Yeast bread is by far my favorite thing to make. Something about it makes me feel powerful. Like if I can conquer the mighty yeast, then I can do anything. And yes, I do realize that this makes me a weirdo.
Anyway, whenever I do a pasta with red sauce I always make some kind of yeast bread. Usually just french bread that I slather with garlic butter. This past week I was doing a spinach lasagna and wanted a fun bread to go with it. My husband loves focaccia (he’s been known the make a special trip to Fresh Market just to pay $8 for a small round of it) so I gave it a go.
I was intimidated at first but the recipe I used was so simple. Instead of kneading, you simply stretch the dough and fold it over itself. Do that a few times and then press it into a pan with your fingertips. Brush with some herb oil and bake. Really too simple for good bread. But boy was it good. Husband and little man both loved it and between the two of them went through the entire pan in 2 days.
(Can someone please tell WordPress to stop changing? I’ve only been using it for a few months and I’ve already seen it change twice. Seriously. What is up WordPress?)
Herbed Focaccia Bread
from Annie’s Eats
5 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. instant yeast
6 tbsp. olive oil
2 cups water, at room temperature
¼ to ½ cup herb oil (recipe below)
Stir together the flour, salt and yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the oil and water and mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until the ingredients form a wet, sticky ball. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5-7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. (You may need to add additional flour to firm up the dough enough to clear the sides of the bowl, but the dough should still be quite soft and sticky.)
Sprinkle enough flour on the counter to make a bed about 6 inches square. Using a scraper or spatula dipped in water, transfer the sticky dough to the bed of flour and dust liberally with flour, patting the dough into a rectangle. Wait 5 minutes for the dough to relax.
Coat your hands with flour and stretch the dough from each end to twice its size. Fold it, letter style, over itself to return it to a rectangular shape. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil, again dust with flour and cover loosely with plastic wrap.
Let rest for 30 minutes. Stretch and fold the dough again; mist with spray oil, dust with flour and cover. After 30 minutes, repeat this one more time.
Allow the covered dough to ferment on the counter for 1 hour. It should swell but not necessarily double in size.
Line a 17×12” sheet pan with baking parchment and proceed with the shaping and panning (instructions below).
Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough overnight (or for up to 3 days).
Remove the pan from the refrigerator 3 hours before baking. Drizzle additional herb oil over the surface and dimple it in. (You can use all of it if you want; the dough will absorb it even though it looks like a lot.) This should allow you to fill the pan completely with the dough a thickness of about ½-inch. Add any other pre-proof toppings desired. Again, cover the pan with plastic and proof the dough at room temperature for 3 hours, or until the dough doubles in size, rising to a thickness of nearly 1-inch.
Preheat the oven to 500° with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Gently place any pre-bake toppings on the dough.
Place the pan in the oven. Lower the oven setting to 450° and bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and continue baking the focaccia for 5-10 minutes, or until it begins to turn a light golden brown. If you are using any during-baking toppings, sprinkle them on at this point and continue baking an additional 5 minutes or so. The internal temperature of the dough should register 200° (measured in the center), and the cheese, if using, should melt, not burn.
Allow the focaccia to cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing and serving.
Drizzle ¼ cup of olive oil over the paper and spread it with your hands or a brush to cover the entire surface. Lightly oil your hands and using a plastic or metal pastry scraper, lift the dough off the counter and transfer it to the sheet pan, maintaining the rectangular shape as much as possible.
Spoon half of the herb oil over the dough. Use your fingertips to dimple the dough and spread it simultaneously. Do not use the flat of your hands – only the fingertips – to avoid tearing or ripping the dough. Try to keep the thickness as uniform as possible across the surface. Dimpling allows you to de-gas only part of the dough while preserving gas in the non-dimpled sections. If the dough becomes too springy, let it rest for about 15 minutes and then continue dimpling. Don’t worry if you are unable to fill the pan 100 percent, especially the corners. As the dough relaxes and proofs, it will spread out naturally. Use more herb oil as needed to ensure that the entire surface is coated in oil.
Warm ½ cup olive oil over low heat in a small saucepan. Add about 4 tsp. of dried herbs, such as basil, parsley, oregano, thyme, rosemary, or sage. Add about ¾ tsp. of kosher salt, ¼ tsp. black pepper, and 1-2 finely minced cloves garlic. You may also add paprika, ground cayenne pepper, fennel seeds or onion powder to taste. Allow to remain on low heat for about 1-1 ½ hours to allow the oil to become infused with the flavors.