25 December, 2013

Focaccia Bread

Bread is my Achilles' heel...  I have a slight gluten sensitivity but I just canNOT lay off a good slice or LOAF of bread.  I'm sure I'm not the only one in history, and thank the Lord I am not the only one in this house.  The Sprout is totally in love with bread.  "Momma bread" (my homemade plain ol' sandwich bread with oats), "Square bread" (even though it is round, this is what he calls my Focaccia bread), and "Toast bread" (every other bread on the planet that isn't Momma bread or Square bread.  He will eat any or ALL of it ANY time of the day.  If we let him, he would eat nothing BUT bread.  A little bit of a parenting fail there...

My Momma has been baking Focaccia bread for decades now which is where I first tried it.  Every baker seems to have their own formula for the perfect chew on the dough, but NO one ever has the same spice combination for the top.  I can safely say this recipe seasoning is MY recipe lol...and no one elses'.  I spent quite a long time in my kitchen figuring out the old school way the Italians do this bread, then reading articles from well known places like King Arthur Flour and America's Test Kitchen, and I also tried to couple it with MY reality of time in the kitchen.  I will tell you now, the "sponge" (or base) for this dough has to be made at least 8 hours to a WHOLE DAY before you make the bread, and the rising and kneading process is a bit drawn out.  But the resting that the dough gets and the fermenting of the sponge are ALL super important parts to making this bread SING!

Another very important component to this is a baking stone.  I have a round one from my bridal shower that sort of LIVES in my oven.  I free form my loaves on parchment paper and transfer the whole sheet of parchment onto the stone.  Putting the dough almost directly on the stone kind of FRIES the bottom of the loaf, giving it a beautifully crispy exterior and a SUPER soft inside

Focaccia Bread

1/2 c. flour
1/3 c. warm water
1/4 tsp. rapid rise yeast

24 hour sponge
2 1/2 c. flour
1 1/4 c. warm water
1 tsp. rapid rise yeast

sea salt
6 T. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. granulated garlic
1 T. fresh rosemary, chopped finely

To make the sponge, start it the DAY before you need the bread.  Combine flour, water, and yeast in large bowl and stir it with a wooden spoon until a sort of ball of dough forms and no dry flour remains. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature overnight (or at least 8- 24 hours.) Use the sponge  immediately or store in refrigerator for up to 3 days.  

**IF you refrigerate the sponge before using it you need to let it come to room temperature, this can take about 30 minutes.**

Sponge after 24 hour rest

To make the dough stir your flour, water, and yeast into the sponge with wooden spoon until uniform mass is formed and no dry flour remains, about 1 minute. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Sprinkle 2 teaspoons salt over dough; stir into dough until totally incorporated, about 1 minute. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature 30 minutes. Spray rubber spatula with nonstick cooking spray; fold partially risen dough over itself by gently lifting and folding edge of dough toward middle. Turn bowl 90 degrees; fold again. Turn bowl and fold dough 6 more times for a total of 8 turns of the bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. Repeat folding, turning, and rising 2 more times, for total of three 30-minute rises. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position, place baking stone on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees at least 30 minutes before baking.

**DO NOT skip any of these rising periods.  These rests for the dough are just as important as the folding of the dough.  This is what makes the difference between AWESOME focaccia bread and...crap you could have bought at the grocery store.**

Transfer your dough to lightly floured counter. Lightly dust top of dough with flour and divide in half. Shape each piece of dough into 5-inch round by gently tucking under edges. Get yourself a sheet of parchment paper large enough to have both the free form loaves on it and cover the WHOLE baking stone.  Brush two circular areas on the parchment paper with 1 T of olive oil in each spot.  Then sprinkle ½ teaspoon of sea salt on each place that was wet with olive oil. 

Place round of dough on salted oil, top side down; slide dough around in oil to coat, then flip over. Repeat with second piece of dough. Cover dough with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rest for 5 more minutes.

While this is resting take your paprika, granulated garlic, cayenne pepper, rosemary, and remaining 4 T. of olive oil and stir it all together in a small ramekin.  Give the spices a chance to hydrate with some of the olive oil.  Letting them sit in the olive oil for a while will prevent the herbs and spices from burning and turning black during the baking process.  

Using just your fingertips, press dough out toward edges of the rounds.  Using a fork, poke surface of dough 25 to 30 times, popping any large bubbles. Brush seasoning evenly over top of dough with a silicone brush.  Let dough rest again until slightly bubbly, 5 to 10 minutes.

Place parchment paper directly on the baking stone and reduce oven temperature to 450 degrees. Bake until tops are golden brown, 25 to 28 minutes, turning the loaves halfway through baking. Transfer loaves to wire rack and let cool 5 minutes. Remove loaves from pan and return to wire rack. Brush tops with any oil remaining in pan. Let cool 30 minutes before serving.

Focaccia Loaf

Do I have to tell you that this bread doesn't last a day?  Even though we are just a family of 3 (if you only count those on solids...) we blow through a loaf of this like a pack of starving wolves.  I'm not even sure why I serve other food with it anymore.  The bread is always the star of whatever meal it is served in.  A healthy, thick slice...a gob of salted butter and down the hatch!  That is what the Sprout and the Mister do with it...  I, well...I like my focaccia naked.  It really doesn't need a single thing.  If I feel like I want it warm, then I toss it under the broiler on low with a drizzle of olive oil...just the way the Italian Gods meant for it to be.

Try this recipe at least ONCE...and even though it is a total snooze fest of rising and folding, you won't want focaccia any other way ever again.  Play around with your spice combinations, sure.  But the texture of this bread just can't be beat.  Buon appetito!!

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