Confession- I have a bread machine. I love my bread machine. Sometimes it's just really convenient to put all the ingredients into the silver bucket and hit start and have a fresh bread a few hours later. This past weekend I had a bit of extra time (no classes on Monday so no reading to do) and decided to make bread by hand. Some people seem scared of making bread- like it is a cursed activity that can only lead to ruination. I haven't ever really felt like that, which may have something to do with 7th grade home ec. class. My group made a bread that turned out so beautifully our teacher took a picture of it so we could show our parents. I remember we were so proud of that little loaf, with its golden brown crust. It's sort of a triumphant feeling, having a bread turn out, definitely something I don't get making cookies or even using the BreadmanPlus.
This weekend I decided to make Alton Brown's foccacia recipe from I'm Just Here for More Food, his baking book. Alton (after so many years of watching 'Good Eats' calling him by his last name just seems too formal) gives clear, concise instructions that make this bread a great one for first time bread bakers, but the result is so delicious that even baking pros will come back to it. The foccacia has a light, slightly chewy texture and is the perfect size to split in half for sandwich making, or to just cut up and put out with a dish of olive oil. I should be able to post the recipe for it tonight so you can give it a try...
Okay- here's the recipe, re-written by me to try to make things super clear (and avoid any copyright violations)
Adapted from Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food
1 c. water
1/2 c. cornmeal (coarse of fine ground)
2 1/3 c. water
1/4 c. olive oil
879g/1 lb, 15oz/6.5 c. all purpose flour (can substitute bread flour if you have it)
1.5 T. instant yeast
1 T plus 1 t. salt
Olive oil and salt for topping.
- Make the cornmeal base by bring 1 c. water to a boil, wisk in cornmeal and cook until thickened (for fine ground probably a minute, for coarse ground 4 or 5 minutes). Add additional water and oil to pan and heat to 110F. You can check with a thermometer but it you don't have one, carefully check the temperature with your finger- it should be quite warm but not hot.
- Pour the cornmeal mixture into your work bowl and add half of the flour and the yeast. Mix well and let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
- At this point the dough should be bubbly and have a greater volume than when you started out. If it does not that means you yeast has kicked the bucket. Do not pass go here- you need to start out again. The two possibilities are that 1) your yeast is dead 2) you killed the yeast with water than was too hot. If you think it's option 2, just try again with cooler water.
- Now work in the remaining flour and salt. You may need an assistant to help you with this one as it does get hard to mix. You want the dough to form a ball that pulls away from the side of the bowl quite cleanly, but is still a bit tacky to the touch (think the feeling of that blue goo you use to put up posters in college dorm rooms). You may not need to add all the flour, or you may need to add more than the recipe calls for.
- Kneed the bread for about 10 minutes. At the end, it should be pretty elastic and not easily ripped.
- Roll the dough into a ball and then put it in a greased bowl and top with a clean kitchen towel, let rise for 1 hour.
- Spread the dough out on a half sheet pan (you'll need to squish and pull it to make one even layer). Top with the clean towel again and let rise for about 1.5 hours.
- 20 minutes before the rise is done, preheat your oven to 450F, making sure you have a rack in the bottom third of the oven.
- 10 minutes before the rise is done, use your fingers to make little dimples all over the bread (tip- have someone without very long finger nails to this). They can be fairly deep but shouldn't go all the way to the bottom of the dough.
- Drizzle the top with olive oil (a few tablespoons) and sprinkle with kosher salt (around a tablespoon).
- Bake the bread for 20 to 25 minutes or until the top gets a nice golden brown color.
- Carefully turn the bread out onto a cutting board and serve warm. It also hold up great for about a day on the counter without getting to stale and freezes really well. Just cut into individual portions and wrap in foil or saran wrap, then put in a freezer bag.