Wednesday, October 31, 2012

lemon and sea salt focaccia

Although I've only posted about it here once, I'm a bit obsessed with focaccia. Inch-and-a-half thick, chewy, squishy focaccia, sprinkled liberally with sea salt and olive oil, to be precise. And it wouldn't hurt if there were a thinly-sliced potato or onion layered on top. My friend Gina would say it's the Italian snob in me. I think it's just good common sense.

I recently read a recipe that requires 15 hours to rise. When you've got focaccia on the brain, who's got that kind of time? So when I ran across The Kitchn's Lemon and Sea Salt Focaccia, and saw that it required only the typical 3ish hours (2 for the first proof, 30 minutes for the second, and 30 minutes to bake), I was all over it. Make-your-own sandwiches with leftover grilled chicken, crisp bacon, creamy avocado, and Russian dressing were on the menu for tonight, and I knew even the kids would love this soft white bread (so long as I left off the foreign ingredients like lemon slices and rosemary).

This recipe was delicious. It was nice and soft, with a relatively fine crumb. The onions and salt sprinkled on the top, plus the delicious olive oil brushed on before baking, enhanced the flavor. The olive oil sort of gets trapped in the little dimples on the surface of the bread. Yum.

The thing about focaccia and a lot of other breads, especially flat, yeasted breads, is that they are really best the first day. Bread benefits from cooling completely before eating. (Try to control yourself. Bread, hot from the oven, is hard to resist, but the texture and flavor really do improve!) But beyond that, you want to eat it when it's super fresh. To trap it in its perfect consistency, I actually wrapped and froze half of it. When we're ready to eat it, I will defrost it in the fridge, and then reheat it just a bit in the oven to refresh it. It won't be as perfect as the first day, but it'll be a close second.

Lemon and Sea Salt Focaccia
Makes four 8-inch rounds

1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups warm water, divided
6 tablespoons really good extra virgin olive oil
4 cups bread flour, plus more for kneading
2 teaspoons salt

To Assemble
Really good extra virgin olive oil
leaves of 2-4 branches of fresh rosemary, chopped
2 lemons, washed and very thinly sliced into rounds
coarse sea salt (or flaked sea salt)

For the dough, dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water in a medium bowl. Stir in 1 1/4 cups water and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.

Pulse together the flour and salt in the food processor or stand mixer. Add the yeast mixture and process until a rough ball of dough forms, about 1 minute. Briefly knead the dough on a floured surface until smooth. Shape into a ball. Put 2 tablespoons olive oil into a large bowl. Roll the dough around in the bowl until it is covered with oil. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Pour a thin film of oil into each of four, 8-inch round cake pans. (You can also spread the dough out in a rimmed cookie sheet lined with parchment that has been oiled.) Use your fingertips to spread the dough out in each pan. If it resists stretching, let the gluten relax for about 5 minutes. It's going to rise again, and then it will fill the pan. Cover each pan with a damp towel and let rest for 30-60 minutes, until it has risen again. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450F.

Uncover the pans. Use your fingertips to poke dimples into the dough. Brush the dough liberally with olive oil, then sprinkle with sea salt and rosemary and arrange lemons (or thinly sliced onions or potatoes or grapes or olives or whatever you like on your focaccia) on top. Drizzle again with olive oil.

Bake until golden brown, about 20-30 minutes. Cut into wedges to serve.

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