I had a (happily) busy weekend this weekend.  I’ll talk about it in our other blog, but a quick summary is that I went to a bachelorette party on Friday and wine tasting in Sonoma on Saturday.  It was tons of fun but I took advantage of having nothing planned for today and took care of all sorts of small things around the apartment.  I went running with Emily and Kjersti, tided up around the apartment, watched Food, Inc., made homemade yogurt for the first time in a long time and also a batch of candied cherries for an ice cream recipe I’ve been dying to make for months.  Overall, what a great weekend, full of friends, food, wine, laughter – all my favorite things!

I’ve been meaning to talk about tosemary focaccia for a good while now.  This was actually the very first bread recipe I ever attempted and I have made it several times since.  This will probably be a boring post, but I’m going to point out some of my tips that I’ve since learned that I wish bread recipes would just spell out, instead of assuming one already has bread-making experience.  My friends Penney, who is going through culinary school, and Jordan, who is crazy about bread-making, are probably in a better state to comment on these things than me on how to make bread.  Penney and Jordan:  hopefully, I’m not doing anything egregiously wrong but if I am, feel free to correct me.  🙂

So, overall, I think this is a very foolproof recipe.  I’m sure I was doing a lot of things wrong the first few times and it still came out really tasty.  It’s also on the shorter end of bread-making, as it takes only about 4 hours from start to finish, which includes 2 rises.

First, I always keep my yeast in the refrigerator, so it lasts longer.  I bought it in bulk for something like $5 for a whole pound.  I haven’t used anywhere near half yet, but it’s been one of the best investments I ever made.  Buy yeast in bulk!  You only need to make 8 recipes calling for a packet of yeast each to make it worthwhile.  It’s been over a year and my yeast is still going strong.

Take the yeast out when you start heating the water to let it come to room temperature.  The water should be about 110-degrees, +/- five degrees.  I think running warm tap water can also achieve that temperature, but I heat it and let it cool, to make sure I hit my target temperature.  Instant thermometers are your friend!

After I mix the water and yeast together, I let it sit for about 10 minutes.  Then I look at it and usually there are small spurts or blooms that appear on the surface.  That’s how I know it’s good.  🙂  I tend to err on the side of caution and if I don’t see the blooms appearing, I’ll throw it out and start again.  That’s just me, though.

When using the mixer, I start with the paddle attachment at the lowest (stir) setting just until everything is combined.  I also add only about 75% of what the recipe calls for.  Then I switch to the dough hook and add up to the total amount of flour in tablespoon increments, waiting until the dough absorbs each tablespoon before moving on.  If the dough seems dry (it stops sticking to the bottom of the bowl), I’ll add a bit of water to adjust and stop adding the flour.  After it’s all been mixed together, I ramp up my mixer to at least setting 4 or 6 for about 5 minutes.

The recipes always say to stick the dough in a warmish place.  I usually throw mine into the oven with a light turned on.  Also, recipes say to transfer the dough to another bowl and coat with oil.  I’ve stopped doing that, because I’ve started to get lazy about washing extra dishes.  Instead, I take the dough out, splash a little oil in my mixer bowl, then turn the dough to coat.  I haven’t noticed any detrimental effects from this.  (If these are really obvious hints, I’m sorry!  I guess I just wasn’t making bread smartly before).

After the first rise is over, I stretch the dough out.  If the dough doesn’t take the shape I want right away, I stretch it out as much as possible, then stop and let it rest for about 10 minutes before stretching again.  Then cover and let it rise again.

The olive oil in the dimples doesn’t really bake into the bread so I like to make lots of dimples for lots of olive oil flavor.  That isn’t really a tip, just personal preference.  Also, one time I forgot to sprinkle salt on it (but luckily, there was salt in the dough).  It made me realize how much of a flavor intensifier salt is, so don’t forget that step!

Oooh la la, bread!

Rosemary Focaccia
slightly modified from The Gourmet Cookbook
2-1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 pinch sugar
1-2/3 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Stir together in the bowl of a stand mixer and let stand until the blooms appear, about 5 minutes:
  • 2-1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1 pinch sugar
  • 1-2/3 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
Add the following to the yeast mixture, making sure not to add any more flour than specified:
  • 5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2-1/2 tsp. table salt
Beat with paddle attachment at lowest speed until a dough forms.  Replace with dough hook and beat at speed 4 or 6 until soft, smooth and sticky, about 3 – 4 minutes.  The mixer will most likely rattle around and the dough will slap the sides, but that’s okay.
Oil the bowl and the surface of the dough and cover with a towel.  Let rise in an oven with the light turned on until doubled in bulk, about 1 – 1.5 hours.
Brush a sheet pan generously with olive oil and gently stretch dough to shape.  Let rest for five to ten minutes if resistant, then finish stretching.  Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 425-degrees.  Stir together the following:
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary (approx. 1 long stick of rosemary)
Brush dough with rosemary oil, allowing oil to pool in the indentions.  Sprinkle the following evenly over the focaccia:
  • 1 tsp. coarse sea salt
Bake in middle of oven until golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

Immediately invert a rack over pan and flip focaccia onto rack, then turn right side up (or use a spatula under the bread to slide it onto the cooling rack). Serve warm or at room temperature.