Simple as Sunshine Focaccia

January 19, 2011

Everyone’s heard of painting yourself into a corner, but how about painting yourself out of a corner? I’m not particular about all my corners, just the one my computer is in. And yes, in painting the floor (with primer, to seal the um… funk into well-aged press board before we put new flooring down), I cut myself off from my computer and all the pictures that make a blog more pleasant to read. Well, even a wet, Oregon winter can’t keep paint from drying or me from posting a blog, albeit a few days late…

Focaccia. In America, it almost always seems to be billed as a bread. In Italy, however, it’s more like a thick-crusted pizza and often served like an open-faced sandwich. The focaccia I’ve been served here is more or less plain with a an herb or two sprinkled on top, and it’s lovely just like that. But in Italy, there’s much more variety: thinly sliced potatoes seasoned with rosemary and extra virgin olive oil; sweet, browned onions or, my personal favorite, soft stracchino or crescenza cheese melted into a speckled brown and creamy crust.

Focaccia with Potatoes and Rosemary

I have yet to make cheese focaccia here in the states. The one time I found imported crescenza cheese in an uppity New York shop, it was two days past its expiration date and well on its way toward wedding-mint pastel. Maybe the author of this cheese-making blog could help us out with a recipe for a nice, soft, focaccia-worthy cheese, but until that happens, I’ll make do with my usual herbed or plain focaccia. It’s always a favorite, even if it does turn out like the bready, American version.

I never considered making homemade focaccia until I received a recipe book and focaccia pan one birthday. I’m not so good about adhering to recipes, and one of the biggest deterrents is when a recipe gets complicated for something that seems so simple. It was the sponge that turned me off — making a yeasty mix and waiting for hours and hours before I could even start the dough. Years later, I did delve into that yeasty, spongy world with my chewy Italian Ciabatta, but a dozen years ago, I wanted something manageable, quick, and fail safe. Simple as Sunshine Focaccia was born.

Simple as Sunshine Focaccia

This recipe is so easy, even my friends that swear they can’t bake bread can make this. It’s a pretty soft and sticky dough, and I find it easiest to use a kitchen-aid type mixer, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be made without one. You’ll also need a deep dish pan. In a pinch, a large pie plate would work, as would a Pyrex casserole dish. Best is a deep-dish pizza pan like this one:

 

Focaccia Pan (aka Deep Dish Pizza Pan)

As written, the recipe takes about 4 hours between mixing, rising, and baking. But I’ve also made it in barely over an hour. See Speed Focaccia below.

  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 teaspoons yeast
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3 cups flour
  • olive oil
  • salt, rosemary, or…(see Toppings below)

Kitchen Aid Mixing Method

  1. Pour the water into your mixer’s bowl, sprinkle the yeast on top and add the salt and sugar. Don’t worry about waiting for the yeast to dissolve.
  2. Dump the flour in and mix it in with the paddle until all the ingredients are incorporated — a couple of minutes at most.
  3. Remove the mixer, drizzle a bit of olive oil on the walls of the bowl, and swirl the dough around with a rubber spatula until it and the bowl are coated with oil. Cover and let sit for an hour or two in a warm spot.
  4. Punch down with the rubber spatula. Cover the bottom of your baking dish with a table spoon or so of olive oil and plop the dough on top. Use your fingers to spread the dough into a flattish form and let rise for another hour or so.
  5. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  6. Just before placing the pan in the oven, dimple the top with your fingers or with the handle end of a wooden spoon.
  7. Drizzle with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake for 25 to 35 minutes (depending on how hot your oven really is). The sides and bottom should be nicely brown, and the top should be golden — especially where the olive oil was drizzled. If it’s not turning brown after 25 minutes, crank the heat up to 400 degrees. (This can also be baked on a barbecue, but you’ll need to start with a cool pizza stone so the bottom doesn’t burn. See my Chewy Italian Bread post for more info on baking bread on a barbecue.)
  8. Remove from the pan promptly, using a spatula to carefully loosen any area that sticks to the pan. Cool on a wire rack and serve, preferably warm.
  9. Doesn’t keep more than a day or so, but no worries. It rarely lasts that long.

Hand Mixing Method

  1. Pour the water into a deep bowl, sprinkle the yeast on top and add the the salt and sugar. Don’t worry about waiting for the yeast to dissolve.
  2. Add the flour 1/2 cup at a time. Mix with a wooden spoon for as long as you can, then use your floured hands to mix until all the ingredients are incorporated.
  3. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on the walls of the bowl, and swirl the dough around until it’s coated with the oil. Let sit for an hour or two in a warm spot.
  4. Follow from step 4 above.

Speed Focaccia

  1. Preheat oven to 100 degrees (or the closest you can get).
  2. Mix all the ingredients as in steps 1 and 2 above.
  3. Oil the dough in the bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise in the oven for 20 minutes.
  4. Remove the dough, and raise  oven temp to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, put dough into oiled pan and spread. Drizzle with more oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake as explained above.

Toppings

  • Fancy Salt: whatever you pour or spread on top, don’t skimp on the salt. I like to use some chunky orange salt someone gave me as a gift some years back.
  • Rosemary-Infused Oil: saute a couple of tablespoons of fresh,chopped rosemary in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over low heat for a few minutes and drizzle over dough just before baking.

    Ingredients for Caramelized Onions

    Caramelized Onion Ingredients

  • Caramelized Onions: caramelize onions and spread over the top just before baking.
  • Olive: Use your finger or a small spoon to dunk halved olives in the dough just before baking. My favorite are the black, semi-dry Greek olives. Save a few to scatter on top.
  • Fresh cherry tomatoes: Just spread them on top and sprinkle with salt just before baking. Chopped, fresh basil is a nice addition to sprinkle on top just before serving.
  • Potato and Rosemary: Slice potato into thin rounds — no more than 1/8″ thick, preferably less. Boil for 4 – 8 minutes (depends on how thinly you sliced them) just until a fork pierces the center without breaking it. Strain and fan across dough just before baking. Top with chopped, fresh rosemary, olive oil, and salt.

The possibilities are endless. Travel through the Italian countryside, and you’ll find focaccia with fresh grapes, sweet figs, or savory sage. And every single one of them goes perfectly with a nice glass of red wine.

Go ahead. Experiment.

Buon appetito ~

Make your own Pizza Stone

September 4, 2010

As promised, a post about my homemade pizza stone. Here it is in action, baking yesterday’s lunch: roasted duck,  caramelized onion, sage and mozzarella pizza. (No, I did not roast a duck for this pizza. As I said in my pizza post, think leftovers and get creative with your toppings!)

Caramelized Onion, Duck & Sage Pizza

Where to start:

  • Measure the barbecue or oven you’ll be using the stone in, and find the the best-sized tray to fit your space and your needs, the heavier duty the better. I use an undersized cookie sheet only because I have yet to locate a 16″ x 22″ industrial baking sheet.
  • Locate enough firebricks to fit your tray. The ones I found are 4 3/8″ x 9″ x 1 1/4.” If I remember correctly, they were only a few dollars each. Bought them at Willamette Greystone, a local vendor for concrete and rock products.Fire Brick

Now all you have to do is get the bricks to fit into the tray. Owning, begging or borrowing a wet saw makes this whole process easier, but it’s also relatively inexpensive to rent one. If you’re only clipping corners, a cheap masonry bit on a circular saw will do your trick. Even better: Find your fire bricks at a hardware store that offers a few free cuts with a purchase, and they’ll do the work for you. If none of the above is doable, find a tray that will fit full-sized bricks without making any cuts.

WELL-Seasoned Pizza Stone

Here’s another idea: Maybe the bricks could be placed directly on the grate. They’re weighty enough that they’re not likely to move around to much during the cooking process… Only time I see it as a hassle is when you’re baking bread just before barbecuing a main course, but a heavy-duty hot pad and sturdy metal spatula might make it simple enough to remove them one by one. No cuts. No tray. Hmmm…

As with just about everything, there’s room for improvement here.

My brother is currently experimenting with bricks cut down to half their thickness. If this doesn’t make them too fragile, may be the way to go as they’ll heat faster and therefore cut down on prep time for breads and pizzas. Also need to make sure they don’t heat too quickly in relation to the barbecue’s ambient heat, meaning the bottom of a pizza or loaf would overcook by the time the top is ready…

If only the process of removing one pizza and inserting another didn’t let most of the heat out of my barbecue… but until the time comes to build one of these, my homemade pizza stone will do just fine.

Forno Bravo Pizza Oven

Forno Bravo Pizza Oven

http://www.fornobravo.com/pompeii_oven/pompeii_oven.html

Enjoy~

P.S.  Coming soon: Pesto! Pesto! Pesto!