Sunday, February 8, 2009

Focaccia (Italian flat-bread)

Focaccia is an Italian flat-bread made with yeast and olive oil, and infused with herbs, in my case, rosemary. My first experience with this hearty bread was when Saadnah and Hanna came to Liverpool and Saadnah went straight into the posh Italian cafe round the corner from my flat called Puccino's and ordered focaccia sandwich. We couldn't resist the temptation to sample that very tasty looking grub, it was so delicious!

So after searching all over the internet for the correct recipe, the correct method, what a good focaccia actually is, etc etc etc.... I came across this recipe at Epicurious, taken from The Bread Bible - and being a faithful Christian of course I have to follow what the Bible says!!! So here it goes...

  • 1 1/4 cup Organic strong white bread flour (bought it at Matta's)
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (also known as rapid-rise or bread machine yeast)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • 1 1/2 cups water, room temperature (20 to 25°C)
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 cup plus 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh whole rosemary needles
  • 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt (I used <u>Italian</u> coarse sea salt from Matta's)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In essence, there are 4 ways of making the dough: using a stand mixer (how I long for that KitchenAid, will be one of the first things I buy with my first pay check!), using a bread maker, using a food processor (which I do, it's the <i>fastest and most efficient way</i> says my experienced sources), or traditionally.... by hand! Guide on making the dough can be found on Epicurious. I also read that salt will kill the yeast, so I didn't add salt into the dough until everything else is mixed (once flour and yeast are mixed it's okay apparently). This will produce a very wet and sticky dough, the only downset to using food processor since I had to remove the dough onto a floured surface (yeap, verrryyy carefully peeling that sticky dough from the blade) and knead for a further 4-5 mins. Careful not to add too much extra flour to the dough!

First rise. Lightly oil a large glass bowl with the extra-virgin olive oil (I've put a small amount of extra virgin olive oil on a small bowl that I can easily use) using a pastry brush, then transfer your dough, lightly brush with olive oil. Wrap with cling film, let it rise for 30 mins in a warm place (by the radiator, or you can put it in a cold oven, with the light switched on, you can switch on the fan too). Basically from here onwards, whenever you want to handle the dough, don't add more flour or else your bread will be hard, so after the first 30 mins, I oiled my hands and the work surface. Stretch the bottom part of the dough and fold it up to centre, rotate 90 degrees, do the same for all 4 sides (this is called a package fold). Round it up, smooth side up, lightly oil with olive oil, cover with cling film. Let it rise til it doubles in size, a further 30mins-1 hour.

The yeast will continue rising the dough (CO2) but your dough won't be able to hold its shape once it has expanded to more than 2x its original size, the dough will "explode" and flop. And you'll end up with a very dense bread, so they say~~~

Shaping and second rise. Lightly oil a baking pan (I use a rectangular pan). Transfer dough into your work surface, and shape it so it fits the baking pan. Brush the dough with olive oil again. Cover with cling film, let it rise til it doubles in size - about 1 hour.

Baking the bread! Finally, the bit that you've been waiting for. While the dough is comfortably rising by your heater (what an excuse to turn up the heater in your house heheh), turn the oven on to 250C (max temperature in my oven), it has to be blazingly hot hot hot... Put a cast-iron pan or a heavy baking pan at the bottom of the oven, and put the rack in the middle.

The dough, once it has risen, dimple the dough all over with your fingertips, sprinkle coarse sea salt and black pepper, glaze it with olive oil, and put your rosemary stalks (I put the rosemary in every dimple, so cute!).

Quickly open the oven door, put ice cubes into that hot pan at the bottom of the oven (it will make a steam so as your bread doesn't dry out), and quickly put your bread there.

Bake at 250C for about 15 minutes until it turns golden brown. Transfer it to a cooling rack so the bottom crust doesn't become soggy. Once cooled down, serve. Or in my case, we frantically looked for (and eventually invented) a paper bag to keep it til the next day.

So the minimum rising time will be 2 1/2 hour, baking time 15 minutes. In between the breadmaking process, my flatmate and I went to the cinema - so to prevent my dough bursting and flopped I chilled it in the fridge (after the first rise), it will slow down the yeast.

The verdict.... well my flatmate is Italian and he's quite picky. And he loves it! hehe =D I made him a chicken sandwich for lunch the next day.

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