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Showing posts with label baking bread. Show all posts
Showing posts with label baking bread. Show all posts

Friday, September 25, 2020

Best Ever Sourdough Focaccia



Favorite Sourdough Focaccia


  • 400 g all-purpose flour
  • 150 g sourdough starter
    • I'm sure all of us started this thing when the quarantine began but if you don't have one, you can just omit this and up the yeast to 5 g
  • 260 g water, a little warmer than body temperature
  • 3 g yeast
  • 125 ml olive oil plus more for the pan
  • 3 g kosher salt
  • Herbs and such as needed
  • Salt and water for the brine
Combine the flour, sourdough starter, yeast, and water in the bowl of a standing mixer using the hook attachment and mix until just combined. Let it sit for about 10 minutes in the bowl to let the flour hydrate and the yeasts to get to know each other. When that timer is up, turn the mixer on to low speed and add in your salt and oil, and mix for five minutes. Then, mix for another 5 minutes on medium-high. Oil a clean bowl or a plastic container with a lid generously with more olive oil, using your hand. Use that same hand to scrape out your dough (so you won't stick) into the container and stick it in a warm place for about two hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

While we're waiting, let's get to the fun part...

Oil a new sheet pan quite generously and turn your dough out, as gently as possible, and pull it out to spread evenly. Oil more, and add your pretty ingredients. I cannot stress this enough if you are going to make lovely focaccia art, but it is absolutely imperative that you set in your picture now so that it can rise and stick when baked.

Focaccia art began circa April/May 2020, when the pandemic was really kicking into high gear. The trend has gone from Instagram to being all over Good Morning America, and even Buzzfeed's Tasty got in on the fun! Basically, you take a gorgeous focaccia loaf and create a lovely landscape using herbs, flowers, vegetables, and more. Now I was skeptical of this idea before because I subscribe to the belief that "every bite should taste the same" when it comes to bread. Once the boredom and existential dread set in, however, and I had more and more sourdough starter piling up, I frankly cracked and made one for myself. It was a big hit!




The reason I'm telling you this now is so you can look ahead for some inspiration! The flowers here on mine are made of sliced leeks and I used sliced green bird chilies here and there...and added leaves of spinach, parsley, cilantro, dill, and more. Many people use lovely fresh peppers and other vegetables to be atop their focaccia art, and I've joined in the fun on a couple of occasions. I do admit that I still believe that above all else bread should be tasty and while putting slices of raw peppers on a focaccia dough to let rise looks pretty cool I don't know how well it's going to taste. The taste of your item should absolutely reign as the supreme factor when it comes to food, leaving looks to be a close second. 

I'm sure that plenty of folks out there will tell you that you really need to think about what you want your garden landscape on the focaccia to look like far beforehand, and that's definitely true when it comes to just about any art project. Mise en place is a lifestyle/mentality that many chefs and cooks subscribe to! When it comes to this particular application, however, I personally prefer to let it develop organically, leaving it all dependant on what herbs I have in the garden that are ready to go. 

It's currently late September and I live in the North-Midwestern Americas, so I still have quite a few herbs, but the cooler weather of the midwest means that I have pansies. This means I get to put edible flowers on my focaccia! I invite you to look around in your own garden and see what edible flowers are available to you immediately. You likely will have pansies, marigolds, and roses...all of which are absolutely edible. 



As I mentioned before, the trick with focaccia art is that you must put on your flowers, herbs, etc., during the second proof so that when it rises, the herbs and flowers and such will really stick. Although I don't necessarily plan out everything meticulously, I certainly don't just slap stuff down willy-nilly either. To let it develop organically, I first decide on the visual orientation of the piece, be it portrait or landscape. Then, I take my biggest pieces or my most-colorful pieces of edible loveliness and pop that on first. In this one's case, the pansies were the biggest eye-catcher, so everything sort of developed around that. I also had these incredible nasturtiums that looked like tiny parasols, in a way, so that came on next. Then came the sage leaves, thyme, etc. 

Once you're happy with your focaccia garden landscape, spread olive oil lightly on the dough and cover with clingfilm and let rise again. You can let this hang out in the fridge for up to three hours if you did this early in the day and want to bake it freshly for dinner! If you just want to bake it soon, simply set it in a warm place for about an hour and a half, or until it looks very puffy. Everything will have risen together and your herbs, flowers, vegetables, etc., will not fall off! Don't forget to preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

When risen after the rest, dissolve two tablespoons of kosher salt in three tablespoons of hot water in a cup. Oil your fingers her her her and press dimples between the spaces of the pictures you have created. Spoon in the brine to the dimples. Let sit for another 5 minutes and oil well with even more olive oil. Add a few grinds of fresh pepper and bake at 425 degrees F for 20 minutes, rotating your sheet pan halfway between. 

I like to let my bread hang out and cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting, but make sure you get this off the sheet pan and onto a cooling rack sooner rather than later, lest you get a soggy bottom. 



Thanks so much for joining me here today! I hope this has inspired you. Please don't forget to share this around if you try it, and tag me on Instagram or Facebook to let me see your incredible creation. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Rustic Country Loaf

If you're a big researcher, like me, check out what Reddit has to say about making bread!
I believe that a simple bread recipe should be in the arsenal of every cook in America, be they home cook, broke student, or professional chef. There's, of course, an art and deep and wonderful science to bread, but this isn't the blog for that.

Bread, in essence, is air. It's far more air than bread; we're eating air that you can make a sandwich out of. A CT scan of bread will show you that it's mostly the skeleton of a gas that's been released during the cooking process, with starches and proteins freezing (or baking) in time with the transformative nature of heat to help it along. It's thanks to bread that we have civilization, and that's not even a hyperbole. Because of fermentation, we found a way to make more food out of less ingredients, and that truly is a magical thing. Here's how to make some magic in your own kitchen.

Simple Country Loaf
yields two small loaves or one big loaf
Adapted from Mother Earth News's Country Loaf recipe
  • 2 3/4 cups AP flour
  • 1 cup rye flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp yeast
  • 2 Tbsp sugar(honey works, too)
  • 3 Tbsp fat**(we'll get into details down in the recipe)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 c water, body temperature
  • 1 cup liquid levain**

Turn on your oven to 250. Mix your flours, salt, and liquid levain in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a hook attachment, or just a large bowl if mixing by hand. If using a liquid levain, it is best if it's at least at room temperature before starting. Hmm? Oh, what's a liquid levain? Haha, sorry...

A liquid levain (or poolish, if you prefer) is essentially a sourdough starter. You can start it by mixing equal parts of flour and water and letting hang out for a few days to ferment on its own, or you can start it with a pinch of yeast and sugar, if you're a little desperate. That being said, it should be at least two days old before starting with it. After all, what's a sourdough starter if not a little funky, and funk comes with maturity. A levain should be fed every day with a little bit of water and flour, stirred, and allowed to rest; you can also keep them cool, in the fridge, to let them sleep. They say you can only keep them for a month before they go too dormant, but I've honestly let mine hang out for 2 months in the fridge before and it still comes back to life every time I bring it up to room temperature. Who knows? Since the fermentation comes from wild yeasts, perhaps I caught the kind that's super-resistant to cold? I am, after all, in the midwest. Anyway. A levain is the key to a good, complex bread, and if you're serious about baking breads and other yeasty stuffs, seriously consider starting your own liquid levain. 

And, yes, you too can use your liquid levain/sourdough starter to make delicious misshapen cinnamon rolls!
Once your dry (and not-so-dry) ingredients are hanging out in the bowl, whisk together the yeast with the sugar and water to dissolve. Let it sit near your oven, but not on the stovetop of your oven, just to let it warm up. When I say that the water should be body temperature, I mean that you should stick your fingers in the water and it should feel rather comfortable, maybe just a hair warmer than your body is. I like the cooler temperature for yeasts to ensure it won't be killed, and you'll also get a nicer flavor from a slower rise. You'll also be letting it be in a rather warm place, anyhow, so it'll bubble up nicely anyway, which usually takes five minutes.

While we're waiting, let's talk about fat and its role in bread. It's, in essence, a dough conditioner that will keep it soft and add some flavor. You can use an infused olive oil or coconut oil, but I prefer saturated fats in breads. Why? Because a saturated fat stays solid at room temperature(such as shortening, lard, coconut oil or butter) it has, by nature, a more solid molecular structure, and it ends up improving the end texture of the product, whereas an unsaturated fat(such as a plant oil, like olive oil) would be more for flavor than texture, and they may go drier quicker. And yes, yes, some fats are bad for you - but let's be honest, you need some fat in your diet so your body can process your vitamins. It's just a fact that certain vitamins are only fat-soluble. Besides, we shouldn't fat-shame bread anyway. You wouldn't do it to your friends, so you oughtn't do it to your bread, who is doing their best, by the way. 

When your yeast is bubbly and alive, stir the mixture into the flour using either a wooden spoon or your machine. Begin to knead with the machine or your hands, but for heaven's sake, knead in the bowl by pressing and pulling the dough. Seriously, you can do this, and it'll keep your counter all that much cleaner. About halfway through(2 or 3 minutes in) add in your chosen fat. I chose rendered drippings for my fat, mostly because it's what I had on hand, and also because it's such a great thing to have dripping. Oh, dripping is fat that's leftover from cooking bacon, or perhaps roasting a pork belly in your oven, or even roasting chicken skin for craquelins, all saved in a nice jar either in the fridge or in the pantry. It's a very flavorsome alternative to butter(which can be expensive) and honestly a rather common practice to have on hand anyway. Remember the can of fat that your grandmother had on the counter? Or the coffee cup full of bacon grease your dad kept in the door of the fridge? That's dripping - and you can use it to make bread. 

Once your five minutes are up, transfer to a well-oiled bowl, cover with a clean tea towel, and let sit for 2 hours. It's at this stage you can clean up, go see a friend for lunch or go to the grocery store, and then come back. No, you shouldn't leave the oven on while you're out of the house, so please do turn it off if you're doing that, but leave the dough on the stove so it'll stay warm.

Oddly, you can pick these up at home improvement warehouses- many of them will sell you
the mis-cuts for a discounted rate, if they have them.
Now that you're back home, turn your oven to 450(not kidding) and put an empty metal pie tin in the bottom of the oven. Shape the loaves as you so desire, but I like the long and simple country loaf shapes for this particular application. I did two different shapes, mostly because I wasn't sure what I was in the mood for. Shape them on a well-dusted counter (or marble slab if you're a privileged jerk like me) of flour and cornmeal to either logs or boules(round loaves) and put on a sheet tray lined with parchment (or a silpat mat, if you have it) and cover with the clean tea towel once again. Let proof on your stovetop in that nice warm space for 45 minutes. 

Time for a nap, loves!
Open up your oven and put your bread onto the middle rack of your oven, and dump 3 or 4 cups of ice into the pie tin in the bottom rack of the oven. This will create steam and give you that wonderfully rustic crust that we associate with baker's bread. Shut that oven door and let cook for 30 - 35 minutes, or until deliciously dark and brown and temps out at 200 degrees. (Yes, bread has a temperature it should be at.)

Evacuate from the oven and immediately pick them up and put them on a cooling rack. This is because you don't want steam to be trapped on the bottom of your bread as it cools, so it's a good idea to let some airflow happen underneath your loaf as it cools. It's likely a safe assumption that you don't like having a soggy bottom, so it's an even safer assumption that your bread won't either - be considerate to your bread. 

I hope this has inspired you. Please don't hesitate to comment on my blog or my instagram on what you'd like to see next. Happy cooking and happy eating!

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