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Monday, January 22, 2007


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The social evolution of bread is fascinating, to say the least. From the "breaking bread" and "daily bread" references from Biblical times, to modern-day low-carb wraps, it's hard to imagine a world without bread. At least, I don't think my world would rotate with bread. Crazed Atkins followers aside, bread is pretty much a central part of western nutrition (and other cultures too, though it takes varying forms).

With this in mind, it seemed logical to start a meal with some hot, crusty, homemade bread. Well, it would have been crustier if I actually had a baking stone.....but it was still hot and somewhat crusty. And very tasty.

I have always found it a bit perplexing that bread is such a ubiquitous staple, and yet so few people even attempt to make it. On a day where you have a little time, it's not that hard, doesn't really require any special equipment, and the results are SOOOOOOOOOOOOo rewarding.

Due to the vegan restrictions, I sought out a bread recipe that didn't depend on milk or milk ingredients for it's flavour and texture - though it's basically a glorified pizza crust, I just love the flavour and richness of focaccia.

This is a recipe I've made before, and one I will definitely make again. For a crowd of six, I double this recipe....and it was deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelish. Yum.

(from Better Homes and Gardens, p.138)

If you don't have a bread stone, shape the dough into a circle on a greased, unheated baking sheet and bake the focaccia on that sheet

4 to 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 c warm water (105-115F)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (105-115F)
2 teaspoons salt
1 T olive oil
fleur de sel, fresh rosemary

1. For the sponge, in a bowl combine 1/2 cup of the flour, the 1/2 cup warm water and the yeast. Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let sponge stand overnight at room temperature to ferment. (NOTE: put this in a larger bowl, as it will triple in size)

2. Gradually stir in the 1 c warm water, the 2 teaspoons salt and just enough of the remaining flour to make a dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a stiff dough that is smooth and elastic (8-10 minutes total - it sucks, but do it!). Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning once. Cover; let rise in a warm place until double (about 1 hour).

3. Turn dough out onto a well-floured baking sheet. Place an extra large bowl upside down over the dough to cover it; let rest 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven and a bread stone to 475F. Shape dough on the baking sheet into a circle about 11 inches in diameter by pulling and pressing with your fingertips. Don't stretch dough too roughtly or it will deflate; you want to keep the air bubbles intact.

4. Make 1/2 inch deep indentations every 2 inches in the dough. Brush with olive oil; sprinkle lightly with fleur de sel and fresh rosemary. Carefully slide focaccia from floured baking sheet to the preheated bread stone.

5. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden, checking after 8 minutes and popping any large air bubbles with a sharp knife. Remove focaccia from bread stone with large spatulas. Cool on a wire rack about 15 minutes. Serve warm.


In keeping with Italian tradition, I made a topping to accompany the warm flat-ish bread. Typically, I would also add some fresh parmesan to this, but in keeping with the vegan theme, I omitted it. It's great with or without.

Bruschetta Topping
1 pound roma tomatoes, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 T fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 T olive oil
1 t sea salt
fresh pepper

1. Combine tomatoes, garlic, basil leaves, olive oil, salt and pepper. Let sit for at least 30 minutes.

Serve cold, alongside warm crusty bread. This totally beats baked, soggy bruschetta, and the hot/cold combo is awesome. It's easy, pretty unobjectionable, and a great addition to the dinner table.

If you've never taken the time to experiment with bread, give 'er a whirl. It's so satisfying and always impressive when people find out that you actually made the bread they are happily munching.


Jenny said...

Thanks for the yummy recipe, I will have to try this out soon. I adore making bread by hand...must be those old Irish roots.

Speaking of which, St. Paddy's Day is almost here and I will soon be starting my mass production of homemade Soda Bread, a family classic. I'll be sure to post the recipe sometime :)

Happy cooking / baking!

Anonymous said...

Question: I've never made bread before, so forgive my ignorance - in step #3, after you let it rise for an hour, and you turn it out onto the baking sheet, do you need to pound it out then turn it out? Or just turn it out, and cover with bowl and let it rest again? Why can't it just rest 1.5hrs in the bowl? With pizza, you'd knead, rest, pound it out, rest. Same thing here? Did that even make sense? Thanks! Lesley

leslie @ definitely not martha said...

clover_the_jenny - looking forward to some soda bread recipes!

anonymous - I'm not exactly sure why this recipe differs from other bread recipes. It didn't call for the loaf to be pounded down, and I'm not exactly sure why it wouldn't just rest 1.5 hours in the bowl. To tell you the truth, my bread probably rested for longer on both counts (just due to timing). The longer bread rises, the more flavour develops. I just think the key in this one is not to punch it down, or you lose all the air bubbles in the bread.

Foxy Renard said...

I like your blog. I like recipes.

I just tagged you. Random. See mine for details. SORRY. I know, it's like an effing chain letter. (This has been a copy and pasted disclaimer. Thanks for your patience.)

Anonymous said...

for a domestic un-goddess, your pretty damn hot!; and smart...ok i want you. thanx for the great recipe.i used it to hold ceviche at a halloween party this weekend-the folks loved it. by the way,have i told you how hot you are? thanx again

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