Sunday, November 25, 2007

Daring Bakers challenge: focaccia

This weekend I tackled my second Daring Bakers challenge: focaccia. I was very excited when I found out about this month’s challenge. I’ve never made bread of any kind and I’ve been waiting for an excuse to give it a try.

The recipe was chosen by Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups and is Tender Potato Bread (from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. The bread can be formed into a loaf, rolls or focaccia, and I decided upon the latter since it is tasty and satisfying as a snack on its own, and afforded more creative topping possibilities (and what better excuse to sop up olive oil?).

Bread is a little scary for the novice: unlike cake or pastry making there’s a lot of leeway in a bread recipe and a lot of judgment involved: the amount of flour that’s added is dependent upon the texture of the bread. The amount of time the bread takes to rise is affected by room temperature, humidity and even the draftiness of the room it’s made in. A good dough must be elastic but not too sticky and have just the right feel after kneading. A good bread baker must take all of these factors into account in the making of the dough.

I don’t have any judgment or instinct on these matters having never made bread before, but luckily this recipe, plus learning from my fellow bakers’ experiences with the dough, made it possible to have a very successful first go-around. The dough is made by combining a mashed potato with the potato cooking water, flour (all-purpose and whole wheat), yeast and salt – unbelievably simple ingredients that turned into a wonderfully airy and tender bread.

For the challenge, we were allowed to depart from the basic recipe by adding our own seasonings in addition to the recommended brushing of olive oil and sprinkling of sea salt on the top (and also allowed to form the dough however we wanted). I decided to split the dough in half and top one with Kalamata and assorted olives plus rosemary and yellow onion and top the other with yellow onions, red onions, shallots, scallions and fresh thyme. Both were delicious and I am looking forward to enjoying the spoils of my effort all week! As a word of encouragement if you are weary of bread: nearly everyone had a great experience with the bread and loved the end result.

A few things I’d like to try next: I’d like to mix in caramelized onions or an onion confit into the batter so as to end up with an onion-filled bread (vs. solely topped) the next time. I’d also be more generous with the toppings that baked down more significantly than I was expecting. I also had a good learning: I ran out of time to bake the bread after I had let it rise and was able to form and refrigerate the bread (stopping it from rising) and then bring it to room temperature the next day, allow it to rise an additional ~20 minutes and then bake it. A very helpful learning since it’s hard to find the time to bake the bread in one sitting.

I’ll definitely try this again. Thanks Tanna for a great experience!

I'm repeating the entire recipe and Tanna's notes below as they were very helpful and descriptive

Tender potato bread (from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid)

Makes 1 large tender-crumbed pan loaf AND something more; one 10X15 inch crusty yet tender focaccia, 12 soft dinner rolls, or a small pan loaf

Suggested toppings:
For Loaves and Rolls: melted butter (optional)
For Foccacia: olive oil, coarse salt, and rosemary leaves (or as you wish)

Potatoes and potato water give this bread wonderful flavor and texture. The dough is very soft and moist and might feel a little scary if you’ve never handled soft dough before.

Once baked, the crumb is tender and airy, with tiny soft pieces of potato in it and a fine flecking of whole wheat. The loaves have a fabulous crisp texture on the outside and a slightly flat-topped shape. They make great toast and tender, yet strong, sliced bread for sandwiches. The dinner rolls are soft and inviting, and the focaccia is memorable.

4 medium to large floury (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks.
Tanna Note: For the beginner bread baker I suggest no more than 8 ounces of potato; for the more advanced no more than 16 ounces. The variety of potatoes you might want to use would include Idaho, Russet & Yukon gold, there are others.
4 cups (950 ml) water, reserve cooking water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 1⁄2 cups to 8 1⁄2 cups (1 kg to 1350g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (130g) whole wheat flour

Making the dough (Directions will be for making by hand):
Put the potatoes and 4 cups water in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook, half covered, until the potatoes are very tender.

Drain the potatoes, SAVE THE POTATO WATER, and mash the potatoes well.

Measure out 3 cups (750ml) of the reserved potato water. Add extra water if needed to make 3 cups. Place the water and mashed potatoes in the bowl you plan to mix the bread dough in. Let cool to lukewarm (70-80°F/21 - 29°C) – stir well before testing the temperature – it should feel barely warm to your hand. You should be able to submerge you hand in the mix and not be uncomfortable.

Add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes & water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.

Note about adding yeast: If using active dry yeast or fresh yeast, mix & stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes & water and let stand 5 minutes. Then add 2 cups of flour to the yeast mix and allow to rest several minutes. If using instant dry yeast, add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes & water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.

Sprinkle in the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the softened butter; mix well. Add the 1 cup whole wheat flour, stir briefly.

Add 2 cups of the unbleached all-purpose flour and stir until all the flour has been incorporated. (Tanna Note: At this point you have used 4 cups of the possible 8 1⁄2 cups suggested by the recipe.)

Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but as it takes up more flour from the kneading surface, it will become easier to handle; use a dough scraper to keep your surface clean. The kneaded dough will still be very soft. Place the dough in a large clean bowl or your rising container of choice, cover with plastic wrap or lid, and let rise about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead gently several minutes. It will be moist and a little sticky.

Forming the bread:
Divide the dough into 2 unequal pieces in a proportion of one-third and two-thirds (one will be twice as large as the other). Place the smaller piece to one side and cover loosely.

To shape the large loaf:
Butter a 9 x 5 x 2.5 inch loaf/bread pan. Flatten the larger piece of dough on the floured surface to an approximate 12 x 8 inch oval, then roll it up from a narrow end to form a loaf. Pinch the seam closed and gently place seam side down in the buttered pan. The dough should come about three-quarters of the way up the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 35 to 45 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled in volume.

To make a small loaf with the remainder:
Butter an 8x4X2 inch bread pan. Shape and proof the loaf the same way as the large loaf.

To make rolls:
Butter a 13 x 9 inch sheet cake pan or a shallow cake pan. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape each into a ball under the palm of your floured hand and place on the baking sheet, leaving 1/2 inch between the balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 35 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled.

To make focaccia:
Flatten out the dough to a rectangle about 10 x 15 inches with your palms and fingertips. Tear off a piece of parchment paper or wax paper a little longer than the dough and dust it generously with flour. Transfer the focaccia to the paper. Brush the top of the dough generously with olive oil, sprinkle on a little coarse sea salt, as well as some rosemary leaves, if you wish and then finally dimple all over with your fingertips. Cover with plastic and let rise for 20 minutes.

Baking the bread(s):
Note about baking order: bake the flat-bread before you bake the loaf; bake the rolls at the same time as the loaf.

Note about Baking Temps: I believe that 450°F(230°C) is going to prove to be too hot for the either the large or small loaf of bread for the entire 40/50 minutes. I am going to put the loaves in at 450°(230°C) for 10 minutes and then turn the oven down to 375°F (190 °C) for the remaining time.

Note about cooling times: Let all the breads cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Rolls can be served warm or at room temperature.

For loaves and rolls:
Dust risen loaves and rolls with a little all-purpose flour or lightly brush the tops with a little melted butter or olive oil (the butter will give a golden/browned crust). Slash loaves crosswise two or three times with a razor blade or very sharp knife and immediately place on the stone, tiles or baking sheet in the oven. Place the rolls next to the loaf in the oven.

Bake rolls until golden, about 30 minutes. Bake the small loaf for about 40 minutes. Bake the large loaf for about 50 minutes.

Transfer the rolls to a rack when done to cool. When the loaf or loaves have baked for the specified time, remove from the pans and place back on the stone, tiles or baking sheet for another 5 to 10 minutes. The corners should be firm when pinched and the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

For focaccia:
Place a baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles, if you have them, if not use a no edged baking/sheet (you want to be able to slide the shaped dough on the parchment paper onto the stone or baking sheet and an edge complicates things). Place the stone or cookie sheet on a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450°F/230°C. (Cookbook Catchall note: I had no issue using a rimmed half sheet pan as the bread can be lifted out easily on the parchment paper. I did not use a stone - did not need to)

If making focaccia, just before baking, dimple the bread all over again with your fingertips. Leaving it on the paper, transfer to the hot baking stone, tiles or baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack (remove paper) and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

*Some notes about flour:
King Arthur Artisan Organic All-Purpose Flour is fairly new in the markets in the US now and is advertised to be best for making European-style hearth breads with a protein level of 11.3%

*Conversion chart for yeast:
1 oz/ 1 Tablespoon of fresh yeast = 0.4 oz/ 1.25 teaspoon active or instant dry yeast = 0.33 oz / 1 teaspoon instant or rapid rise (bread machine) yeast (this recipe requires 1.6 teaspoons rapid rise yeast if that's what you are using). Reference: Crust & Crumb by Peter Reinhart.


MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Oh, I love the look of your bread!
So happy it worked so well for you!

Anonymous said...

The focaccia turned out beautifully!

Gigi said...

Beautiful potato bread!

Rachel said...

Beautiful breads..

Helene said...

Gorgeous as always! Love the light of the picture and the lightness of your focaccia! The olives ad red onion make it sounds so appetizing! Great second challenge!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Mindblowing! Your focaccia look gorgeous and your pictures are wonderful!



Anonymous said...

Whew! You wore me out. Lots of work but worth the effort. Sounds & looks delicious!

Mila said...

How preety your focaccia looks... and i'm sure verry good too!!

fanny said...

It looks gorgeous. Your pictures are beautiful - as always.

Anonymous said...

now you are in my sweet spot.
i love all types of this bread, particularly the kinds wit sun-dried tomatoes, wonderful olives, and even anchoviies.
While not a practioner of preparing, i am a world class taster of this food.


Sabra said...

Thanks guys.
Have been making the rounds visiting yours - so neat that everyone seems to have had a great experience and everyone has interpreted the challenge differently.

Dad: maybe we can add this to the menu in December, we'll see.

Mandy said...

oh, your focaccia is my potato bread lost and found sister! So glad to find your blog, your photos are gorgeous.

kitten said...

your focaccia looks incredible. I like your idea of maybe mixing the onions into the batter next time instead of just using them as topping. i may have to try that !

Julius said...

You have one beautiful blog, and your focaccia is the look of perfection.


Please feel free to see my tender potato bread here.

Julius from Occasional Baker

Andreea said...

this looks wonderful. i love the addition of kalamata olives. have been drooling over the last db challenge all over the food blogosphere :)

Anonymous said...

I love the colour of the red onions, bet it tasted delicious!

breadchick said...

Great job on your challenge this month and your first bread making experience. The focaccia is wonderfully colourful.

April said...

oh yum! it looks wonderful!

Peabody said...

Absolutely stunning...and I amazed at how thin your onion slices are..nice.

Annemarie said...

Your bread looks just lovely. Fabulous first bit of bread you've done - hope you have more in your future!

Anonymous said...

Startine with focaccia is a great way. And you did a fantastic job!

Cherry said...

Your focaccia looks gorgeous! I read some of your other posts as well and can't help it but be amazed of your great photography skills!

kellypea said...

How lovely your foccacia turned out. I love it with olives. And your photos are gorgeous. I need to dig through your archives!

Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone - I love hearing from all of you daring bakers! Peabody: I used my nifty mandoline to slice the onions
Mandy and Kellypea: thanks for visiting - I hope you come back again
Cherry: thanks so much for the photography compliment.

Jen Yu said...

Those rings of onions probably taste awesome, but I have to say that aesthetically they are beautiful. Baking bread can be daunting the first time (my first bread was nearly disasterous!), but isn't it a hoot when it all works out? I love that. Great job on your bread.

jen at use real butter

Patricia Scarpin said...

Your focaccia is magnificent - I wish I could grab a piece through my screen! :)

Warda said...

- It looks so beautiful. I wish I had made a focaccia instead of loaf when I see yours.

Anonymous said...

Glad you've entered the land of bread. Now on to a more traditional loaf? What kind of yeast did you use? I'd love to sample some!

Julie said...

Your bread is gorgeous! I like your idea to combine a sort of onion confit into the dough, too--I think that would work beautifully!

Lesley said...

That looks so wonderful! I love the photos. Thanks!

Sheltie Girl said...

Your focaccia is gorgeous. Great job and wonderful photos.

Natalie @ Gluten A Go Go

Deborah said...

Your bread is beautiful! I can't believe you've never made bread before - I'm actually surprised that many Daring Bakers had never made bread before. Well done!

Dolores said...

Never made bread? I would *never* have guessed that! Fantastic focaccia!

Anonymous said...

you are going to fall in love with baking bread, I know. Once you have this passion it is for life.

marias23 said...

What wonderful results you got for a first-time bread! I love your creativity with the toppings too :)

Sabra said...

I am so enjoying all of your comments - this is the best part about this group.
Al: I used rapid rise because that's what I had around. I'll definitely stick it out and make bread again - it is indeed completely satisfying - I only wish it weren't so time consuming (and messy! my counters were covered in sticky flour!)

Christine said...

The crumb of your focaccia look amazing! The hole formations make it look like it was made in an artisan bakery. Well done!

Christina ~ She Runs, She Eats

creampuff said...

Such beautiful bread! You've outdone yourself!

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