Monday, June 29, 2009

Rosemary Focaccia

This recipe is the sole reason I decided I needed the 75th anniversary version of the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. Well, maybe not the sole, but it contributed strongly. My sister Amy made it for me and then showed me the cookbook, and it was enough different from the standard version I got for our wedding that I was delighted to receive it as a Christmas present a couple months later.

I've made it many times since and have learned a few things in the process. First, it really is important to start the starter the night before. You miss out on a lot of flavor and texture if you don't allow enough time for fermentation. Second, form it on parchment paper (really, there isn't much to forming - I just flip it out of the bowl gently, and cover it with a bigger bowl to rise, and it tends to nicely spread out to just the right size and thickness). That way you can preheat the pizza stone, which really helps the crust crisp up nicely. Third, be generous with the olive oil. Just like with the grilled pizza recipe, skimping on oil = way less flavor. Fourth, fresh rosemary really is worth it. Any of you in the neighborhood are welcome to come help trim back my rapidly growing enormous rosemary bush. It's in the front yard, so snip away whether I'm home or not.

Rosemary Focaccia Bread
4 – 4 ½ cups all purpose flour (you may substitute 1/2 cup semolina flour for 1/2 cup of AP flour for a little more depth of flavor)
½ cup warm water
1 t. dry yeast
1 cup warm water
2 t. salt
2 t. snipped fresh rosemary or 1 t. dried rosemary
1 T. olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
Kosher salt

The night before: combine ½ cup flour, ½ cup warm water and the yeast in a medium size bowl. Beat with a spoon until smooth. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let sponge stand overnight to ferment.

About 2 1/2 hours before you want to eat it, gradually stir in the 1 cup of warm water, the 2 t. salt, rosemary, and enough of the remaining flour to make a dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a stiff dough that is smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a bowl greased with a tablespoon of olive oil, turning once. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Carefully slide the dough out onto a large piece of parchment paper, then place a large bowl over the dough round and let it rest for an additional 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven and breadstone (or cookie sheet if you don’t have one) to 475 degrees. Carefully shape the dough into a circle about 11 inches in diameter by pulling and stretching with your fingers, being careful not to deflate the dough. Make ½ inch deep indentations every 2 inches in the dough. Brush dough with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with coarse salt. Carefully slide the dough round (still on the parchment paper) on to the breadstone or cookie sheet. (For this, I slide it off the countertop onto the back side of a cookiesheet, then slide it onto the preheated stone.) Bake for 15-20 minutes or until uniformly golden. I find that it works best to cook for 13 minutes, then rotate it to get it uniformly golden. Avoid overcooking it. Cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes before slicing and serve warm. It is fabulous dipped in balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

For sandwiches, it is best to allow the bread to be a day old. Slice the loaf in half, then carefully slice sideways through the loaf. Open the loaf so that the cut sides are exposed and lightly toast under the broiler. Layer your favorite toppings – meats, cheeses, pesto, vegetables, etc. and serve immediately. The salt tends to dissolve into the crust of the bread and it looks a little weird the second day, but it truly makes amazing sandwiches once toasted.

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