This week up was focaccia, the Italian flatbread that Reinhart says is growning in popularity in America (I admittedly don’t notice much difference in popularity, but I may be a bad sample to use). I must admit, I was pretty excited about this week’s challenge, for two reasons. First, I’ve been wanting to get back to some classic Italian and French breads and away from the fruit and nut breads and the regular-tin-shaped-loaf breads. Second, I’m just a fan of focaccia, and I’ve never tried to make it, so I was ready to give it a shot.
As I’ll explain below the fold, I thought that it came out very well – excellent in fact. Very tasty. However, I had two complaints: (a) it was way too oily — I can’t emphasize this enough - and (b) the dough turned out to be taller than it – for an Italian flatbread — was supposed to come out. Admittedly, the first problem is easily fixable, just use less oil (I can guarantee I’ll be doing that next time). The second problem is not so simple, and I’m not sure how to fix it because I’m not sure what I did wrong. However, I’m not unhappy in this case – in getting the dough to come out too tall and airy, I finally cracked the code on how to make proper Sicilian pizza dough, a goal that has evaded me for quite some time, as long time readers may know.
UPDATE: See this comment for an update on my complaint about the oil.
(As my fellow BBAers stream in, such as Jim, I’ll post links to their products here).
The difficulty level on this bread is really not too bad, I don’t think, but I’m going to put it up at intermediate in any event. The main reasons for the higher level difficulty are, (a) obviously, that I didn’t get the dough quite right (tall instead of flat), so it would be odd for me to say it was too easy when it didn’t come out exactly right, and (b) there are a lot of steps here, mostly included extra steps requiring cooking and preparing toppings. So there’s a lot for a novice to try to do.
Comments on the Process
There are a number of steps involved in making this bread. I’d count them as four in number:
- Herb Oil
- Dough Preparation
Step 1: Herb Oil
Okay, just take a peek at that oil.
There’s a lot of it, isn’t there? Yeah. There is. Now don’t get me wrong – this herb oil tastes great and gives the bread an amazing flavor. It is packed with herbs and spices, all of which I love to use in pizza doughs. But I’ll tell you – 2 cups of olive oil is a lot of oil. I’ll say more about that in a minute. For now, let’s focus on the process of making the oil, which is easy enough. I heated the 2 cups of oil with fresh basil, parsley, cilantro, and sage, as well as dried oregano, rosemary, kosher salt and black pepper. I heated the oil just on low heat, and let the spices/herbs add flavor to the oil for 15 or so minutes.
Step 2: The Dough
Making the dough is easy; once it is made, you need to use the “stretch and fold” method that we used in the recipe for ciabatta. I realize that back then there was some confusion about how to do this, as Reinhart’s explanations are not that clear. After you figure it out, though, it’s really pretty straightforward. Just use your palms to tap the dough into a rectangle, and then pull both ends outward, stretching it out. Then fold back each stretched out piece so that it is folded back onto the center of the dough. Once you’ve dont that, just turn the dough over and pat it into a rectangle again. Here’s my dough after I did one round of a stretch and a fold (you can see the folded over parts underneath). Notice I couldn’t stop myself from poking it with my fingertips a few times. That part comes next, but I couldn’t resist.
At this point, you add half of the herb oil, using your fingertips to push in little craters into the dough to hold the oil and the herbs/spices. That’s a whole cup of the oil. Yes, yes; a whole cup – go on ahead and pour it all on there. Here’s what mine looked like:
It’s hard to believe that you’re putting that much oil on a dough, but you are. In pizza dough, I sometimes use 1/4 cup of oil, and that strikes me as a lot. I mean look at that pic - it’s like a damn pool on top of the dough! Not to mention the fact that you still have a whole cup of oil left to use later.
For now, however, you’ll need to retard the dough overnight. I left it for 2 nights. PR says you can go as long as 3 nights. When I pulled mine out 2 nights later, it was very puffy, more so than PR seems to suggest it should be. I’m not sure why this happened, but it did.
So when you take it out of the fridge, you’re ready to add the “pre-proof” toppings. But wait: before you do that, you need to add that other cup of oil, using your fingers to again poke down dimples into the dough. Good lord. Yeah, that’s right – in the pan your dough is now floating in olive oil. It’s hard to imagine that this is a good thing, but PR keeps telling you not to worry about it! This is the odd part, actually. If PR had not said “don’t worry” or “I know it seems nuts” I would have used less. But I figured “he keeps warning me, so he knows”. So I kept pouring on the oil.
Now you can add those toppings. I added the following (some of which required some cooking):
- Sautéed mushrooms
- Sauteed onions and garlic
- Sun dried tomatoes
- Green and black olives
It looked like this as it was proofing:
Step 3: Baking
The baking part is simple. Start at 500, and once the bread is in, lower it to 450, bake for 10 minutes, then turn the bread, and wait another 10 minutes. Then add any “during baking” toppings (I added mozzarella) and then bake for another 5 or 7 minutes.
Here’s a shot of the final product:
This is really good bread, I can’t lie. It’s extremely tasty. But I’m going to say it again – there’s way too much oil in this recipe. It just doesn’t need 2 cups. My wife – who couldn’t stop eating the stuff, agreed. It’s overkill. Every slice I had forced me to wipe my hands, wash them up afterward, and 2 hours later I could still taste the herb oil in my mouth. It’s overwhelming. To be honest, I’m a bit surprised that he calls for this much.
My thinking here is that it’s best to cut back to possibly even one cup, perhaps 1 1/3 cups. You’ll thank me. Use ½ pre-proof, and then ½ after, or 1 cup before and then 1/3 after. Just don’t do 2 cups.
I also loved the dough and how it really came out just like a Sicilian pizza is supposed to come out. For long time readers, you know I’ve never been able to master the Sicilian dough. It always comes out too flat for me. Now I know how to make it right! This means, of course, that I now don’t know how to make the focaccia dough exactly right, but that’s okay, I make the pizza more.
NEXT WEEK: French Bread
I’m ready for it! Looking at the picture in the book, however, I know that mine is not going to come out two feet long, if only for the fact that my oven isn’t two feet long. Ah, one day. I’ll have to just keep dreaming.
See you next week!