Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Black Olive and Rosemary Focaccia

My initial yeast-bread making experiments were a disaster. I mean if you can’t eat a single bite from a loaf of bread and have to throw away whole loaves, you can call it little else. It was a real humbling experience – baking breads. For most of my life, I could succeed fairly well in anything I took up, while also making it appear effortless to on-lookers. Whether it was studies or sports or stove-top cooking too, to an extent. I had very rarely had criticism from others. So I wasn’t too pessimistic about trying yeast breads, i looked for the easiest recipe and went ahead. There was a banana cardamom loaf that was under-baked inside with a blackened bottom. There were multiple attempts at baking Indian dinner rolls (the pav of pav bhaji fame) which simply refused to rise vertically and would instead spread horizontally, and having puffed up outside the oven, would deflate once inside to become biscuits instead of bread. Oh, the experience scarred me. Pizzas were the saving grace, which brought me back to befriend yeast again. Oh and the beloved orange bread i talked about in a previous post too.

But I still had my eyes on Focaccia for a while now, having bought it from a supermarket a few months ago, one of the very few types of bread the picky eater in our house actually picked up. Most of the focaccia recipes called for a herb called Rosemary. And it needs to be fresh. Welcome to another ingredient that is hard to find in Hyderabad. To my delight, I came across a little bunch of fresh organic Rosemary in this supermarket called Spar in central Hyderabad. I almost squealed and jumped in delight. Then I left it sitting in the fridge for a week or more. When it was almost drying out, I finally decided Sunday night was a good enough time to make my first focaccia at home. 
I managed to salvage about 1/4th of the Fresh rosemary I bought, which happened to be enough for the amount of dough I was using. I finished half of the focaccia all by myself for Sunday night dinner and then some for breakfast. I still can't believe that a yeast bread turned out this beautiful to look at and this delicious to eat, during a first attempt it my kitchen. Either the bread Gods finally showered their blessings on me, or i have finally learnt that kneading bread for a while does give results.
Inspired from the recipe on Epicurious
  • ½ cup warm water (105°F to 115°F) - you may need a tablespoon more
  • ¾ teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 1/2  cups all purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons olive oil
  • 8 black brine-cured olives, pitted - 4 chopped finely and 4 sliced into thirds
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary plus 8 little sprigs - as pictured below
  • garlic salt or flaky sea salt to sprinkle on top
Take the warm water in a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast and sugar into it and stir once with a spoon. Let it stand until the yeast dissolves, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and salt to the yeast mixture to form sticky dough. Knead for 8-10 minutes sprinkling teaspoonfuls of flour if the dough is too sticky to knead. Form the dough into a ball. Spray oil in a clean bowl, place the dough in it and turn it to coat with oil on all sides. The oil prevents the dough from drying out when left to rise. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave to rise until double in volume. 
Gently deflate the dough, knead it back into a ball of original volume, put it back in the same bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled. The second rise takes lesser time. Or you can leave the dough in the refrigerator overnight for the second rise, you will then need to let it come back to room temperature for the next step. Spray the baking sheet with 1 teaspoon of oil. Deflate the dough and knead in the finely chopped olives and 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary. 
Using your fingertips, press out the dough into an approximate 8x5 rectangle. Drizzle 2 teaspoons olive oil on the dough surface. Let dough rise uncovered in warm area until puffy, about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 475°F. Press fingertips all over dough, forming indentations. Press remaining olives and rosemary springs evenly into the dough. Sprinkle some garlic salt. Bake bread until brown and crusty, about 15-20 minutes. 
The bread should sound hollow when tapped at the bottom. Serve bread warm or at room temperature, slicing into squares.

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