I’m not sure about you, but I experience what I’m going to call “foodie guilt” during the summers. It’s that sensation when you know you should be eating those plump tomatoes or those always-growing-more-giant zucchini and squashes that you can only truly find during the summertime, when all you’re really wanting to make is something that isn’t dependent on the season. You know, like regular, old chocolate chip cookies or that orange chocolate chunk cake. And seeing as I’m one of those people that gets all giddy and excited about anything seasonal or festive, I tend to feel pretty guilty when this happens.
I do have one exception, though: focaccia. Despite the fact that making this bread requires the oven to be preheated to 500 degrees, and its ingredients of flour, water and yeast are available any time of the year, I still always, always see focaccia as a summertime food. I’m not sure why, but I think it might have something to do with the idea I get in my head that it makes nice picnic food. When I first made this recipe last summer, I packed the loaves up in a plastic bag and met my boyfriend and his friend at the beach. For our lunch we just snacked on the foccacia in the sunshine, all pretty happy about it.
It just seems like the perfect summer snack, with its chewy, salty bite, with the crisp outside of the bread and soft inside. Nothing but pure, delicious flavors of the bread itself, olive oil, salt and a little bit of rosemary. This year I’ve been a little bit of a cheat–not really having to put up with a 500 degree oven in the middle of summertime heat due to the fact that Washington refuses almost on a daily basis to reach temperatures beyond 70 degrees. But still. It’d be worth it even if it were 100 degrees outside. (I cannot really attest to this as I haven’t really done it, but it’s nice to imagine this bread is worth any weather.) Anyway, make this, enjoy it, and savor whatever type of summer you’re having.
Here is a bit of a something “step-by-step” process of the technique developed by Cook’s Illustrated to make this bread, something I don’t usually do but this one’s a little elaborate. The full, explained recipe follows below. The directions sounds a little fussy, what with waiting around a half and hour here, 15 minutes there, now turn it this way, that way, blah blah blah. But it’s easy, and if you’re going to be sitting around in or around your house all day anyway, why not produce some lovely focaccia while you’re at it?
The Biga. You let it sit overnight, which allows the “biga” (aka starter) develops a wonderful flavor.
Some stirring, waiting, salting, stirring, and more waiting. On this note though, don’t skip the the step that requires you to wait 15 minutes before adding the salt. As Cook’s explains it, this helps to develop the gluten better, and results in a much more “supple and smooth” dough. They weren’t lying.
Between three rises, fold the dough over-onto itself, one turn every 90 degrees for 8 turns each (meaning each corner of the dough she be flopped over a total of two times). This sound annoyingly overdone, but the flavor really did develop beautifully as they promised, so I’m not going to the be the first to rock the boat.
Flop it out, divide it, rub and place in pre-heavily-oiled and salted cake pans. This allows for that wonderful, crunchy and flavorful outside. Sprinkle with rosemary.
From Cook’s Illustrated
Makes 2 9-inch round loaves
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (2 2/3 ounces) warm water (100-110 degrees F)
1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for shaping
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) warm water (100-110 degrees F)
1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
For the biga, combine the 1/2 cup flour, 1/3 cup water, and 1/4 teaspoon yeast in large bowl and stir with wooden spoon until uniform mass forms and no dry flour remains, about 1 minute. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature (about 70 degrees) overnight (at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours.) Use immediately or store in refrigerator for up to 3 days (allow to stand at room temperature 30 minutes before proceeding with recipe.)
For the dough, stir the remaining flour, water, and yeast into biga with wooden spoon until uniform mass forms and no dry flour remains, about 1 minute. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 15 minutes.
Sprinkle 2 teaspoons salt over dough; stir into dough until thoroughly incorporated, about 1 minute. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature 30 minutes. Spray rubber spatula or bowl scraper with nonstick cooking spray; fold partially risen dough over itself by gently lifting and folding edge of dough toward middle. Turn bowl 90 degrees; fold again. Turn bowl and fold dough 6 more times (total of 8 turns). Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. Repeat folding, turning, and rising 2 more times, for total of three 30-minute rises. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position, place baking stone on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees at least 30 minutes before baking.
Gently transfer dough to lightly floured counter. Lightly dust top of dough with flour and divide in half (it might very well be very, very sticky and floppy. That’s okay, this dough is very forgiving). Shape each piece of dough into 5-inch round by gently tucking under edges. Coat two 9-inch round cake pans with 2 tablespoons olive oil each. Sprinkle each pan with ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Place round of dough in pan, top side down; slide dough around pan to coat bottom and sides, then flip over. Repeat with second piece of dough. Cover pans with plastic wrap and let rest for 5 minutes.
Using fingertips, press dough out toward edges of pan. (If dough resists stretching, let it relax for 5 to 10 minutes before trying again.) Using dinner fork, poke surface of dough 25 to 30 times, popping any large bubbles. Sprinkle rosemary evenly over top of dough. Let dough rest until slightly bubbly, 5 to 10 minutes.
Place pans on baking stone and reduce oven temperature to 450 degrees. Bake until tops are golden brown, 20 and 25 minutes, switching placement of pans halfway through baking. Transfer pans to wire rack and let cool 5 minutes. Remove loaves from pan and return to wire rack. Brush tops with any oil remaining in pan. Let cool 30 minutes before serving.