I decided to go for it.

Girl in the world…but mostly Illinois


Leave a comment

Basic Focaccia Bread

The weather finally cooled down this week. You know what that means? FALL! It also means NOT HAVING TO WAIT TO USE THE OVEN UNTIL AFTER 8PM! Thank goodness. Welcome back, the most wonderful of Seasons. I will celebrate your return with a slew of baked goods.

I find baking extremely satisfying. And there’s something about baking bread that really makes me feel like I’m taking care of business. Like, really providing. Reflecting on why I feel this way, I think it might have something to do with years of church-going. I also really enjoy wine as well as sharing a meal with others. Apparently Communion left a mark on my young, impressionable eating habits.

If a grainy wheat bread was representative of a well balanced meal, focaccia bread would be splurge-worthy take out. The melt in your mouth consistency of focaccia comes from the addition of quite a bit of olive oil. So much so, that if it were known by any other name I don’t see how it could not be called Olive Oil Bread. Different bakeries have their own take on focaccia (some recipes are more oily or salty than others) but this here is a basic recipe that’s perfect for adapting to your own preferences.

Foccacia

It seems like people shy away from making bread because they don’t know how to eyeball whether a dough needs more flour or not. For this recipe, if you’re using a stand mixer the dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl. It should feel a little rubbery at first touch but get sticky of it’s held for too long.

Dough

Little bread dimples are a focaccia trademark. Yes, they’re cute but functionally they provide pooling nooks to evenly incorporate excess olive oil.

Once the dough is effectively drenched, you add your toppings. This loaf was topped with flaky sea salt (Maldon), freshly cracked pepper, and rosemary from the garden. Simple and delicious. Other topping options include, but are certainly not limited to: caramelized onions, cherry tomatoes, a brushing of pesto, roasted garlic, olives, roasted red peppers, grapes, or sesame seeds.

IMG_0445

Golden, flaky glory! This particular loaf barely had a chance to cool down before before it met it’s end.

Bread

Easy Focaccia Bread
Recipe adapted from Anne Burrell. This dough requires two rises, so the recipe ends up taking about 3 hours from start to finish.

1 3/4 cups warm water
1 package active dry yeast
1 tablespoon warmed honey
5-6 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup olive oil, plus a little more
Coarse sea salt
Black pepper
Fresh rosemary, chopped

Combine warm water, yeast, and warm honey in a small bowl. Stir it all up and let it sit for 15 minutes or so, until there’s a thick, yeasty froth on the surface.

In a mixer fitted with a dough hook (or if you don’t have one, put it all in a bowl, you poor fool) add 5 cups of flour, the tablespoon of salt, 1/2 cup of olive oil, and the yeast mixture. Let it mix on a low speed for 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and uniform. At this point, add flour until the dough reaches the desired consistency. It should feel a little rubbery at first touch but get a sticky of it’s held for too long (picture above).

Move the dough into a bowl that’s been coated with olive oil (just reuse the mixing bowl), cover the bowl with a damp towel, and let it sit some place warm until the dough has doubled in size (should take about an hour).

Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil into a cookie sheet with a lip. Stretch and press the dough out with your fingers until it’s evenly spread across the pan. Then, flip the dough over so both sides of the loaf-to-be are coated with oil. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and let it sit for it’s second rise, which should take about an hour.

About 45 minutes into the second rise, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

When the dough is done rising, flip it over again in the pan to get it all oiled up. Use your fingertips to make dimples in the dough by pressing down to the bottom of the pan. Now add your chosen toppings. I added coarse sea salt, cracked pepper, and fresh rosemary.

Bake the focaccia for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. When it’s ready to come out, let it cool a few minutes before slicing and serving.

 

 


6 Comments

Challah at your girl!

Baking my own bread is something I’ve been slow to get into. For years I stuck with quick breads, then I moved to beer bread (which is pretty much a quick bread because the dough doesn’t need to rise), and did a little flat bread and pizza dough-ing. The thing is that all that tastes great but it doesn’t look like much. But you know what looks awesome? Challah bread. All braided and beautifully golden! A true show stopper.

And guess what- though it’s kinda time intensive (with all that rising and rising again), it’s surprisingly easy to put together. So here we go. Step-by-step with pics:

First, mix the yeast, warm water, and sugar. Put it aside for 10 minutes or so…let the yeast do it’s thing and froth up. That's the yeast, baby!

Whisk up the flour, salt, and sugar in a mixing bowl. Make a little “well” in the middle. Crack 2 eggs and an additional yolk into the well (save the white of the last egg for later). Add the olive oil. As you whisk the oil and eggs, start incorporating a little flour, aka make an “egg slurry”. Well 'o eggs

Pour in the yeasty water and incorporate the rest of the flour until the dough looks “shaggy”. Set up the bread hook attachment on a stand mixer (if you have it) or get ready to bust out the muscles. This is what "shaggy" looks like

Mix/knead the dough for 6-8 minutes, adding in additional flour until you get a “silky” ball. Broken lock...

Place the dough ball in an oiled, covered bowl (that’s big enough for the dough to double in size) and let it rise for about 2 hours. It has risen!

While the dough is rising, start getting together whatever kinds of mix-ins you want to use. The recipe I was working off used a fig spread so I was about to go sweet and do a sugar and spice mixture when my sister assured me “savory” was the way to go. I took her advice and went with a grilled onion-garlic-parmesan-herb mix. YUM.

All the non-dairy mix-ins were sauteed in olive oil but I waited until the mixture was cool to add in the cheese.Mix-ins

Cut the risen dough in half and flatten each piece out into a rough rectangle. Spread the mixture on evenly and roll the dough into 2 long ropes.Roll it up

Each rope ‘o dough is chopped in half and then each of those is stretched out a bit. You want to have 4 pieces of dough that are long enough to weave together. Start with a woven dough cross…Dough cross

Then move the bottom strands to the left, over the top strands. Move the original top strands over to the right. And then…? Just do what you can to make it look pretty. Start weaving

This is the free-styled final product. Looks all right to me!

That doesn't look to bad

Put the dough ball on parchment paper on a baking sheet and give it a first coating of the egg wash. Let it rise for another hour. After the rise, give it a second coating of the egg wash and sprinkle the top with sea salt.Egg-washed and ready

Bake the loaf for 30-35 minutes and you’ve got beautiful and delicious homemade challah bread!Done!

Adaptable Challah Bread Recipe

Bread
2 teaspoons active dry  or instant yeast
1 teaspoon sugar or honey (plus 1/4 cup more if making a sweet bread)
1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for the bowl
2 large eggs, plus 1 more yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed (I know this is vague but it’s about how the dough feels)

SAVORY Filling Option: Onions and Herbs
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup parmesan cheese

SWEET Filling Option: Fig (from Smitten Kitchen)
1 cup stemmed and roughly chopped dried figs
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest, or more as desired
1/4 cup orange juice
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Few grinds black pepper

Egg wash
1 egg white
Coarse or flaky sea salt, for sprinkling

Do It

  • Activate the yeast: mix the yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar/honey into 2/3 cup of warm water. This needs to sit until there’s a nice frothy layer on top…like 10 minutes or so.
  • Get the dough ingredients together: whisk the flour and salt together in a mixing bowl. Make a little well in the middle of the flour and crack in 2 eggs plus one more egg yolk (save the egg white for the egg wash).
  • Make the dough: whisk the eggs and slowly incorporate some of the surrounding flour. Add the yeast mixture. Bring in more and more flour until it’s all been incorporated but it’s not totally homogenous…the dough should look “shaggy” at this point.
  • Knead the dough: if you’re using a stand mixer, set up the bread hook attachment. If you’re working by hand (I feel your pain and admire your guns), start kneading. The dough should be worked for 6-8 minutes. Here’s the tricky part: you need to keep adding flour until the dough looks right. I’m still trying to figure what exactly this means myself, but here’s what other people have to say on the subject: MY DAD- “Add flour until the dough feels silky and it stops pulling at the bottom of the mixing bowl”. MARCELLA HAZAN (of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking): Dough should be “smooth and elastic. It should spring back when poked with a finger”. When you’ve got the best dough you can manage, roll it into a ball and place it in an oiled, covered bowl to rise for 1.5-2 hours (until it doubles in size).
  • While the dough is rising, start the filling: saute the onions in butter for 3 minutes or so. Add the garlic, herbs, salt, and pepper and saute for 2 more minutes. Let cool. When the mixture is at room temperature add in the cheese.
  • Add the filling and make dough ropes: turn the risen dough out on a floured surface. Cut it in half. Roll out each ball into a rough rectangle. Spread the filling out on the top of the dough and roll it up, hotdog style. Cut each of the ropes in half. Pinch the ends of the ropes so the filling can’t get out and stretch them out so they’re about a foot and a half long.
  • Weave the ropes: start with two ropes side by side- one set in a vertical direction and the other horizontal so they’re like a woven cross (see the pics). Move the bottom strands to the left (over the top strands). Then move the original top strands to the left. Then do what you have to do to make it look pretty. If you’re looking for more direction (or would like to try a 6 stranded braid), check out The Kitchn.
  • Second rise: move the dough ball to a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Give it a coating of egg wash and let it rise for 1 hour. *45 minutes in to the rise, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  • Final touches: give the dough a second coat of egg wash and sprinkle the loaf with salt.
  • Bake: for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. If you notice the top of the loaf is getting too dark, cover it with tinfoil.
  • EAT!: Wait until the loaf just a little warm and dig in.