When I moved home last summer, I decided I really wanted to start learning to cook. That is, actively learning all the techniques, collecting recipes, and becoming more acquainted with the kitchen, rather than just knowing how to use my oven.
And I really wanted to make bread.
I had actually been wanting to practice bread for years, ever since I resolved to cut back on buying or eating processed food. I love me some whole wheat sliced loaves but some day I’ll be making them with my own hands, rather than trying to guess what ingredients are on the label at the grocery store.
At first, it was all English muffins. Vegan, not vegan, whole wheat, whatever. I was going cray for English muffins. Eventually, I started playing around with focaccia, too. As long as I can remember, I’ve had a soft spot for focaccia, especially Panera panini made with the flatbread. From the moment I started baking it myself, though, I knew I would never stop. Bread is already the World’s Greatest Comfort Food (and also one of the oldest foods, as well), and focaccia, with its rosemary-olive oil crust and fluffy interior, is all the more belly-filling and heart-warming!
It’s also relatively simple to make, as far as breads go. I went through a couple different recipes, watched every YouTube video I could find, and came up with my own experiment to determine how best to make the flatbread. I tried different amounts of oil, different steps in making the dough, different amounts of flour and water, and different proofing times. Along the way, I found that the less flour you use, the better. Sometimes you can’t get away with not using flour: when you have to knead or shape the dough, for example. But in this case, using less flour than you’d expect results in a lighter and more flavorful bread. I end up making something closer to batter than dough.
The bread keeps for a few days just fine, but it’s so good you’ll have to hide the extra so you don’t eat too much in one sitting!
serves 6 – 8
100 g starter (or 7 g active dry yeast, plus an extra 50 g each of water and all-purpose flour; so 200 g water, 250 g flour)
150 g water
200 g all-purpose flour
40 g extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for seasoning
hefty pinch of salt (at least a tablespoon)
1 tsp sugar
seasonings and add-ons: coarse sea salt, fresh rosemary, garlic, olives
In the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large bowl, combine starter/yeast, water, flour, olive oil, sugar, salt, and dried rosemary. Quickly whisk until just combined, then beat with a dough hook (either on the stand mixer or using a handheld electric mixer), for 5 minutes until uniform and the dough starts to pull away a little from the sides of the bowl.
It’ll be pretty wet and batter-y at this point, but don’t worry. Everything will be okay, I promise.
Grease a medium-large bowl with extra virgin olive oil, and, using a bowl scraper or spatula, scrape the dough into the oil bowl. Either flip the dough in the bowl, or lightly drizzle with olive oil.
Cover the bowl and let the dough proof, a few hours in a warm spot or overnight in the fridge, until doubled in size.
Oil and salt a large brownie pan with extra virgin olive oil and coarse sea salt, then scrape the dough into the pan. Spread the dough out until it covers the entire pan, then let rise, covered, in a warm spot for at least an hour. Don’t let it rise too much or it’ll lose elasticity. Two hours maximum.
Preheat the oven to 400 F/200 C.
When ready to bake, stick garlic cloves and olives into the dough at random intervals, lightly drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt and fresh rosemary. Bake 20 – 30 minutes until golden brown and puffy.
Transfer the bread to a wire rack and let cool slightly before serving.
Buon appetito, i miei amici!