Thursday, December 30, 2010

Focaccia Bread with Onions and Sage

I have been working on this recipe for a VERY long time, at least 10-12 years and I think in the last couple years I have finally got it right. This makes a very light bread with a cotton candy-like texture inside, and a very crisp almost deep-fried exterior. I sometime will make this bread and a simple Caesar salad for dinner and be happy happy happy.

There are a couple of tricks to this bread. The first being that it ABSOLUTELY makes a difference what type of flour you use. It must be an unbleached high protein flour. The best I have found to date is King Arthur's Bread flour. Using a lesser quality flour will result in a cake-like bread, still tasty, but really lacking in texture.

Second, the dough should have a very high water content and will begin as a very very sticky dough. Third, the folding (or turning) technique helps build the gluten in the dough without a lot of kneading and will develop those delightful big bubbles one finds in any good artisanal bread.

I like to bake the bread on a cornmeal-dusted pan that has been sprinkled with red pepper flakes... for a surprising occasional bite of heat... its totally optional.

Like most homemade breads, this doesn't keep, so eat it up when it is fresh.

This recipe takes about 4-5 hours from start to finish, so start early in the day to have it ready for dinner.

Focaccia Bread with Onions and Sage
serves 12

2 cups warm water
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 pkg dry active yeast (about 2 tsp)
1/4 extra virgin olive oil
3 1/2 tsp salt
5 cups (about) unbleached bread flour (3 1/2 cups in the dough, 1 1/2 cups for "turning" the bread)

1/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1 small onion, cut into very thin rings
10-12 fresh sage leaves
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup parmesan reggiano cheese grated

Place warm water in mixing bowl of stand mixer, add 1 Tbsp sugar and stir to dissolve. Sprinkle yeast over surface of water. Let satnd 10 minutes, yeast should begin to foam and bubble. Add salt and olive oil and 2 cups bread flour. With paddle attachment begin to beat dough until smooth. Add 1 1/2 cups more flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating after each addition (3 separate additions). This makes 3 1/2 cups flour. Continue to beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes until dough forms web-like strands in the bowl. Dough will be VERY sticky and scrappy and will hang from the paddle.

The dough should be VERY sticky and hang from the paddle.

Transfer dough to a well-oiled large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise 45 minutes in a warm place.

You will use the remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour to "turn" the dough. This is where we will form the gluten of the dough. It will go from sticky to smooth after the next set of steps.

Heavily flour the surface of a work area, and empty dough from bowl onto flour. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour, and gently flatten dough into a large flat "pancake". fold the left side of the dough to the center, then the right side over the left, then the top down and finally the bottom over the top. Turn dough over and spin gently to form a ball. return dough to well-oiled bowl (you may need to add more oil to keep dough from sticking). Allow dough to rise 30 minutes in a warm place.Dump the dough onto a heavily -floured surface and sprinkle the top with flour.

Gently flatten the dough into a large "pancake".

Fold the left side to the center.
Next, fold the right side over the left.

Then, fold the top side down to the center.

And then fold the bottom up over the top.

Finally, flip the dough over, and give it a quick spin with your hands.

You will repeat the above step 2 more times. Each time, dumping the dough onto a floured surface, sprinkling the dough with flour and folding the dough before returning it to the bowl to rise for 30 minutes.

After the final turning (folding), allow the dough to rise until doubled in volume (1 1/2 - 2 hours).

Oil a jelly roll pan with olive oil, then dust with cornmeal, tapping out any excess. Optional, sprinkle red pepper flakes over cornmeal. Empty risen dough onto prepared jelly roll pan and gently spread toward edges (usually it will not completely fill the whole pan... which is OK because it will spread as it rises and a rustic focaccia is a thing of beauty). Place thinly-sliced onion rings and sage leaves onto top of bread, cover with a tea towel and allow to rise for 1 hour.

Dough has doubled in volume and the pan is dusted with cornmeal and red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 400F.

After dough has risen, remove tea towel, and with your fingers poke indentations all over bread. Drizzle olive oil into holes, and sprinkle top of bread with parmesan cheese.

Poking he dough with fingers to make small wells for the olive oil.
As the bread rises in the oven these wells will baste the dough with oil!

Bake 20 minutes. Allow bread to cool 10 minutes before removing from pan. Let the bread rest another 15 minutes before cutting into squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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