For the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge, I made Focaccia yesterday. Focaccia is a flat bread, but not as flat as a tortilla or nan. Focaccia comes to us from Luguria Italy, also where lovely ravioli got it's start. It is a lovely light airy flat bread, which usually has one or more toppings and lots of olive oil. However, toppings can never make up for an inadequate crust. The bread should have lots of big translucent holes. A proper focaccia can not be made quickly or by machine. It is a dough that takes fermentation and at least two days to make. It needs to be handled gently and folded over a few times for best results. I made mine with herb oil, sun dried tomatoes, porcini mushrooms and calamata olives with fresh mozzarella.
You can make your own mozzarella. I have done it and it is very simple. This video is a clear example of how to make your own. It is best if you can find unpasteurized or at least organic milk, avoid ultra pasteurized milk though.
I began by making a poolish, a very wet lightly fermented starter. It can be made a day or more ahead of time. I like to keep some poolish or biga on hand so that when I want to make bread, it is at the ready. Poolish is more liquid and has less yeast in it than Biga. We used a Biga when making the Italian Bread last week.
After fermenting the poolish for two days I made the focaccia by mixing the poolish and other ingredients in the Kitchen Aid until the dough formed a ball but still stuck to the bottom of the bowl. This is key in making a bread like focaccia or cibata, the dough must remain very wet, but still firm enough to be formed. It is a fine line which really makes a difference in this bread.
Once the dough has been sufficiently kneaded, it is formed into a rectangle and set to rest on the counter. This relaxing period is also crucial. Then twice the dough is stretched and re-folded and then set to rest covered for 30 minutes on the counter. The third time you allow the dough to rise for one hour.
The dough is then placed on a baking sheet lined with an oiled silpat (that is what I used) or parchment paper. I think if you are using parchment you need a little more olive oil. You use your fingertips and a generous amount of herb oil to shape the focaccia. You will see a this point how important the very soft hydrated dough is. You want to degas the bread in some places, but not all over. This is what creates the large holes in the bread.
Reconstitute Porcinis and drain, then chop
Making the herb oil... like my herb cutting scissors? 12 blades!
So, now you have a large flat dimpled bread covered with herbs and oil. You can choose to bake it just like that and it will be fantastic. You can also add toppings. Here is the key:
- Pre-Proof toppings would be added now, these are things that are sturdy and benefit being incorporated into the dough. This would be things like sun-dried tomatoes; olives; pine nuts sauteed mushrooms or peppers or onions.
- Pre-bake toppings are added after the dough has risen but before baking, these are things that are higher in moisture such as high moisture cheeses like fresh mozzarealla, blue cheese or feta, cooked ground meat or meat strips. Also coarse salt or sugar.
- During-Bake toppings would be dry or semi-hard cheeses, such as Parmesan, Romano, Mozzarella, Jack, Cheddar or Swiss cheeses added about half way through the baking.
From here, the final rise begins. It takes about 2 hours loosely covered with plastic wrap. The oven is pre-heated to 500 degrees. A few minutes before baking, more herb oil is added if desired and pre-bake toppings are also added. Then the bread goes in! When the bread is put into the oven, the temp goes down to 450. Bake for 10 minutes, turn 180 degrees, bake for 5-10 more minutes till the dough is golden brown and the internal temperature of the bread is about 200 degrees measured in the center.
Remove from the oven and place onto a rack to cool. As tempting as it is, wait about 20 minutes before cutting and serving.
Want the whole recipe? Buy Peter Reinhart's book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice!