Saturday, 28 April 2012

Rosemary and Sea-salt Focaccia Recipe

Hausgemacht Focaccia (with a glass of water and a chunk of Edam)
Summer weather seems to have arrived at last! It is bright and sunny outside, and 27 degrees in the shade. Time for barbecues and picnics, and what better accompaniment for either than some delicious focaccia bread.

The recipe I give here is basically the same as the one baked up by the BBC's Hairy Bikers, only they made theirs on a bridge in Venice. Sadly, I will have to do with my terrace, but then again my garden doesn't smell like Venice on a hot day.

For this recipe you need, for the dough:
  • 500g/1lb 2oz strong white flour (Weizenmehl Type 550, look out for description Backstarke), plus extra for dusting
  • 1 x 7g/¾oz sachet of fast-action dried yeast (Hefe. Dr Oetke is ubiquitous and good quality) 
  • 1 tsp caster sugar (Streuzucker, or extrafeiner Zucker. Or substitute a teaspoon of honey (Honig))
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt (Meersalz)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for greasing (Olivenöl - we find the cheap Ja! oil from Rewe is just fine)
  • 300ml/10fl oz/½ pint warm water
Add the olive oil to a measuring-jug of warm water and dissolve into it the sugar or honey. The water must be body-temperature warm - anything hotter will kill the yeast. Stir in the dried yeast and put the jug aside in a warm place. The yeast should very soon start to activate and froth up.

Weigh the flour into a large mixing dish and add the salt.

Now gradually introduce the sweet water/oil/yeast mixture to the mixing bowl, working through with a wooden spoon.

When the dough starts to come together, get in there with your hands, and form it into a ball, picking up the flour from the sides of the bowl.

Now turn the dough out onto a floured surface and start kneading it. This is ultra important as it warms and stretches the strands of gluten protein molecules in the dough, making the dough elastic and springy. Without it, the dough will be solid and stodgy, so take at least five minutes to give it a good kneading.

Whilst you are kneading, you have time to think about the European classification of flour types. Here I have specified Type 550, which is a strong bread-making flour. For everyday baking, type 405 is the norm. The number is derived from the amount of ash residue per 100g after incinerating the flour overnight at 585 degrees C. The ash represents the amount of bran that remained after the milling process, and it is the bran that contains the gluten proteins. The more the wheat grains were milled, the finer the flour, and the less bran in the final product. For light, fluffy fairy-cakes you want short strands of gluten protein, so you choose a flour with a lower type, e.g. 405. What we want though is stretchy bread with long protein molecules, so we need flour that hasn't been processed as much, i.e. 550. For wholegrain bread, you of course need flour with an even higher number, because they haven't been processed so much to remove all the roughage (so, up to 1600). In other European countries than Germany, the number is expressed per 10g of flour, so 55 is strong flour for bread in France. And for Italian pasta, you really need 00 Durum wheat, which is the most processed you can get.

When you are done kneading, put your dough into a bowl and cover with cling-film or a clean kitchen towel and leave to rise for about an hour in a warm place. I chose beside the barbecue on the terrace, because by now the temperature is edging towards 30 degrees. Wow, Hitzewelle!

After an hour, and hey presto! it has doubled in size:

Next you have to knock the dough back, and give it a short knead on a floured surface again. The purpose of this is to break down the pockets of CO2 gas created by the yeast fermentation, otherwise you would have bread with large holes and little else.

When you have knocked the air out of it, roll the dough out into a rectangle roughly the size of your baking tray; mine has an internal size of 38cm x 25cm. Olive oil the tray liberally, place the rectangle of dough into it, then press and ease the dough out to fill it. If you have done your kneading well, the dough will slide on the oil and spring back to a smaller size. Don't worry too much about this, as you want a rustic look.

Next cover the tray with oiled cling-film and leave in a warm place to prove for a further thirty minutes:

After thirty minutes, the dough will have expanded again and become lovely and puffy. This process is worth not skimping, as with time the magic yeast releases that wonderful taste of un-hurried bread-making, that you don't get with supermarket-made bread.

Now, put on the oven and let it heat up to 220 degrees C. 

So next you start poking your index finger all over into the dough down to the baking tray. Then you liberally sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper, and about a tablespoon of freshly chopped rosemary (German: Rosmarin). Then you sprinkle salt crystals or flakes to taste (we don't like a lot of salt, so only a bit for us), and drizzle with about three tablespoons of olive oil, making sure the oil runs into the dimples. Finally you poke in about a dozen rosemary tips, so it ends up looking like this (tip - for a variation you could strew with sun-dried tomatoes or olives):

Right, into the oven with it for about fifteen to twenty minutes. When the bread is looking golden brown, it is done!

Slice it up and eat straight away, or wrapped up in aluminium foil it will last a good few days because of the high olive oil content. Lecker!

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