Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Many recipes begin with a sponge of yeast and flour, which is kept for at least 24 hours before using. This simplified version produces a classic denser, chewier focaccia.
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup warm water, about 105 degrees (hand-hot)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
3 1/2 cups flour
1 Tablespoon wheat germ (optional)
3 large sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves chopped
4 Tablespoons olive oil
extra flour (for sprinkling)
2 Tablespoons cornmeal (for sprinkling)
1. In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the water.
2. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, the sugar, and 1 cup of the flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until it forms a smooth paste.
3. Cover with a cloth and set in a warm place for 5 to 10 minutes or until it begins to bubble very slightly. If it does not, the yeast is unusable and you must start over.
4. With a wooden spoon, stir in the wheat germ, if using, 1 tablespoon of rosemary, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Begin to add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time, until a very stiff dough forms. Use your hands to work in the last addition of flour.
5. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead it for 5 minutes, or until it is smooth and elastic with no sticky feel. If necessary, add up to 1/2 cup of additional flour as you work.
6. Form the dough into a ball. Clean the mixing bowl, grease it lightly with a bit of the olive oil, place the dough in it and turn it to coat it all over with oil. Cover the bowl with a cloth and set in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours or until the dough doubles in bulk.
7. Set the oven at 400 degrees. Sprinkle a large baking sheet with the cornmeal.
8. When the dough has doubled, punch it down lightly and transfer it to the baking sheet. Gently stretch and ease it to fit the shape of the sheet, making a rough oblong about 3/4-inch thick. Let the dough rest, covered, for 15 minutes.
9. With your fingertips, make deep indentations in the top of the focaccia at even intervals, about every 2 inches. Sprinkle the top lightly with the remaining oil, rosemary, and salt.
10. Bake for 35 minutes, or until risen and golden brown. Cool slightly. Cut into large pieces.
Makes 1 large oblong
May 14, 2008
JOY OF BAKING
Spongy or springy, focaccia
gives a sandwich oomph
Focaccia means "hearth," which seems just right because it's made in the heart of an Italian oven. A round or oblong flat bread resembling a chubby pizza, focaccia is a rich base for summer-scented herbs, pungent sun-dried tomatoes, juicy olives, or sweet sliced onions. Originally an accompaniment to the meal, focaccia has taken on a new life as a base for sandwiches, some Italian-style, others using whatever strikes the cook's fancy. The feeling is that if it goes on bread, it tastes better on focaccia.
Made in a dense, chewy version, and a soft, spongy variety, focaccia is available in specialty markets and bakeries all over the area. We sampled more than half a dozen and found some surprises, then baked our own simplified version.
Clear Flour Bread offers different flavors on different days, including a "sunshine" focaccia with rays to pull off and dunk into olive oil. On a recent Saturday, we find a rosemary version, with a springy, resistant crust, a sharp taste of the herb, and the good quality olive oil so essential to decent focaccia much in evidence. Dense and substantial, this bread looks appetizing and smells heavenly. Also on offer is a slightly plumper onion-topped version, with the sweet scent of roasted onions, a sprinkle of oregano, and the contrast of black pepper ($2.75 each).
Artichoke focaccia is on the menu at Monica's Mercato in the North End. The very cheesy crust, redolent of Asiago and rich olive oil, holds a generous topping of thinly sliced grilled artichokes and a sprinkle of parsley. Its open, spongy crumb has a slightly salty aftertaste. A judicious sprinkle of sharp Parmesan shreds, partially melted under the grill, tops rosemary focaccia ($2.75 each).
Italiana offers slabs of focaccia
from Iggy's Bread of the World ($1.99). The thick,
slightly bland bread with a sprinkle of dried oregano and rosemary comes into
its own in one of the spectacular sandwiches ($5). The split focaccia can be stuffed with prosciutto
the cheese counter at the fruit and produce marketA.
Russo & Sons in
The in-house bakery at Shaw's offers a fat, round, pillowy focaccia ($3.99) topped with sliced tomatoes and strewn with Parmesan shreds. Gummy dough under the sweet tomatoes suggests that the bread should finish baking at home. Points, though, for a delicate olive oil taste, a nicely golden under-crust, and plenty of basil and oregano.
Small rounds of soft focaccia at Trader Joe's ($2.79) are garnished with grilled leeks and onions and a generous scattering of sharp Asiago. Crisp pale-green leeks and sweet onions melt into a golden, quite flavorful crust. Ready-made focaccia sandwiches include tuna, chicken, or mozzarella. In the cheese version, chunks of soft mozzarella, loads of bright roasted red peppers, and a dash of walnut-cashew pesto are sandwiched inside pleasantly tangy sourdough focaccia (sandwiches $3.99).
Flour Bakery + Cafe in the South End has a more unusual take on the popular bread. Order a sandwich on focaccia ($7.25) from the cheery staff in this bustling eatery, and you'll receive your chosen filling between something that looks suspiciously like ordinary bread slices. It really is focaccia, though - the bakery produces enormous, high loaves of focaccia and slices them diagonally to form the backdrop for fillings such as smoked turkey with rich cranberry sauce. The pale yellow bread has a springy, pungent quality reminiscent of sourdough. The sandwich maker tells us, "We make focaccia a bit differently here. It's not traditional, but we like it a lot." We nod in agreement.
Russo & Sons, 560 Pleasant St.,
Flour Bakery + Cafe, 1595 Washington St., South End, Boston, 617-267-4300, and 12 Farnsworth St., Fort Point Channel, 617-338-4333.
Bread of the World,