By Chef Isaac Delamatre
We have been doing a lot of baking in the kitchen lately. We bake all kinds of deserts, breakfast muffins, breads, and pizza dough. One of my favorites is this herbed focaccia. It is simple to make and it turns out great. The bread is versatile and delicious. It makes a great sandwich loaf, or dipping bread for hummus. I encourage all cooks to try their hand at baking. No repertoire is complete without a few solid breads and pastries. You can also freeze this bread after baking and save it for later. Here goes.
Yields approx six loaves depending on how you scale them.
- 1 ½ ounces dry active yeast
- 3 cups water (110F)
- ½ teaspoon cane sugar
- 2 ¼ cups olive oil
- 3 cups water (not a typo, we use it again!)
- 1 ½ tablespoons sea salt
- 5 pounds all-purpose flour
- Combine the yeast, sugar, and first portion of water in the bowl of a mixer. If you don’t have a mixer, just use a large bowl and get ready to do a lot of kneading by hand. Don’t be scared, its fun and you will get a good workout.
- Let that mixture stand for ten minutes in a warm spot in the kitchen. Make sure the yeast is active before adding more ingredients. It will get all foamy and alive when it is active. It looks like flat muddy water if it’s dead.
- Add all the rest of the ingredients and, if you have a machine, mix with the dough hook for about ten minutes.
- If you’re doing it by hand, you have to do those ten minutes of kneading all by yourself. The technique is pretty straight forward. After you use a spoon to incorporate the flour and water into a messy paste, get your hands in there and start your kneading. Position the bowl at the edge of your work space and square your body in front of the bowl. I like to stand on a milk crate so that I get a nice downward angle. The downward angle is key to getting a lot of power behind your knead and not getting too tired to continue for the full ten minutes.
- After you have assumed a comfortable position, place your hands at the top of the bowl (the side farthest away from you) and scoop your hands under the dough mass. Bring your hands up through the center and pull that far end up. Push the end of the dough ball you pulled and squish it into the middle of the mass. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and repeat the same movement. Keep going around and around until the dough is more agreeable and less sticky. Oh, if the dough is being really sticky on your hands, don’t be afraid to dust your hands with flour. This will help a little.
- When you have agreeable dough turn the dough ball out onto your work surface (which should, by now, be lightly floured). Knead the hell out of it for ten minutes or so until the dough is smooth and elastic. It should feel like soft supple skin. Give it a slap and turn it into a greased bowl. Cover the bowl and let that dough rise for about 30-40 minutes or until doubled in size.
- After it has doubled, shape it into six equal circular loaves. They should weigh about 1.5 pounds each. With a rolling pin, roll them out to ¾ inch thick.
- Place the loaves on baking sheets.
- With a pastry brush, or your hand, brush olive oil all over the loaf. Wash your greasy hand.
- At this point you can put whatever herbs you enjoy on top. I like dried basil, sea salt and black pepper. Any dried herbs or spices can go on top. You could even get fancy and put cheese on top if you like. Rosemary and Parmesan are always winners.
- Bake the loaves in a preheated 450°F oven for approximately fifteen minutes. The internal temperature of the bread should read 180°F. I understand if you don’t take your breads temperature, eye balling it is just as good if you know how to spot a beautiful golden brown loaf of fresh baked bread. Invite four or five friends over and eat that bread hot.