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Sunday Kitchen: Making Focaccia From Scratch

If I am stranded on a desert island and forced to choose a food for eternity, I would not hesitate to choose freshly baked bread. That being the case, I decided I should probably be baking more fresh loaves to enjoy while not having to make that unlikely decision.

A recent weekend presented itself with few social commitments and time to try out a new recipe and an old favorite. The projects began on Saturday with the initial mix of yeast doughs that needed to rise overnight, one in the refrigerator and one in a warm spot. I usually cover my dough and place it on a dark pantry shelf overnight or in an unused oven. I’m a big fan of breads that don’t require kneading, as I tend to overwork my bread dough.

I found a no-knead focaccia bread recipe that seemed like something I could tackle. I have wanted to bake focaccia for its flexibility. It can be eaten plain with a little salt and olive oil or served with a variety of garnishes, from fresh herbs to tomatoes and cheese.

The focaccia dough required a sachet of active dry yeast, a little honey, flour and salt. If your yeast is dormant, you’ll know within five minutes as it sits in warm water to foam. After pitching a few bread starters in the past, I’ve learned to keep a close eye on my yeast expiration dates and keep plenty on hand.

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Once the yeast is activated, add the dry ingredients and mix. I usually use my hands. This is a shaggy dough that is ready as soon as no dry parts are visible. The recipe calls for 4 tablespoons of olive oil, although I didn’t need that much to coat the dough before covering with plastic wrap and refrigerating overnight. The recipe suggests at least eight hours to proof, but notes that three to four hours at room temperature will work just as well. I didn’t want to risk it.

I wanted thick slices so I prepared a 13 by 9 inch pan with butter and lifted the risen dough into the pan with a couple of forks. The recipe called for using the forks to fold the dough in a couple of turns. I was happy to put the dough intact in the baking dish. After pouring the remaining olive oil over the dough, I spread it around the corners of the pan and let it rise for another four hours.

When it was ready to bake, I used my fingertips covered in olive oil to deflate it a bit and make little holes or dimples all over the bread. I also sprinkled flaky sea salt and a little more olive oil on top. After 25 minutes in a 450 degree oven it was perfectly browned. I melted butter with some grated garlic and spread it on warm bread and served immediately. I froze the rest and thawed it in the fridge a couple of days later. We topped it with fresh tomato, basil, Parmesan Reggiano cheese, and a generous drizzle of olive oil, and the bread perked up perfectly in about 10 minutes in a 300-degree oven.

With all the ingredients out, I also made my No Knead Bread, a popular recipe that also requires the dough to rise overnight. I’ve tweaked it a bit, but it always bakes into a dense loaf of delicious, crusty bread.

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Instead of using 3 cups of white flour, I use 2½ cups of unbleached white flour and 1 cup of all-purpose flour. Add some color and texture. I also put in closer to 1 teaspoon of dry yeast instead of the ½ teaspoon called for in the original recipe. It seems to climb a little better. This bread is baked in a boiling dutch oven in a very high temperature oven, so it is important to be careful when handling the dough. I take pride in being able to pipe dough directly from the board to the center of the hot pan in one quick motion.

Another good thing about this bread is that you can shape it however you want, as long as it fits in the pan. I prefer a round loaf, and I usually pinch the top to give it a bit of punch. Loaves can also be stored in the refrigerator in a paper bag for several days or frozen. It is very good roasted.

Surprisingly Easy No-Knead Focaccia

One package (¼ ounce) active dry yeast (about 2¼ teaspoons)

2 teaspoons of honey

5 cups of all-purpose flour

5 teaspoons kosher salt

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (divided)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for pan

flake sea salt

2-4 cloves of garlic

Whisk together active dry yeast (about 2¼ teaspoons), honey, and 2½ cups warm water in a medium bowl and let stand 5 minutes. Add all-purpose flour and salt and mix until no dry streaks remain.

Pour up to 4 tablespoons of olive oil into a large bowl that will fit in the refrigerator. Transfer the dough to the bowl and cover it with oil. Cover and chill for at least eight hours and up to a day.

Generously butter a 13-by-9-inch baking pan and transfer batter to pan. Roll out to the edges to deflate the dough and let it rise again in a warm, dry place for 1 1/2 to 4 hours.

The dough is ready when it slowly sprouts again. Lightly oil your fingers and poke deep holes in the dough to create dimples. Sprinkle the rest of the olive oil and flaked sea salt over the dough and bake at 450 degrees for 20-30 minutes.

Focaccia is best served right after cooking. While still in the oven, melt 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter on the stove and add 2-4 cloves of grated garlic for 30-45 seconds, being careful not to burn it. Brush the garlic butter mixture over the focaccia bread before slicing and serving.

Source: bonappetit.com

no-knead bread

3 cups of unbleached white flour (or 2½ cups of white flour and 1 cup of all-wheat flour)

½ teaspoon to ¾ teaspoon dry yeast

1½ teaspoon salt

1½ cups of water

Blend the ingredients for about a minute and transfer to a bowl. Cover and store in a dry place for at least 15 hours.

When ready to bake, place a dutch oven in the oven at 500 degrees. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and fold it on each of the four sides. Pinch the top to create a beak. Carefully and using an oven mitt, place the dough in the center of the Dutch oven and cover. Bake for 30 minutes. If it’s not crisp enough, you can remove the lid and bake for a few more minutes.

Source: cooking.nytimes.com