Focaccia fresh from the oven

foccacia081113

One of my favorite things about playing around in the kitchen is learning something new. I had been toying with the idea of trying focaccia for a couple weeks, but didn’t think I had the time to tackle something new. When I was making pizza dough using the recipe from the Joy of Cooking, I glanced at the next column on the page and saw a recipe for focaccia. As it turns out, focaccia is just pizza dough baked differently. I usually make half of the pizza dough recipe because I only need one pizza, but I decided to make the full version so I could use half for pizza and half for focaccia.

The first round I made had a tougher exterior than I expected. Then I realized I made the mistake of kneading it with the other half I used for the pizza dough. The bread was still good, but I wanted to see if I could achieve the softer texture. The next day, I made the dough again and stirred the ingredients just until they were combined, without kneading. This time around, I decided to try different toppings on each round. I topped one with Italian cheeses, slices of fresh tomato and sea salt; and the other with a couple cheeses, table salt and a bit of white truffle oil. They baked quite nicely and were softer than my first go-around, but still had a stiffer top crust than I expected. Next time I might try topping it with caramelized onions and bleu cheese and adding more olive oil on top to see if that helps soften the top of the bread a little more.

Now that I know how simple it is, I’ll definitely be baking this bread again. Why buy it from the store when you can have it fresh out of the oven?

foccacia081113-2Ingredients
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 package active dry yeast
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon salt
Up to 1/2 cup of olive oil
2 tablespoons grated cheese, such as Parmesan or Asiago
1 teaspoon herbs, such as chives, sage and basil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Combine warm water and yeast in a bowl and let sit until the yeast is dissolved, or about 5 minutes.

Add flour, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and salt. Mix by hand or on low speed for about 1 minute. Divide dough in half and roll each piece out to a 1/2-inch thick round. Transfer to well-oiled 8- or 9-inch round cake pans or square baking pans. Let rise, covered with oiled plastic wrap, for 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Ten minutes before baking, press the dough with your fingertips to make indentations all over the dough. Drizzle with up to 1/2 cup olive oil. Top with cheese, herbs and sea salt.

Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from the pans to a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, as is, or sliced open horizontally to use as a sandwich bread.

The easiest loaf of bread you’ll ever make

Asiagobread1

I tend to shy away from making bread at home. Sure, I’ll make sweet breads such as Oatmeal-strawberry bread or Pumpkin-chocolate chip bread, but a real, hearty bread? I haven’t had much luck with those, and the added challenges that come with being at high altitude tend to make such recipes discouraging. Until I stumbled upon this little gem.

I found it hard to believe that such a delicious-looking loaf of bread Asiagobread2could be made so easily. I had my doubts, but the recipe didn’t require kneading or multiple rounds of rising, so I could try it without being too disappointed if it didn’t work out. That turned out to be a good life decision because, instead of tossing out a failed attempt at bread, I got to devour a successful one.

The first time I made it, I added a chopped head of roasted garlic and some minced rosemary right before shaping it into a ball. I didn’t chop the rosemary finely enough, a mistake I won’t repeat. The flavor was good, but not quite what I wanted. The second time I made this bread, I decided to throw in some cheese. Asiago is my favorite cheese for breads because it holds together well. I prefer the Asiago version, but I noticed the blogger of the recipe also has a cranberry-orange version that I may have to test in the near future.

For those of you who worry your home may be too cold for the dough to properly rise, try this little trick, which was shared with me by a former coworker: turn your oven to the warm setting. Once your oven has warmed and you’ve mixed the dough, turn the oven off and put the plastic wrap-covered bowl of dough in the oven. It works like a charm and gives bread dough a better chance of reacting as expected.

Many Dutch oven instructions advise against heating the pot while empty. Mine carries a similar warning, but it has been OK both times I’ve done it. I put my pot in when I turn the oven on to preheat so it gradually warms with the oven, and I take it out as soon as the oven has preheated. I’ve never done the full 30 minutes, just as a precaution.

The moist inside and beautiful crust have made this my new favorite bread recipe. What type of variations will you come up with? Post yours in the comments.

IngredientsAsiagobread3
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 cup asiago cheese, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt and yeast. Add water and stir until a shaggy mixture forms (mixture will be loose and sticky; this is what you want). Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 12-18 hours (up to 24).

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place a cast-iron Dutch oven with a lid in the oven and heat the pot for 30 minutes. Sprinkle the cheese on top of the dough. Meanwhile, pour the risen dough onto a heavily floured surface (mixture will be sticky) and lightly shape into a round loaf.

Remove hot pot from the oven and carefully set in the dough. Cover and return to oven for 30 minutes. Then, remove the lid and bake an additional 10-15 minutes. Carefully remove bread from oven and from pot and place on a cooling rack.