, fry up one egg.  I like my whites firm and my yolks runny and saucy!  Egg goes on top of ham and cheese, sliced tomato goes on top of egg, fresh ground pepper, top with focaccia half, WHAMMO.  You'll love me for this, I promise.

Still have a little leftover bread the next day?  Me too.  So I have a pot of soup on that I plan on topping with these little beauties before polishing off a nice big bowl.
Homemade croutons take almost no effort and the flavor payoff is fantastic.  Avoid buying croutons if you can.  They're even delicious made from stale store bought bread.  Cut into cubes, toss in a Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, season to taste, bake at 450 for ten minutes or until golden brown.  Shake the pan once during cooking to ensure even browning.

If you have read all the way down to this point, I congratulate you!  Thanks for staying tuned.  I can't wait to hear how your bread turns out!

-Melody



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2 comments:

Cinnamon-Girl♥ said...

Your focaccia sounds delicious - especially topped with tomatoes. And your ideas for the leftovers have my mouth watering! Focaccia is going on my menu this week for sure.

Melody Ann said...

Awesome! I'd love to hear how it turns out.