Let’s get decadent! Ok, so maybe not really decadent. It’s just simply bread with a foreign sound to it. I do notice that a lot of people get intimidated when it comes to cooking outside their normal repertoire, especially when it’s something in a foreign language. There’s really no need for that, it’s so incredibly simple. I do it all the time, I even write this blog in my second language! :)
This focaccia hits all the right spots for me. It’s a fluffy bread with a perfect amount of crunch, it has deep and pure flavors and -not totally unimportant- it’s real easy to make while still looking impressive enough to serve at get-togethers.
As Julia Child put it so beautifully, “If I can do it, you can do it. Here’s how to do it“.
3 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp yeast (I use instant)
2 tbsp honey (or sugar)
2 tsp salt (I like it a little salty, you can use less)
2 or 3 garlic cloves
coarse sea salt
1 cup water
3 tbsp oil
Optional: red onion
Optional: black olives, sliced
Now you can do it all by hand, just mix things up and start kneading. But since I’m a lazy cook, I use my food processor, which speeds the dough making process up remarkably!
First off, grab a really big bowl and lightly oil it. This will prevent the dough from sticking to the sides once it rises. Then I grab my measuring spoons! I got these from Frauke -a Dutch girl living in the US- who was sweet enough to pick them up and sent them to me. So I got the kitchenaid spoons covered now, all that’s left is to buy the actual kitchenaid :)
Measure 3 and a half cups plain white flour. Or whole wheat flower, whatever makes your skirt fly up.
Put the flour, yeast (room temperature) and salt in the food processor and blitz for a few seconds. I always use instant yeast, just can’t be bothered with having to proof the yeast and all that ‘fun’ stuff. I want it fast, simple and fool-proof. When you use a different kind of yeast, check the package for instructions on how much to use. If you use fresh yeast, you probably know what you’re doing and you won’t be needing my instructions. If you’re going to use sugar in stead of honey (nooo, why would you do that. Why, I ask you?), add it now as well.
Tip: store your yeast in the fridge, it’ll keep longer! Just make sure to let it come to room temperature before you use it. This is salt, btw *points down*
Add the oil, honey and pulsate. I’m using one of my latest ‘great finds‘ here. Cuban honey with a hint of lemon. It’s so amazing, I wish I could bathe myself in it!
The water. There are official temperatures for it, but seriously, who would actually stick a thermometer in a cup of hot water? Answer: practically no one. It’s crazy. Hot water will kill the yeast and cold water will prevent the dough from rising. So get yourself something in between. Water that is pretty warm, but still comfortable to touch. It’s that simple. Now pour in the water and blitz. I don’t know why, I just jump at every chance I get to use the word blitz. Sorry ’bout that.
The dough will form into a ball. If it won’t ball up (I like that phrase), add water one tablespoon at a time until it does. If it’s too batter-like, do the same with flour. Here’s what mine looked like when I took it out.
Sprinkle a little flour on top of your cutting board or counter top and transfer the dough. Now work it! Start kneading. Resist the urge to add flour if you think it’s too sticky, at least until you have kneaded for a while. The dough is supposed to be a little sticky at first, you can always put a little flour on your hands, though, and knead until it’s not as sticky anymore. Don’t limit your kneading time – the longer, the better. The kneading helps built the gluten that make your dough rise and will make it fluffy. Keep a minimum of 2 minutes, but 5 minutes is better.
This is it! You’re done. Only a few minutes of real work. Not too shabby, eh?
Put the dough in the oiled bowl and here’s my little secret. Grab a cloth or tea towel and get it damp. Just stick it under running water (I use very hot water), wring it, and then place it on top of the bowl. I have no idea why I do this. No really, I honestly have no idea. It’s one of those family things that go from mother to daughter, but my dough never fails so something has to be right about it. You can also place your dough on a lightly floured cutting board and place a bowl on top. But everyone does that. You don’t want to be like everyone else, do you? Now put the dough somewhere warm and draft-free and leave it alone.
Now wait. It’s gonna be a long wait, so you might want to take a hot bath or something now. Pick your kid off the dining room table, pour yourself a glass of wine and kick back. After all, you’ve earned it after those 5 minutes of intense and hard labor!
After a while -I usually let my dough rise for an hour and a half, but an hour will do fine as well- the dough will have doubled in size. Punch it down, just get the air out and put the cloth back on. Sometimes dough takes a little longer to rise, keep that in mind.
That’s my grandmother’s wedding ring you see on my finger, been wearing it since I was 16 and never took it off. The date inside says 1-2-’39. Just thought I’d share :)
Now go pick your herbs! Get green with me.
During the second rise, it’s time to make your flavored oil. Use a mortar and pestle, or just a cutting board and dough pin/ heavy bottle (get creative). Sprinkle some coarse salt on top of the rosemary, add a few garlic cloves -no need to take the skin off- and start bashing. Go ahead, release some anger! Feel better now?
Transfer it to a bowl, pour about 3 to 4 tbsp olive oil in there, and set aside. You might want to cover it, though. The garlic scent can be rather strong.
Once the dough has risen, it’s time to get serious. Now you can use a multitude of things to bake it in, cookie sheets, a plain rack or even a Dutch oven (so I’ve been told). I always use a large oven dish. Just flatten the dough a bit first.
Put it in the oven dish and start pushing your fingers into it all over. You want to create little holes, so push deep into the dough, but be careful not to push all the way through.
The bonus of creating those characteristic holes is that once you squeeze the oil on top, it will create little flavored oil puddles which tastes fantastic. Just grab the herbs and squeeze the oil over the bread, get it all in there. Remove the garlic and some of the rosemary leaves. The flavor is in the oil, so they’re pretty redundant now. Don’t you just love getting your hands dirty like this? It’s almost therapeutic.
Now you can sprinkle some coarse sea salt on top, put it in a hot oven and this will come out absolutely fabulous. I promise.
But if you want to take this whole thing to a higher level, here’s what you do. Push some red onion and black olive slices (or even sun-dried tomatoes) into the dough. That simple, but it turns it into a whole different focaccia. Looks pretty, no?
Preheat your oven to 400 (200C) and while your oven is warming up, let the dough rest and rise once more for about 15 to 30 minutes. Bake for 20 minutes or until the bread is golden brown.
I love serving this bread alongside a pasta dish. They really compliment each other and it gives a basic meal just that little extra something (not to mention it’s a great way to eat the leftover sauce without having to lick your plate:)