Saturday, April 29, 2017

Baker's Corner: Summer Tomato, Olive & Caramelized Onion Focaccia


It's the start of the long weekend! Gotta love those 💗 I have plans to catch up with family, colleagues and a close friend, cook (and stuff myself with!) lots of good food, binge watch season 12 of Grey's Anatomy and/or Sherlock with the husband, get started on a new novel and enjoy plenty of cuddles with my girls. That is more than enough to qualify for a fulfilling weekend for me 😊

Moving on, I have a nifty recipe for you to keep you busy this weekend!

It appears as if focaccia is to Italy what baguette is to France. This oven-baked salty and oily Italian bread is a delight to have on hand. Focaccia takes on different guises with aplomb. It can be served as is, alongside pasta, soups or stews, dunked in an array of dips, to make fabulous sandwiches or even as a pizza base.

Basic focaccia dough requires only five ingredients, flour, water, olive oil, salt and yeast. A simple focaccia dough lends itself to so many variations that once you master the dough, your options are endless. You can use a combination of two or more of the following ingredients (among others) to adorn your focaccia: rosemary, thyme, basil, garlic, olives, cherry tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, caramelized onions, bell peppers, parmesan and nuts. Focaccia is the perfect canvas for culinary experimentation but getting carried away with too many ingredients would be overkill in my humble opinion.

Pssst.....let me let you in on a secret. I really don't fancy olives much. It is an ingredient that does not enjoy a place in my fridge at any given point of time and whenever I am at a salad bar or sandwich joint, I pointedly request for olives not to be included in my order. Then why have I included it in this recipe, you ask? Well, I made this focaccia bread to take to a friend's house and while choosing the ingredients to adorn the focaccia with, I cast aside my preferences in favour of something that complements focaccia and is generally liked. So gregarious of me, no? 😝



Making focaccia at home does not require any fancy schmancy gadgets, uses inexpensive ingredients, is simple to make and turns out unquestionably impressive. For anyone intimidated by the idea of making your own bread, focaccia is a perfect place to start. And did I mention there is no kneading involved? This one delivers on every single level now, doesn't it?!

Your choice of flour depends very much on what kind of focaccia you’re looking for. Using plain flour, or even finer “tipo 00” flour will give you a softer, more tender crumb; while a mixture of strong bread flour and coarse semolina creates a more robust, chewy texture. In this recipe I have used bread flour alone with great results - a delicate crusty exterior with a soft fluffy interior.

A few things to keep in mind - this dough is really wet and that is how it is supposed to be. Once the specified quantity of flour is added, put the bag of flour back into the pantry pronto so you don't get tempted to add any more!

The secret to the best focaccia bread is great tasting olive oil. Since there is quite a bit used, the bread really takes on the flavor. Also, you have to ensure that you create lots of dimples with your finger tips into your dough and then drizzle enough olive oil into those dimples which will then get absorbed while the focaccia bakes creating a flavorful bread with a crisp crust and tender interior.

This bread is delicious eaten on the day it is baked, but it will keep for a few days and you can freshen it up in the oven for a few minutes just before serving.

I know I've rattled on for quite a bit so I will give my fingers some rest now. Besides, I do need to enjoy the long weekend too 😎

For your next baking project, take on this humble yet delicious focaccia and I guarantee it will be love at first bite!

Summer Tomato, Olive and Caramelized Onion Focaccia

Total time: < 2 hrs (Dough rising time: 80 min; Baking time: 15-20 min)
Makes: A square 8x8 inch focaccia; Serves: 4-6
Recipe type: Italian/Snack or Side dish
Recipe level: Easy
Recipe source: Adapted from here

Ingredients:

1 cup warm water (110 deg F/43 deg C)
1 tsp active dry yeast 
1 tsp table salt
White sugar - two pinches
1 tsp honey
2 cups bread flour
Olive oil - as required
Fresh rosemary leaves (approximately 1 tablespoon)
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
12 heirloom tomatoes or tiny cherry tomatoes 
2-4 olives (green or black), pitted and sliced 
Parmesan cheese, finely grated for sprinkling over the top
Kosher or sea salt for sprinkling over the top

Method:

1. Take half a cup of the warm water in a large bowl. Sprinkle the yeast, a pinch of sugar over it, give it a stir and let stand for a few minutes (if the yeast is active, it will bubble).


2. Now add the rest half cup of water, salt, honey and 1 cup of the flour, mix until it comes together.


3. Add the remaining 1 cup of flour and mix well. The dough will still be sticky. Add a tbsp of olive oil to the bowl so you can easily gather the dough in the shape of a ball.



4. Cover with a damp towel and let rise for 40 minutes in a warm place.


5. While the dough is rising, heat 1 tbsp oil in a shallow pan and cook the onions with a pinch of sugar until they are light golden. Don't brown them because they turn darker in the oven and may get burnt. Keep aside.

I overdid the onions a little so I did get a few blackened bits in the finished product as they got charred in the oven. Learn from my mistake ok?


6. Press out the dough on a generously oiled 8x8 inch square pan or shape it into a roughly 8x8 inch square on a oiled baking mat/sheet.


7. Let it rise again for 20 min in the pan or on the sheet. Set the oven to 425F (~220 deg C).

8. Put the olive oil in a small bowl and dip your fingers into the oil, and then all over the bread, poking the bread surface and leaving little pools of oil. Do this all over the bread. Don’t skimp; this will result in great flavor after the bread is baked.

9. Arrange the tomatoes and olives across the top, pressing them into the dough slightly, then scatter the rosemary, onions and chopped garlic evenly across the surface. Sprinkle sea salt over all, and finally top with a dusting of Parmesan cheese.


10. Bake for 15-20 minutes until lightly golden.


11. The rosemary will crisp up in the oven, so you may want to scatter some fresh leaves on top of the bread after baking to refresh the rosemary flavor and make it visually appealing.


12. Cut into squares and dig in! 


Notes:
  • Unless you are experienced with yeast, use an instant read thermometer (which every kitchen should have) to check the temperature of the water, it is essential to have it at the correct temperature or the yeast will not bloom
  • You can use instant yeast in this recipe (can be mixed directly with the rest of the ingredients). I just prefer to make sure the yeast is working before I put the effort into bread-making!
  • You will need truly tiny tomatoes for this recipe. Even smaller than the standard cherry tomatoes. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half if you feel they are too big 
  • Refrigerate or freeze leftover focaccia.  Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, then in foil. Keep in the refrigerator up to 2 days and in the freezer for about a month. Day old bread can be toasted and used as croutons for a salad


Cheers,
Megha


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