Posted on March 25, 2015 by Viji
We are Touched by what we touch
We are Shaped by what we shape
We are Enhanced by what we enhance
– Thomas Berry
In short, this is what this rosemary focaccia is all about!
Mainly used as a dipping bread, focaccia — a flat oven-baked italian bread — is normally torn apart by hand and dipped into soups or olive oil and pepper. But ever since we started making it with spelt flour, it has become our favorite sandwich bread, and our most favorite pizza base.
This bread is all about ‘less is more’ and ‘slowing down the pace’. The small quantity of yeast, the very minimal ingredients, the very minimal effort involved, and the slow-rise of the dough over a long period of time in a cool environment all help the bread develop the magical flavor it has to offer. It teaches us that “long waiting time is the key to successful baking of bread”. Just some slow-rising techniques of old time artisanal bakers!
In the article, “The Rise of Real Bread,” Julian and Tim of Hambleton Bakery both point out how they believe it’s the fast fermentation which is making people intolerant to bread. According to them,”There are so many people who don’t think they can eat bread, yet they can eat ours with no problems. The slow fermentation of bread at Hambleton Bakery is the key here.”
In essence, all bread making is simple. Create a dough out of flour, water, yeast and salt. Set aside the dough allowing it to rise slowly and then bake it into bread.
This focaccia follows the same basic formula, except that all the ingredients are not mixed at the same time. It begins with the bread starter, known as sponge or, in Italian, biga. The biga is made with a little flour and water, along with a scant amount of yeast. This mixture is left to ferment at room temperature for several hours before being added to more of the flour and water. The small quantity of yeast in the biga grows as the hours go by, developing a sronger and more complex flavor. It is this biga which provides the strong foundation for this focaccia.
This is also an almost ‘No-Knead’ bread. Instead of kneading, the dough is gently turned and folded during its slow rise, to result in a well-risen focaccia with a tender moist crumb.
Finally, since adding the olive oil (the key ingredient in focaccia) straight to the dough can turn the bread dense and cakelike, to get a focaccia that has a crackly, crisp bottom, a deeply browned top, and an interior that is open and airy, the olive oil is added only to the skillet in which the focaccia is baked.
Makes one 9 inch focaccia
for the biga
- 1/2 cup spelt flour
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 1/2 teaspoon of original dry yeast for bread making
- 8-24 hours of time
for the dough
- 2 cups spelt flour
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
for the topping
- 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt (adjust to taste)
- 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Combine flour, water, and yeast in a bowl and stir with wooden spoon or hand until no dry flour remains. Cover the bowl and allow it to stand at room temperature for at least 8 hours, although it can be kept up to 24 hours.
In a bowl, mix flour, water, and biga gently using your hand until no dry flour remains. Cover with a damp towel and let it rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Sprinkle the fine salt over the dough, and mix it into the dough until it’s thoroughly incorporated. Cover with damp towel and let it rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Slide your fingers under the edge of the dough, lift, and fold the dough towards the center of the bowl. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat the process. Repeat for a total of 8 folds. Cover with a damp towel and let it rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Repeat folding, turning, and rising the dough 2 more times, for a total of three 30-minute rises. Let the dough, covered with a damp towel, continue to rise at room temperature, without any more turning and folding, until it is time for baking.
One hour before baking, adjust the oven rack to the upper middle position, place a cast iron pizza pan on the rack, and heat the oven to 450° F.
Coat a 10 inches round, cast iron skillet with 2 tablespoons of oil. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Gently transfer the dough to the skillet, slide the dough around the pan to coat the bottom and sides with oil, and then flip the dough over. Cover with a damp towel and let it rest for 5 minutes. Using fingertips, press the dough out toward the edge of the skillet, gently, making it an 8 inch circle. Cover it loosely with a damp towel. Let the dough rest until it’s slightly bubbly, which would be about 15 minutes. Press fingertips all over the top of the dough to form indentations. Sprinkle rosemary leaves evenly over the dough. Drizzle the rest of the olive oil over the top.
Place the skillet with the dough on the pizza pan. Bake until the tops are golden brown, or about 25 – 27 minutes. Transfer the skillet to the wire rack and let it cool for 5 minutes. Move the focaccia to the rack. Brush the top with any oil remaining in the skillet. Cool it for 15-30 minutes before serving.
Two days for making this focaccia might sound quite intimidating. Actually, the working time is so short; it’s all about waiting. But it’s worth the wait!
There is nothing so fundamental and heartwarming, and yet so versatile as bread. Nothing compares to the one taken fresh from the oven, its warmth, and its aroma. They are worth every effort they demand. Making fresh bread at home is in fact quite relaxing, also as simple and comforting as the bread itself. And, some revelations can be acquired only through direct experience – they cannot be learned through reading (including this post) or study or passed from one to another, simply because when it comes to cooking, there is no substitute for our fingers, eyes and nose!
A big thanks to “The Science of Good Cooking“, which helped me understand the science behind the process of bread making.