I am here on this January Wednesday to bring an extra dose of happiness into our lives and to help our kitchens smell really quite wonderful.
It is time to make some bread.
It has been a while since we pulled out the yeast. Bread-baking is an endeavor to be sure, but it is the kind of endeavor that produces a grand sense of triumph and the most delicious of rewards.
Up until several weeks ago, focaccia was unknown territory to me. Being that the only focaccias I had ever been acquainted with were far from memorable, it had not been at the top of my list. However, when I found myself daydreaming about an olive-studded bread, I took that whim as my cue.
Focaccia is a flat bread that is fattened with olive oil, lending it a wonderfully crisp crust and a delicate, chewy interior.
Whenever I am looking to delve into a new category of bread, I always consult with my ever-faithful copy of A Bread Baker's Apprentice. It has never disappointed me, and I love Peter's almost-pedantic attention to detail and intuitive instructions.
If I am going to spend nearly two days baking bread, I want to feel confident that the ends will eventually justify the means.
His focaccia recipe was just as perfect as every other formula I have pulled from his pages, and my own additions of brine-y feta, oily, kalamata olives, and lemon-infused olive oil made me want to call this pizza and forget about eating anything else for dinner.
Though this bread does require a bit of time, much of it is idle time, spent on resting and proofing periods. So, while you will have to commit to being available for the process, you will not have to spend a great deal of time in the kitchen. For these reasons, I think it makes a wonderful weekend project.
The dough is puddled with a simple, lemon-infused olive oil before being baked, bringing an extra layer of flavor.
Serve this bread alongside a lightly dressed salad and you are ready to go for brunch, lunch or dinner!
The only downside to this recipe is that you really do need to eat this bread on day one. After that, the quality really begins to plummet.
Of course, there are worse problems to have, now aren't there?
Feta & Olive Focaccia with Lemon-Infused Olive Oil
recipe adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice
FOR THE DOUGH
- 22.5 ounces unbleached bread flour
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup + 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
- 2 cups water, room temperature
Stir together flour, salt, and yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine 6 tablespoons olive oil and water in a measuring cup and slowly mix it into the flour mixture, forming a wet, sticky ball.
Exchange the paddle attachment for your dough hook and work the dough on medium speed for 5-7 minutes; or until you have formed a smooth but sticky dough. The mass should pull away from the sides of the bowl, but will still be stuck to the bottom. If the dough is too loose, however, and is not pulling away, you may need to sprinkle in some additional flour. Just be cautious in doing this, as the finished dough should be very soft and still sticky.
Sprinkle a generous layer of flour over a clean, dry surface and shape the flour into a 6-inch square. Transfer the sticky dough to the bed of flour and sprinkle with additional flour. Pat the dough down gently, forming a rectangle. Allow the dough to rest for five minutes.
Dust your hands with flour before carefully stretching both ends of our dough rectangle outwards, doubling the length. Fold the dough, like a business letter, over itself returning it to a rectangle shape. Spray the top lightly with cooking spray, dust with flour, and drape a sheet of plastic wrap over the dough. Rest for thirty minutes.
After the resting period, repeat the stretching and folding process, once again misting with spray oil, dusting with flour, and covering with plastic. Rest for an additional thirty minutes. Repeat this process a third time and then allow the dough to ferment on your countertop for one hour. The dough will rise slightly.
In the meantime, prepare a large baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper and drizzling with 1/4 cup of olive oil. Use your fingers to spread the oil evenly over the surface of the pan. Remove the dough from the countertop and drape it over the pan, maintaining the rectangle shape as much as you are able. Cover the surface of the dough with the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil. Use your fingertips to dimple the surface of the dough, gently working it out to the edges of the pan and forming small indents in which the oil will rest. (If the dough becomes at all springy, allow it to rest for fifteen minutes before continuing.) Keep the thickness of the dough uniform as you work.
Cook's Note: The dough will rise and spread as it proofs, so do not be too worried about spanning the dough from edge to edge. Just fill the pan as best you can without tugging too much at the dough.
Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or for up to three days. Prepare the lemon oil at this time and refrigerate until ready to use.
lemon-infused olive oil
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- zest from one lemon, removed with a vegetable peeler
Combine olive oil and the strips of lemon zest in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat, then reduce heat slightly and simmer for 3 minutes. Allow to cool completely.
- 1 cup kalamata olives, roughly chopped
- 1 1/2 cups crumbled feta
- sea salt
- lemon-infused olive oil
THE FOLLOWING DAY...
Three hours before you intend on baking your focaccia, remove the pan from the refrigerator. Drizzle the surface with 1/4 cup of the prepared lemon oil and dimple it in as before. The dough should have risen to about 1/2-inch in thickness and should fill the pan from edge-to-edge. Sprinkle with chopped olives, pressing them in ever so gently.
Drape with a sheet of plastic wrap and proof at room temperature for three hours, until the dough doubles in thickness.
Preheat your oven to 500 degrees F. Sprinkle the surface of the dough with crumbled feta and sea salt.
Place the pan in the oven and reduce heat to 450 degrees F. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, or until light brown in color. Check the internal temperature of the center of the bread with an instant-read thermometer. It should read at just over 200 degrees. If it has not yet come to temperature, bake for an additional five minutes, keeping a close eye on the feta so that it does not burn.
Remove the pan from the oven and use the edges of the parchment paper to lift the focaccia onto a cooling rack. If the parchment is stuck to the bottom of the dough, carefully peel it off. Allow the dough to cool for 20-30 minutes, then brush with another layer of lemon oil just before slicing and serving. Enjoy!