Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Virgin Voyage with Focaccia

There has to be a first time for everything and I just made my first focaccia. Buoyed by my conquest of pizza dough, I was even more determined to overcome my fear of yeast and move on to bread. If there was a Scoville scale for bread, I'm thinking focaccia would be on the next rung up.

When I pulled my first focaccia out of the oven, it looked like the surface of Mars. Oh, but the aroma! The piney fragrance of the rosemary, the richness of the olive oil. The smell of bread baking -- any kind of bread -- is just heart-warming. No wonder it's so highly recommended for home sellers.

I was so proud. I had to boast to Mr. Rosemary.

"Smells good," says he. "What's so special about it?"

Nothing, really. Except for the fact that I made it.

His innocent question made me want to research it a little more. And I found a lot of information, although I found it curious that many of the sources I read wove their way back to Wikipedia. (What did we do before Wikipedia? It took hours to do what we can now do in mere minutes, that's what.)

Here's what I learned:

  • Focaccia is a flat oven-baked Italian bread that may be topped with other ingredients.
  • It is similar is style and texture to pizza dough, consisting of flour, water, salt, oil and yeast.
  • It is typically rolled or pressed by hand into a thick layer of dough and then baked in a stone-bottom or hearth oven . . . or on a pizza stone.
  • The first focaccia is thought to have been made prior to the Roman Empire by the Etruscans in North Central Italy, or by the ancient Greeks.
  • It takes its names from the Roman phrase "panis foacacius" meaning a flat loaf of bread cooked under the ashes of a fire or upon a hearth.

And there are just as many recipes for focaccia as there are for, well  . . . .  bread. The recipe I chose was probably the most complicated, but only because it called for three rises. It was worth it, although I think I'll go for a simpler one next time. I don't think that's the way the Etruscans made it. 

But this recipe from Simply Recipes was perfect, although lengthy! The bread was great for sandwiches or snacking. I confess it was my breakfast for several mornings. And it does freeze well.  

So, now  I have pizza dough and focaccia under my belt.  Can challah be far behind?

This recipe makes enough for 2 good-sized loaves. You can make it all in free-form loaves that look like puffy pizzas, or shape them into casseroles or cake pans – there are no absolutes on the shape of this bread. The bread takes on the flavor of the olive oil so be sure to use a good quality one. 

Focaccia Bread with Rosemary
1 package dry yeast
1/3 cup warm water, about 100 degrees
2 1/4 cups tepid water
2 Tbsp good quality olive oil, plus more for the pan and to paint on top of the bread
3 cups bread flour
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp salt, plus coarse salt (fleur de sel if you have it, otherwise Kosher salt) for sprinkling over the top
2-3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary 

Stir the yeast into the 1/3 cup of slightly warm-to-the-touch water and let it rest for 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, pour in 2 1/4 cups of tepid water and 2 tablespoons olive oil. After the yeast has rested for 10 minutes and has begun to froth, pour it into the water-oil mixture.

Whisk in 2 cups of flour (either the bread flour or the all purpose; at this stage it doesn't matter which) and the tablespoon of salt. Add the rosemary. Then, cup by cup, whisk in the rest of the flour (both the bread flour and all purpose). As the mixture goes from a batter to a thick dough, you'll want to switch from a whisk to a wooden spoon. By the time you get to the last cup of flour, you will be able to work the dough with your hands. Begin to knead it in the bowl – try to incorporate all the flour stuck to the sides and bottom of the bowl as you begin kneading.

Once the bowl is pretty clean, turn the dough out onto a board and knead it well for 8 minutes. You might need some extra flour if the dough is sticky.

I used my stand mixer for the mixing and kneading of the bread dough. After adding all the flour, cup by cup, I switched to the dough hook and let the machine knead the bread for 8 minutes.

In a large clean bowl, pour in about a tablespoon of oil and put the dough on top of it. Spread the oil all over the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for an hour and a half. It should just about double in size.

Spread a little olive oil in your baking pan or baking sheet (will make it easier to remove the bread). Place the dough in your baking pans or form it into free-form rounds on a baking sheet. This recipe will do two nice-sized loaves or one big one and a little one. Cover the breads and set aside for another 30 minutes.

Dimple the breads with your thumb. Push in to about the end of your thumbnail, roughly 1/2-inch. Cover again and leave it to rise for its final rise, about 2 hours.

With 30 minutes to go before the rise finishes, preheat your oven to 400°F. If you have a pizza stone put it in.

Once the dough has done its final rise, gently paint the top with olive oil – as much as you want. Then sprinkle the coarse salt on top from about a foot over the bread; this lets the salt spread out better on its way down and helps reduce clumps of salt.

Put the bread in the oven. If you are doing free-form breads, put it right on the pizza stone. Bake for a total of 20-25 minutes. If you have a water spritzer bottle, spritz a little water in the oven right before you put the bread in to create steam, and then a couple of times while the bread is baking.

When the bread comes out of the oven, turn it out onto a rack within 3-5 minutes; this way you'll keep the bottom of the bread crispy. Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes before eating.

Makes a large loaf and a small loaf of 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Greek Pizza Reprisal | What's in a Name?

I read a blog a few weeks ago about naming foods and it really struck a chord with me. The writer (forgive me, please, that I really can't remember whose blog it was) went on a minor rant about how we -- that would be bloggers and anyone else who writes about food, creates recipes, writes menus, etc., etc. -- have a tendency to assign a dish a nationality just because of one ingredient, maybe two.

For instance, if it has basil and tomatoes, it's Italian.  Feta and olives? Greek. Cilantro and cumin? Mexican. You get the idea.

Guilty. When I was planning to make a white pizza for a girls night in, I told them my friends we were having a Greek pizza, because (here, I *blush*) I was using feta and olives with tomatoes and spinach. Oh, and oregano.

But what else would I call it?  I know that one ingredient does not a dish make. Soy sauce doesn't make it Chinese  Tarragon doesn't immediately mean French.

I know all this, and, still, I didn't know how else to identify what kind of pizza I was making that other people would readily understand. It's a whole lot simpler  to say "Greek pizza" than to spell out "a pizza with no tomato sauce, no mozzarella or provolone, but spinach, tomatoes, olives and feta." And I knew that's what my guests would understand.

Maybe that's why we cavalierly assign names that really aren't authentic  It's like using cliches; they're handy shortcuts, universally understood.

So we had a Greek pizza.  And the next night, Mr. Rosemary and I had the pasta dish pictured at the top. It wasn't "Greek" because it didn't have feta. But I did have extra spinach and olives from the pizza, so I tossed those in with the warm pasta, fresh tomatoes, and added Parmesan. What would you call that dish? Besides quick, easy and good?

Back to the pizza . . . . I was sure that I'd made a big step towards overcoming my fear of yeast since I  now successfully make my own dough often, even weekly.

But my sister introduced me to a new yeast that Fleischmann's makes called Pizza Crust Yeast and I have to admit, it was very easy, very quick and very good. That's a trio of adjectives I like, no matter how much I like to spend time in the kitchen.

The beauty of this yeast is that it requires no rising. So you can mix up the dough and make the pizza right away. No waiting for anything.  It still needs to be kneaded (don't we all) but there's no waiting.

Problem is I only had one packet of the yeast. Now I need to find more. It's not readily available everywhere yet, so I'll have to keep my eye open for it and buy buckets of it when I do.

I'll still make regular pizza dough, but it's nice to know I have a handy alternative.

There's only one teeny, tiny little problem with the yeast: It makes only 1 12-inch pizza, which Mr. Rosemary could handily eat by himself.

No Rise Pizza Dough
from Fleischmann's
1 3/4 - 2 1/4 cup flour
1 envelope pizza yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup very warm water (120 - 130 degrees F.)
3 tablespoons oil

Combine 1 cup flour, undissolved yeast, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add water and oil.
Mix together until well-blended, about 1 minute
Add 1/2 cup flour gradually until dough forms a ball. Add additional flour if needed, to handle
Spoon dough out of bowl and onto floured surface.  Dough will be slightly sticky.
Knead on floured surface until dough is smooth and elastic, about 4 minutes.
Press out dough to fill a greased pizza pan. Or, if you're like me, and need a rolling pin, roll dough to a 12 inch circle and transfer to a greased pan.
Top as you want with sauce, cheese and toppings.
Bake on bottom oven rack at 425 F or 12 to 15 minutes until cheese on top is bubbly and crust is brown.