This one was a specific request by my dear old husband. You know I don’t give the man enough credit. If anyone out there is making any of this bread, then you most certainly know the ginormous mess that accrues after baking bread. Not just a mess either. It is a sticky, impossible to wash, gooey, flour-y rue of a mess. Sticks to everything in its path including your fingers king of mess. Sponges are next to useless against the yeasty stringy dough that gathers on your cutting board. You must scrape. You must scrub (preferably with steel wool). And you must sweep. A lot.
And you know who cleans up after supper nine times out of ten? My husband. The same man who also proclaims with every bread, “This is the one. This is the *hit.” Sorry for the crude language. But he does he says it. And I love that.
So, I let him scour the cookbooks and choose one of his liking and he thought a nice focaccia would be perfect to test out this week. And he was right. It was. It was airy in the middle and crisp on the bottom. It was full of that olive oil flavor you crave in a focaccia. And the toppings of sun-dried tomatoes, carmelized onions, and herbed goat cheese, they were pretty much off the charts. On top of that I have to include a nice tip I figured out tonight. If you purchase the sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil (the one with capers and herbs and all things delicious) you can use the oil to make a killer vinaigrette. Fill a pint size mason jar about 1/4 with white wine vinegar (or another vinegar you love), about a teaspoon of mustard (which if I haven’t told you before is SO easy to make), a pinch of brown sugar, a chopped garlic clove and then fill the rest with olive oil. Give it a good shake until it emulsifies and wallah!
I can’t think of many meals more satisfying after a hot, humid day in Georgia than a spread of crisp salad with your own vinaigrette, a giant slice of focaccia and a nice cold beer.
Enough with the banter! On with the recipe. This is another one from Amy’s Bread.
Rich Focaccia (A sponge starter bread)
The night before…
In a 2 quart container (I used a giant mason jar), and preferably an electric mixer (for you will want to beat the living day lights out of this mixture for 2-3 minutes which is longer than you think), mix 1 1/2 cups warm mater, 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast, and 3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour. Place this mix in the refrigerator overnight. A few hours before you start to make your bread the next day place it on the counter. It will bubble and rise and eventually more than double in size. When it’s about room temperature you know your ready for the next step.
1. Proof 1/2 tsp. of yeast with 1 3/4 plus 2 tbsp. warm water. After 3 minutes add in 1 1/2 cups of your sponge starter. Mix with your fingers until it’s as incorporated as you can get it. It will be lumpy and frothy. Next mix in 4 1/2 cups of bread flour. Do NOT mix this with your hands (as Amy will lead you to believe) you will end up a sticky bread monster with half the loaf caked in between each finger. Instead just go crazy with a wooden spoon. Give it a few good kneads inside the bowl until it’s no longer lumpy. Form a good ball in the bowl, cover with plastic and let it rest for 20 minutes.
2. Add 1 tablespoon of salt, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and 2 tablespoons of milk to the mix. This step was a little tricky for me. I found if I drilled a little well with my fingers in the center of the dough and folded it over onto itself only pouring in a little of the liquid at a time, it worked out just fine. Continue to knead this for the next 10 minutes. Don’t go crazy with the flour while kneading though, it is supposed to be a wet dough. Let it rise for 2 1/2 hours in a covered oiled bowl.
3. Spray a sheet tray (12 x 17) or two small ones (8×8) with olive oil. Or you can use parchment paper but spray that as well.
4. If you are using two trays split the dough into two at this point and do each step twice. (If that isn’t obvious… I don’t know what is) If not start stretching your dough onto your oiled pan being careful not to tear it. Once you have the whole tray covered in that beautiful off white dough cover it up and let it sit for another hour or two. This is when you should prepare your toppings. Preheat your oven to 423 thirty minutes before you begin the final step.
5. Place your toppings all over in whichever order you please. Make some large dents all over the focaccia without breaking through the bottom with your pointer finger. Make them about every two to three inches apart. Ms. Amy does not specify this one but trust me, drizzle some extra olive oil all over the top for added goodness. Place your awesome delicious loaf which is large enough to feed you all week and share in the oven. After one minutes give the walls a good spray with some water. After about 15 minutes lower the temperature to 350 and bake for 15-25 more. When its golden brown and you can’t stand it anymore take it out. Careful don’t burn yourself but take it out of the pan and place it on a cooling rack. Of course you are supposed to serve this beauty room temperature, but who can wait for that?
I will never ever tire of bread.