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Monday, May 14, 2012

Focaccia Bread - A No Knead Recipe

If you have been following this blog for a while or have browsed through this blog, you may have noticed that I enjoy baking. One of the things I have come to enjoy baking, over the last couple of years, is bread. I have realized as I read recipes, watch shows on tv and make different breads that every bread you bake is unique, even when you repeat the same recipe, it will always turn out a little different than the last time (maybe even better). Also, the main ingredients remain the same - i.e. flour, salt, water and yeast. Some recipes call for addition of oil, some of milk and then you can customize breads by adding in different spices. I saw an episode of America's Test Kitchen a few months ago in which they demonstrated how to make focaccia bread and I just had to try it out. The holiday season during the November-December time frame was the perfect time to try it out and oh my, the result was lip smacking, bowl licking delicious. I made two loaves (one plain and one rosemary) and both were gone in less than 24 hours. I finally got a chance to transfer my notes to the blog, so here is the recipe.

Note: This recipe is even more alluring because there is no tedious kneading involved and fancy mixers are not needed to make the job easy either. A bowl and wooden spoon suffice.

Starter dough (biga)
1/2 cup bread flour (the original recipe calls for unbleached all-purpose flour)
1/3 cup warm water
1/4 tsp instant yeast

2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/4 cups warm water
1 tsp instant yeast
2 tsp (and a little bit more) salt 
4 tbps extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp dried rosemary (the original recipe called for 2 tbsp of fresh rosemary) [optional]

Mix together the ingredients of the biga in a big bowl, using a wooden spoon till all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed and the water has been completely absorbed. There shouldn't be any dry flour. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and let the biga ferment over night or for about 8 hours.

To make the dough, to the biga add flour, yeast and water, and mix thoroughly till no dry ingredients remain. Then let the dough rise for 15 minutes. After this sprinkle two teaspoons of salt over the dough and mix it in to the dough. Then let the dough rise for another 30 minutes. Keep this dough in a large bowl.

The dough will rise around the edges of the bowl. Coat a scraper or spatula with some oil and then use it to fold the dough in towards the center, while turning the bowl. Fold the dough and then turn the bowl 90 degrees, this is the first turn. Do this 7 more times for a total of 8 turns till all the dough is folded towards the center. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap  and then let the dough rise for another 30 minutes.

Again repeat the process of folding the dough and then let the dough rise for another 30 minutes. Again fold the dough and let it rise for 30 minutes. (At the end you would have a total of 3 foldings and 3 rises)

Place a pizza stone or baking stone, in the center rack and preheat the oven to 500F. Heat the stone for at least 30 minutes. This is best done after the 3rd fold when the dough is rising for the final time.

Now place the dough on a floured surface and then divide the dough into two equal parts. Shape each into a round, roughly about 5 inches in diameter, by tucking the dough under the edges.
Oil two round cake baking tins (8/9 inch), each with 2 tbsps of oil. Then sprinkle a little salt to coat the base of the tins. (Be careful not to put too much salt as you have already added salt to the dough). Next, place the dough top side down and slide around to coat the dough with the oil, then flip the dough over and coat the other side.

Cover the pans with plastic wrap and let it rest for 5 minutes. Then using fingertips, gently spread the dough to cover the entire base of the pan. If the dough resists then let it rest for a few more minutes. Then poke the dough with a fork over the entire surface. At this stage, if you want to flavor the bread, you can sprinkle the chopped rosemary leaves. Let the dough rest for another 5-10 minutes till the dough looks bubbly.

Then turn down the temperature of the oven to 450F and then bake the bread for 25-30 minutes. The bread will be golden brown and when you tap on it, you can hear a thud to indicate that it is hollow.

Make sure to use luke warm water and not hot water. The water should be about 100-110 F. The easiest way to determine this is to touch the water and if it feels warm and you can easily hold your (clean) finger in the water, then it is not too hot. If in doubt, go for a slightly lower temperature. If the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast and your dough will not rise.

In this recipe, we make the starter and let it ferment overnight and then add it to the main dough and then let the bread rise two times. The additional fermentation of starter dough adds a great taste to the dough due to the alcohol and sugars created during this process. The biga/starter can be refrigerated for upto two days.

I had to go out of the house after the stage of folding the dough the second time, so I kept this dough in the fridge. Once I came home, I let the dough come to room temperature and then let it rise and then proceeded with the recipe. Since this is a lengthy process, if you do need to go away from the dough, refrigerate it. The cold temperature slows down the rising process.

The pizza stone provides a kiln effect and helps create a crispy crust for the dough.

Although the original recipe called for all purpose flour/maida, I used bread flour as it was handy. Bread flour had a higher gluten level and will make a softer bread. However, if you don't have it, it is perfectly okay to use all purpose flour.


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