BBA Focaccia & New Beginnings

These bread images were captured over a span of 10 minutes, the shortest-ever photo shoot in the history of this blog. It was done while the living/kitchen/office space of our previous home was cluttered with a manic array of boxes, bags and countless knick-knacks that a patient and helpful friend was slowly carting out into the trunk of her car, destined for our new (and bigger) apartment a short ride away.

The past two months have been a crazy whirlwind of travelling and moving, so I am pretty relieved to be here in mid-February, with my sanity and all limbs intact. Preserving said sanity was also what inspired me to bake in the middle of a move. Completely counter-intuitive, I know. I was getting a little sentimental about bidding farewell to the world of gas stove cooking (I can be lame that way) and it had been some time since my last bread from the BBA Challenge. Peter Reinhart’s Focaccia recipe didn’t seem very daunting so it was simply a matter of getting off my cushy behind and setting to work. (Note: We’re not posting recipes as part of this challenge due to copyright issues; if you’re interested in joining in, get yourself a copy of the book and start baking!)

Top right: Our previous kitchen; Bottom left: Bay window in our new kitchen

The Focaccia turned out surprisingly easy, revealing the apprehension about baking during a move as mere constructs in my stream of consciousness. Of course, it could have turned out to be a week-long affair, but fortunately, for our oven and our plans, all it took was two days, some mixing, folding and stretching and lots of resting time. Which suited my schedule just fine.

Similar to Reinhart’s Ciabatta formula, the gluten in Focaccia is developed through the classic stretch and fold method. After mixing together the usual suspects of flour, yeast, a pinch of salt and water, the soft, pliable dough is stretched and folded four times over the course of two hours before being drenched in home-made herb oil and left to rest in the refrigerator. And I mean drenched. The recipe called for a quarter- to half-cup of herb oil, with the somewhat encouraging caveat that we were “not to worry” as the dough “would soak up all the excess oil”. Proceeding cautiously (to avoid a massive oil spill on our already tiny kitchen counter – see picture above), I successfully emptied half a cup’s worth on the baking tray without fuss, dimpled the dough as much as I could to create pockets of herb oil before sliding the mammoth tray into the fridge.

"Airplane-esque" oven controls in our new kitchen

Using Reinhart’s suggested formula for herb oil, I took the opportunity to clear out our fridge and trim our rosemary’s expansive ambitions to take over the garden. Into two cups of hot olive oil went a large handful of rosemary, chopped parsley, some leftover coriander, a heaping spoonful of dried herbs de Provence and a smattering of fennel seeds. Some chopped garlic, coarse sea salt and ground black pepper completed the mix, which was then cooled and dimpled into the inflated dough. Those little dents on the surface of a Focaccia loaf? Product of someone’s prodding fingers.

The transformation from bloated, oily dough to deliciously crisp and soft Italian bread took a mere 15 minutes, but not before our entire living/kitchen/office space was smoked thoroughly with aromatic herb oil. The excess oil that collected on the tray around the dough bubbled away energetically in the 450 F/ 230 C oven, producing clouds of smoke that seeped through every crevice of our tiny stove. It would have made for a cute picture (a smokin’ stove!!) if not for the fact that I was too busy opening all the doors and windows to avoid choking on the fumes.

Close shave, that was. But thoroughly worth it. Especially after a few hours’ worth of carting the crazy number of items that we seem to have accumulated over the past two years, these light and airy squares of Focaccia were the perfect reward for a late lunch, a pause from the relentless packing, unpacking and logistical planning that comes with every move. A tasty (and memorable) way to close the chapter of our life in this modest cottage. While I’ll miss the challenge of working in a seriously tight kitchen to churn out another month’s worth of desserts, for now, we’re just enjoying the expanded space in our new home. With a slice of home-made Focaccia of course.

For more BBA Focaccia stories, check out these variations:

I’m submitting this Focaccia to YeastSpotting, a weekly round-up of all things good and yeasty by Susan at Wild Yeast.

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show hide 23 comments

sallybr - Beautiful focaccia! And what a wonderful kitchen to bake in!

(Thank you for including my link, by the way… it was nice to “meet” your blog through it)

ap269 - I feel so flattered you included my link – thank you so much! Your focaccia looks gorgeous – when I make it again I hope it looks like yours!!!!

El - Congrats on the move. The bread looks amazing. I wish I had a piece right now.

OysterCulture - Congrats on the move – I feel your pain having done the same in December. Glad to have roots again. I love a good focaccia and I have a feeling I’m staring one right in the face. Cannot wait to give it a try.

The Purple Foodie - Hey Danielle! It’s been a while since we crossed paths.. congratulations for the new place. I feel like having a rosemary and caramelised onion focaccia now…

Divina - Congratulations on the move. I want to make some foccacia now after seeing this. I could say this is still one of the best photos I’ve ever seen. They are truly gorgeous.

Adelina - nice post! i also did make this foccacia, using p.r’s recipe. it came out as close to perfection as i would have imagined it, but i definitely think either i need more bread making practices or that the recipe could use a few tiny tweaks….i’m actually hoping to get larger honeycomb holes in the bread though, but the recipe produced rather smaller, tight crumbs…..

great picture!

mangiodasola - Beautiful bread. It looks perfect.

ovenhaven - With a focaccia looking that good, I don’t think I could’ve even withstand 10mins without grabbing a chunk :P Congrats on the move!

elra - Beautiful focaccia, really tempting!

chefdylan - lovely looking bread! I posted a focaccia on yeastspotting too… only my pics pale in comparison to your pro shots!

I must get a DSLR at some stage when I have finished culianry school and have 2pence to my name!

A question about the smoking oil… did this not taint the flavour of the focaccia or did it stand up to it quite well?

Dylan

Frieda - Your bread AND your photos are absolutely STUNNING! 10 minutes to snap pics of the bread? I’m surprised that you were able to keep everyone at bay while you were shooting….this is a great tasting bread ~ thanks so much for including my link ~

Joanne - When I eventually get around to cooking from the BBA, this is definitely going to be the first recipe that I make. I can’t believe you took all these gorgeous photos in ten minutes! That is crazy.

I loved reading your post. So entertaining all the way through. Good luck with the move! And yes, baking calms my nerves as well. I do it in the most stressful of situations.

Danielle - Gosh, thanks everyone for your kind words – I am very relieved that the move is now over and we can get on with the exciting job of decorating the place :)

Sallybr, ap269, Frieda: You’re most welcome! I think I have to agree with Nicole at Pinch My Salt that this is even better than the Casatiello :)

The Purple Foodie: How have you been Pastrymeister?? :) Rosemary and caramelized onions sounds divine – I’d love to see your take on it!

Adelina: I had the same problem with small holes in Peter Reinhart’s Ciabatta (http://wp.me/s1BLc-ciabatta) and discovered that the dough needs to be sufficiently wet and sticky for these holes to develop, for some reason. Perhaps try adding less flour the next time around?

Chefdylan: Thanks! The smoked oil didn’t affect the final flavor of the bread, if anything I thought it actually enhanced the taste with the infusion of herbal notes.

Thanks again everyone!

josh - i had to look into this for a project at work. the reasoning is that there are only so many combinations of ingredients and measurements that no one can claim ownership of a particular combination. so, recipes themselves aren’t subject to copyright (at least in the US), it’s how the author words the explanations.

Danielle - Good point, thanks for the clarification Josh. In this case with a few hundred food bloggers working through the book, it would be a disservice to Peter Reinhart and this book if we posted the recipes for free.

Lilly Audrey - This focaccia is a great way to get kids to try grown up style breads. All the fresh herbs so tasty and they won’t even know. We can smell it baking right now!

Felicia - Mmmmmm i can almost taste it just looking at the pictures! Imaging a smokin’ stove in the little cottage is just too funny ;)

Danielle - Yea it’s pretty funny in retrospect, but not at that moment. This loaf didn’t last very long in our pantry!

saltandserenity - I also loved this bread. It was like a magic trick watching this dough drenched in oil become a crisp and chewy thing of beauty. Wishing you lots of great bread in your new kitchen! Foccacia shots are beautiful!

Eat Your Vegetables « Bon Vivant - [...] if we needed another reason to love our new home, Reason #8745 comes in the form of a generous community garden in our complex. I say generous [...]

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