Friday, June 15, 2012

Freakin' Awesome Focaccia

I am so glad that I started on this project of baking my way through the Bread Baker's Apprentice.  It's taught me that patience really makes the best bread.  I think the reason that no-knead bread has caught on over the past few years is not that kneading is too demanding, it's that the 24 hour rest period allows the flavor to develop.  I used a focaccia recipe that calls for the use of a poolish starter (aka biga or sponge) which is just flour, water, and a small amount of yeast allowed to ferment for 48-72 hours (the longer, the better) before more flour, salt, and water are added to make the dough.

After about 45 hours, my poolish looked nice and bubbly.  For the sake of research, I tried a bit.  It tasted like slightly sour flour.  It really benefits from the additional ingredients.  Also baking.  The depth of flavor and the tender crumb really does come from this step.  It takes 3 days advance planning, but the amount of work is minimal.  The morning you want to make the foccacia, you want to bring the poolish to room temperature for about 3 hours.  While I did this, I made stock in my crock pot.  I keep a bag of chicken, herb, and vegetable scraps (especially mushroom stems) as well as parmesan rinds in the freezer. When I have enough to fill my crockpot, I dump it all in, still frozen, and cover it with water.  After 6 hours on high, the stock is ready and full of umami from the mushroom stems and parmesan.  A bit of Worcestershire sauce can also add some depth of flavor to the stock.

Before baking, I topped the focaccia with herb oil, fresh rosemary, and extra-coarse salt.  The crust is fantastically crisp thanks to the oil and the chunks of salt which contrasts the tender interior.  I used rosemary because I just bought a rosemary plant and the flavor really permeated the whole loaf.  Next time I'm tempted to try topping the focaccia with grapes or gorgonzola.  The recipe fills an entire 12" x 17" pan so you could even top each quadrant with different toppings.

I served the focaccia alongside a simple soup of summer vegetables - peppers, zucchini, tomatoes - and white beans topped with parmesan and a big dollop of pesto.  The bread is great for sopping but we liked it best on its own.  I think this is the best bread I've ever baked - at least until next month.

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