Saturday, June 11, 2011

Focaccia


Some of you will remember the early days of this blog....exclusive Italian cooking, as I attempted to cook my way through an 600+ page Italian cookbook.  (You might think I was doomed from the start!)  Anyway....I hung in there for several months until I decided that I was missing enchiladas and hamburgers.  However, when I want to make something authentically Italian, I still turn to Marcella Hazan's cookbook.  One of my absolute favorite, most requested-by-my-family, turns-out-perfect-every-time recipes in the book is focaccia.  Focaccia is a yeasted Italian flat bread, full to the brim with the flavors of olive oil and salt.  It is absolutely delicious all by itself, but in the past I have topped it with caramelized onions and fresh thyme.  Next time I make it, I'm planning on "stuffing" it, with onions and spicy sausage.  Yummmm.....

(This does take a bit of time to make, but I promise you it is well-worth the time!  That fresh-baked, yeasty aroma is heavenly!)


Focaccia
Source:  Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan

2 tsp. active dry yeast (I always use instant yeast)
2 cups lukewarm water, 110-115 degrees, divided
6 1/2 cups flour, divided
2 tbl. olive oil
1 tbl. kosher salt
a mixture of 1/4 cup olive oil and 2 tbl. water; 1 tsp. kosher salt (for the topping)

Directions:
(I do all the work of this bread in my Kitchenaid stand mixer).

Dissolve the yeast by stirring it into 1/2 cup of the lukewarm water; let it stand about 10 minutes until slightly foamy.

Combine the yeast water and 1 cup of the flour in a bowl, using the dough hook, mixing it thoroughly.  Add the 2 tbl. of olive oil, 1 tbl. of salt, 3/4 cup of lukewarm water, and 2 3/4 cup of the remaining flour.  Mix thoroughly until dough feels soft and compact, no longer sticky.  Add the remaining 2 3/4 cup flour and 3/4 cup water and mix thoroughly.  If dough seems too wet, add a slight amount of flour; if it seems too dry and crumbly, add a slight amount of water, just enough to help it come together.  (The specific humidity of your kitchen will affect this).  Continue using the dough hook to knead the dough for 10 minutes on the lowest speed.  Dough should then be smooth and supple.  Remove from bowl and shape it gently into a round shape.

Spray a large bowl lightly with cooking spray or spread it with olive oil.  Transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling the dough lightly in the oil.  Cover with a damp cloth and place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise, approximately for 1 1/2 hours.  (I use my oven for this; preheat to 170 degrees, then off the heat and place the bowl in the oven).

After the time has elapsed, punch down the dough and spread it out on a round baking stone or a rectangular baking sheet.  Cover the entire stone or pan with the dough to a depth of 1/4-inch.  Cover with a damp towel, and let rise for 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

After the second rise is done, dimple the top of the dough with your fingertips, making small, shallow wells.  Beat the mixture of olive oil, water, and salt until it is emulsified and not separating.  Quickly, using a soft pastry brush, spread it over the dimpled dough all the way to the edges.  (The oil will pool in the wells).  Sprinkle additional kosher salt over the oiled dough.

Place stone or pan on the middle rack of the preheated oven.  Check after 15 minutes.  Rotate stone or pan if necessary.  Continue baking an additional 7-8 minutes.  Remove and transfer to a cooling rack.

Serve focaccia warm or at room temperature; best if served the same day.  Cut into strips or wedges using a sharp knife or pizza cutter.  Reheat any leftovers in a 400-degree oven for 10-12 minutes the following day.

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