cooking is for sloppy improvisors; baking is for precise chemists; bread making is for patient, precise nurturers. i am not particularly patient. i am not at all precise, and i not really a nurturer, though it is a quality i really do admire. encouraging a yeast-based product to rise is a gentle, intuitive process that i have never mastered. i baked challah a few times, and although it was delicious in its own way, it never really rose properly, and was oddly flat and dense. i inherited from katie, who got it from emily's mom, a fantastic cinnamon raisin swirl bread recipe that is oddly foolproof. and there end my forays into baking.
mostly i suffer from a failure to rise (i am only 5 foot 2. sometimes i wonder if my mother looks at me, and thinks: i am no baker. my daughter has had a failure to rise. they said she would double in size, but...). recipes say that the dough will double in size and mine barely change at all. until i take that bread baking course in france that i have been eyeing, i won't know what exactly i am doing wrong, but i wonder if it is about how i am storing my little yeats packets.
this morning i made a focaccia, because the instructions on my baking cookbook (how to bake, by nick malgieri) called it "easy." even if you are half-distracted by an overly-affectionate cat, and email and a ringing phone? apparently, yes! i did almost nothing right: it calls for water of a certain temperature, and i did not use a thermometer. it calls for 2 tsp of salt in the dough and i absentmindedly only put in one, realizing only when it was too late.
i topped it with a few food gifts i had lying around.
1. sel gris. a holiday gift from my friend, it is from a compnay called le tresor, and it is "hand raked from the celtic sea in france." if that is actually true, then i marvel at the strangeness of it being here, in my apartment in brooklyn, being used to top an italian bread.
2. white truffle oil. there has been much talk lately of this stuff being ridiculous and fake, using artificial truffle flavoring instead of the essence of real truffles. this much is true--it said so on the label. but it has that familiar smoky earthiness and a family i work for gave it to me one night as we talked about food over their kitchen table.
i just ate a piece, fresh out of the oven, and it is excellent. fortunately quite unlike the extremely thick, doughy stuff that has come to be thought of as focaccia in the states, of late. it is fairly thin (what with my rising problems and all), crunchy on the outside, but soft right in the center, and excellently flavored by the french sea salt, fresh rosemary sprigs and drizzle of white truffle oil.
easy italian focaccia
1 1/3 cups warm tap water (about 110 degrees)
2 1/2 tsp (1 envelope) dry active yeast
6 tbsp oilve oil
3 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp sel gris
2 tsp white truffle oil
1 branch of fresh rosemary
measure water into a bowl and whisk in yeast and 3 tbsp of olive oil
combine flour and salt in a separate bowl
with a rubber spatula, combine the yeast mixture with the flour mixture, until all flour is evenly moistened
it then says to "beat it vigorously" but i have no idea what this means.
i just kept turning it over with the spatula until it looked like dough
cover bowl with plastic wrap and let if rise for 1 hour, until it "doubles in size."
spread 1 1/2 tbsp of remaining olive oil onto a jelly roll pan
dump dough onto it and press it out , trying to get it to reach the corners of the pan. mine didn't.
cover with oiled saran wrap pieces (i sprayed mine with pam)
let rise for another hour
preheat oven to 450 degrees and set your rack to the bottom third of the oven
when focaccia is done rising, use finger to make dimples every two inches
pur a drop of truffle oil into each dimple
sprinkle entire bread with sel gris (or whatever kind of sea salt you have)
stick a rosemary sprig into every dimple
bake for 25 minutes until golden brown on top