Sunday, May 4, 2008

Rosemary Focaccia

Cooking is one of the ways I unwind. Luckily I have plenty of friends who willingly consume the fruit of my labor so I don’t have too!

I’ve had a hankering for focaccia recently; its not something one can easily find in Alaska. I think back to last year, during this time, when I would buy the best rosemary focaccia.

The local gourmet store in Akron made many breads and pastries of its own, but ordered in a number of different artisan loaves from Mediterra Bakehouse in Pittsburgh, PA. One was a 1 ½” gorgeous focaccia, sprinkled with rosemary and sea salt. It was a soft aromatic pillow of goodness. It sold fast, especially during grilling season.

I haven’t made focaccia before, I don’t know why, as I’ve tried many styles of bread. Last night I figured I would take the plunge and use up the remaining rosemary my friend brought back from the lower 48. A luxury such as fresh rosemary isn’t something that should go to waste!

I looked at the recipe options I had, I opted for trying out the focaccia recipe from Peter Reinhart’s Crust and Crumb. I halved the recipe for my first attempt; I didn’t want to tempt any bad baking mojo. I did a few minor substitutions: adding ½ cup of white whole wheat flour; using barm in place of poolish (needed to adjust the water to get the correct consistency), and I use active dry yeast vs. Reinhart’s penchant for instant yeast – while measuring out ingredients, I ‘wake up’ the active dry yeast with a portion of the required liquid.

I put all ingredients minus the oil and water into the bowl of my stand mixer, put the dough hook on and started mixing. I added the oil and water, and then supplemented with extra water until the dough achieved the consistency that Reinhart described. I kneaded with the mixer for approximately 15 minutes total.

After a three hour rise, the dough was stretched to fit a parchment lined pan brushed with oil, topped with fresh rosemary and dimpled. I placed the dough into a bag and let rise for 1 hour before putting in the fridge to retard overnight.

This morning I dragged myself out of bed to pull the dough from the fridge for the requisite 2 hours prior to baking. I preheated the oven to 525ºF and went back to bed for one and a half hours! When I finally crawled out of bed for the day I took the pan out of the bag, sprinkled some kosher salt on top and started baking.

The bake time in Reinhart’s C&C was 5 minutes at 550ºF and then 25-30 minutes at 425ºF. After about 15 minutes, I found that the focaccia had browned more than I expected. It still didn’t ‘sound’ like it was done, so I covered loosely with foil, turned the heat to 350ºF and baked an additional 5 minutes. Since it was my first attempt I would rather have slightly under baked bread than over baked bread.

The final bread ended up being darker than I expected, but it didn’t impact the flavor at all, the crumb was denser at the bottom vs. the top, but for my first attempt I was quite pleased.

The flavor was great! Salt and rosemary is one of those perfect combinations of flavors. I took the fruit of my labor to work and everyone devoured it. All in all I will definitely make this again – probably as the perfect partner to the pasta dinner I am making for my husband when he finally comes home from taking his final semester of finals at school!

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