after the oven

Oh, people. I am in bread heaven right now. And it smells like garlic and rosemary.

In my second adventure down Bread Baking Lane (ouch – too cliché? Better than “Breadtown,” which I thought about using), I decided to concoct another Food Network recipe (because I heart them) for Multi-Grain Focaccia With Herbs and Garlic. I didn’t have to search for it – it found me. Fresh garlic. Chopped thyme and rosemary. Whole-wheat flour and freshly shaved cheese. My heart was aflutter. And 14 and a half hours later, it was a reality – a haloed angel of yeasty deliciousness, baked and glowing in anticipation for me to take a bite (or two, or three).

steel cut oatsoat flour
flaxseed mealactive dry yeast



I know what you’re thinking – 14 and a half hours! What kind of crazed person has that kind of time and/or patience? Well, generally, I don’t. I really don’t. I am actually quite notorious for my busied/hurried state of being; just ask my husband. But in this case, 12 of the 14 hours were spent sleeping and living life outside of the kitchen while I waited for the poolish to be ready.

poolish

What on earth is poolish, you are now asking. Good question. I won’t be snobbish and pretend that I knew right away. I may or may not have Googled it, and discovered it’s a fancy term for a starter, or the mother dough (that’s right, the mother dough. Like the Mother Ship, or the Mother Land of Doughdom. Ha.). And though it seems like a frightening thing to prepare, it was the easiest part of the recipe. A little bit of oats, a dash of yeast, a heap of flour and a splash of water, and let sit for 12 hours or overnight. Voila! A poolish.

mixing it up

folding the dough

When the poolish was ready, I mixed all the dry ingredients (all-purpose and wheat and oat flour, oh my!) and made a valley in the center of the bowl where the poolish would go. In goes the poolish, mix with a wooden spoon, and wait. Then plop the dough on a floured surface, fold like a business letter, and wait. Fold again, and wait. And wait. And wait some more.

Finally, the dough was ready for baking. Instead of using two identical pans, I used a 15 by 9-inch pan and an 8-inch square pan, to see which would have a better presentation. After chopping up garlic, stripping thyme and rosemary sprigs and shaving strips of parmesan using a potato peeler (yes, I’m innovative. Really, I don’t have one of those fancy mandoline slicers, though I do covet one), I divided the dough into the pans laced with olive oil, pressed into the dough the garlic, thyme and rosemary and sprinkled on top coarse sea salt and the cheese shavings. Into the oven, and in 20 minutes, I was in the aforementioned heavenly state. I mean, truly. Not to toot my own horn here, but this was the best focaccia – nay, the best bread – I have ever digested in my 22-year existence. A soft center, an ever-so-slightly crunchy crust and a medley of fresh herbal-garlicky-cheesy-salty goodness embedded into the uppermost layer?

Speechless. I am now speechless (until I finish this last piece).

cheesy deliciousness

Debrief: There’s no need to use jelly roll, ¼ sheet or 9-inch square metal pans for the focaccia. Both of the pans I used worked well. It’s simply a matter of preference in terms of how you want the bread to look. Next time, I might try 9-inch round cake pans. I’d also consider reducing the amount of salt called for to ¾ of a tablespoon, or even half a tablespoon, to avoid pockets of overly-sea saltiness. I will warn you, these ingredients can get pricey when you have to buy more than what’s necessary for just two loaves (especially the flaxseed meal, the oat flour and the cheese, which is why I substituted Parmesan for the true Parmigiano-Reggiano). But trust me, you’ll want to make more.

Multi-Grain Focaccia With Herbs and Garlic
courtesy of Food Network Kitchens

Poolish (pre-ferment):

1 cup whole-wheat flour
½ cup steel-cut oats, sometimes called Irish or Scotch oats (I found/used Irish oats)
¾ cup water
Pinch active dry yeast

Dough:

2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional as needed
¾ cup whole-wheat flour
½ cup oat flour
¼ cup flaxseed meal
2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast
2 tsp fine salt
1 ¾ cups warm water (110 degrees is ideal)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Cooking spray

Toppings:

6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, chopped (2 tsp)
1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped (2 tsp)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp medium-coarse sea salt
3 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano, shaved into large pieces (I used freshly-shaved Parmesan instead as a cheaper, but just as tasty, substitute)

From Food Network Web site:

Equipment: two pans, either jelly roll, 1/4 sheet, or 9-inch square metal (or any pans you have in the kitchen)

To make the poolish: Whisk the whole wheat flour, steel-cut oats, water and yeast in medium bowl. Cover with plastic and set aside at room temperature for 12 hours or overnight.

To make the dough: Whisk the all-purpose, whole wheat, and oat flour, flaxseed, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the poolish, water, and olive oil. Stir the wet ingredients into the flour with a wooden spoon to make a very sticky loose dough. Cover with a kitchen towel and let stand for 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a well-floured work surface or prep mat. Coat your hands with flour and press dough into a 12 by 8-inch rectangle (long side towards you). Using a bench scraper (or pancake turners, as I used), fold the dough as you would a business letter. (The dough is very wet and this may seem odd, but just move quickly with the scraper and fold one end of the dough over the other. Make sure you brush any raw flour from the surface of the dough before you fold over the second end). Spray with cooking spray and cover with a kitchen towel. Let stand 30 minutes.

Fold the dough again like a letter, and rest for another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Divide the olive oil among two pans and swirl to coat the pan. Divide dough in half and transfer a piece to each pan, turn dough over to coat both sides with oil, then press dough evenly into the pans. Scatter the garlic, thyme, and rosemary over the top and press the toppings into the dough with your fingers. Sprinkle with sea salt and scatter the cheese on top. (See Cook’s Note.)

Bake until golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Slip focaccia from the pans and cool on a rack.

Cooks’ Note: The focaccia dough can be tightly wrapped and refrigerated at this point for up to three days. Bring to room temperature for about two hours before baking.

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final product

I’m starting with the bare essentials. Flour. Yeast. Water. Some salt and some sugar, and extra virgin olive oil, and I find myself prepared for a basic bread dough, courtesy of the orange Croc-clad Mario Batali.

active dry yeastflour
sugarolive oil cap



I began, in my neurotic enthusiasm, going exactly according to the recipe. I tried, however, to mix the batter with a KitchenAid stand mixer dough hook, aptly named for its crooked curvature. It didn’t work at all. So I grabbed the heavy lump of dough out of the mixing bowl and kneaded it with my hands for about 15 minutes per the recipe’s request – quite the workout for a kneading novice (but I’m sure Mario could roll the dough with only his pinky). The dough miraculously developed into a large ball on the cutting board. I plopped it in a bowl lightly-coated with EVOO, covered it with a kitchen towel and let it sit on the counter for two hours until it swelled to twice its original size. I punched it down the middle and divided it into two nonstick loaf pans.

flour and olive oil

Instead of baking it right then and there, I decided to let it sit overnight in the refrigerator, because a little birdie once told me the “overnight fridge sit” was important, and… it wasn’t. In the morning, the bread ceased to rise again and I was left with vertically-challenged loaves. Nevertheless, I put them in the oven for about 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees (a tip from another, more knowledgeable birdie, because the original recipe didn’t divulge anything about actually baking the dough). And the results? Aromatic pouches of olive oily goodness, save their modest appearance. A very basic bread, indeed, but a good first effort. The bread would be fantastic by itself or as a sidecar to breakfast, with fresh butter or jam (like the cherry and peach preserves we bought from Sleeping Bear Orchards. Or with olive oil and parmesan? Yes, please. (P.S. My family devoured one and a half loaves of this bread within the first four hours of its life. I think we’re in desperate need of some good dough.)

tasty slice

Debrief: In the future, I’d suggest dividing the dough into the loaf tins before it rises and then let it sit. I’d also skip the overnight refrigeration, or at least put the dough in the fridge before it rises in the first place if you can’t bake it right away.

Basic Bread Dough
courtesy of Mario Batali

½ cup warm water
3 tsp dry yeast
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
4 cups high-gluten flour
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

From Batali: Place warm water in a warm mixing bowl and add yeast. Stir to dissolve and let stand 3 minutes. Add salt and sugar and stir through. Add flour and olive oil and mix, using hands until you can knead the dough without it sticking to your fingers. Add more water, if needed.

Wash and dry hands and remove ball to cutting board. Knead the dough, occasionally dusting with 1 teaspoon flour, until a firm, smooth homogenous ball is formed, about 15 minutes. Place ball of dough in a lightly oiled mixing bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place until its size is doubled, about 2 hours. Punch down and divide into two pieces.

Dough is now ready for use.

Extra punches: Bake bread at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes in two nonstick loaf pans. Remove from oven and serve warm.

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