When it comes to dough, yeast, and anything that requires kneading I am like a moth to a flame – despite countless baking fails I can’t resist the dough and always circle back to try again. It’s no secret that I’ve struggled over the years in the bread and dough arena and have a decent-sized list of pizza making, dough kneading, and other yeast-related disasters not to mention some serious pie dough problems. I’ve shared some of those stories here, but some I’ve never written a word about because the results were so sad – but, despite the hurdles and obstacles, I always come back ’round to try, try again. I guess I’ve never given up on the idea that one day I will be able to add “decent baker” to my cooking resume.
The title of “decent baker” means a lot to me, so I’ve been secretly practicing my dough skills using a great pizza dough recipe that I found on An Italian In My Kitchen. My attempts at pizza dough in the past have been so pathetic at times that I gave up the idea of making my own pizza crust at home until I tried Rosemary’s recipe (who, by the way, lives in Italy and shares all of her favorite Italian recipes, some of which are given to her by Italian family members to which I say “yay!”). Long story short: The recipe was a success (I made two pepperoni pizzas and one with artichoke hearts and goat cheese) and I finally figured out what the dough is supposed to feel like once it’s been kneaded enough. For the first time, I made a pizza dough ball that did exactly what it was supposed to do – I give all the credit to Rosemary’s recipe, but I think I, too, deserve a little pat on the back. I finally slowed down, paid attention, and followed the recipe exactly as written and I was rewarded with a pizza crust that was crispy on the bottom with a little bit of chewiness. It was the right thickness, so easy to roll out – unlike the last pizza I made (with store bought dough gasp!) – and it reminded me a bit of the wonderful pizza we ate last summer in Florence. It was a good day.
So with a high level of confidence, I left pizza dough behind and set my sites on focaccia with the perfect recipe in hand to try. Steve got me The Tuscan Sun Cookbook: Recipes from Our Italian Kitchen for Christmas and I had yet to cook anything from it. It’s a wonderful book written by Frances & Edward Mayes – Frances wrote the memoir Under the Tuscan Sun that was made into a movie of the same name starring Diane Lane – and it’s full of Tuscan recipes and stories that will make you want to pack your bags, run off to Italy, and drink wine the rest of your days.
The great thing about this recipe is that it’s basic. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles, which means you focus solely on the bread itself and don’t worry yourself with doctoring it up with a lot of extras, although the author shares some really delicious variations that I’m dying to try after I’ve practiced it a few more times. So, for this first time, I decided it was best to keep it very simple.
It starts out with hot water, yeast, olive oil and flour. After yeast dissolved in the water, which I made sure was exactly 110 degrees Fahrenheit, I slowly added in the flour and stirred it with a fork until it was a big soft mass of dough. I turned it out on my counter, dusted liberally with flour, and proceeded to knead it for about 10ish minutes. While kneading I kept adding flour until the dough came together and was soft and pliable. I then left it to rise in a large bowl that I coated in olive oil. This is what it looked liked after an hour…
Looks good, right?
After punching the dough down I pressed it into my large sheet pan lined with parchment. The dough did exactly what it was supposed to – no pulling back and no tearing.
I covered the pan and let the dough rise another 45 minutes at which point I “dimpled” the dough with my fingertips. The next step is where I goofed up a little – instead of first drizzling olive oil over the top and then sprinkling the herbs, I combined the olive oil with the herbs (I used a dried Italian seasoning mix), which turned it into a paste and made it hard to spread. It was only a minor issue. Oh, and I also sprinkled some kosher salt over the top.
After the second rise I popped the pan into a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes. At this point I was pretty excited – all signs pointed to success plus my house smelled amazing. Is there anything better than the smell of fresh baked bread?
I let it cool for a few minutes before slicing it…
I noticed my focaccia wasn’t as thick as others I’ve seen and I think that’s due to the second rise — I’m not sure the dough rose enough, but you know what? I’m not too worried about it – the bread tasted great and I was so excited to have produced something that came out looking and tasting so good. Next time I will brush a little more olive oil over the top and let the second rise go a little longer, but for now I’m relishing in this success.
So, the moral of the story? Sometimes the moth doesn’t get burned and is able to turn out a tasty foccacia bread thanks to a good recipe and a little practice.