Monday, January 21, 2008

Romancing the Stone

I love my baking stone.  It was a Christmas present in 1997 (wow, 10 years!), and it's been a permanent fixture in my oven ever since.  Okay, it's actually been in 4 different ovens, but you know what I mean.  =)  It gets used for pizza pretty much on a weekly basis, and for other breads when I have the chance to make them.  I put my pie pans directly on it to bake so the crust gets nice and brown on the bottom.  It helps my oven heat more evenly.  I love it.

Yesterday started out quite chilly, so I thought it would be a good day for soup and bread.  The soup was a new recipe, from the new issue (Feb/Mar 2008) of Fine Cooking--Classic Tomato Soup.  The bread was an old favorite--Focaccia--from my Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home cookbook.  

The dough is very wet and sticky, so it can be hard to work with.  I may have stumbled on a trick to help with that, though.  When I was making the dough last night, I had to stop for a few minutes right after I finished mixing in the second portion of the flour (Gillian was into something).  That five minute rest made the dough a bit easier to knead.  I still needed the dough scraper, but not as much, and it was easier to transfer the dough to the bowl to rise.  

The original directions have you start to shape the dough on a floured surface, then transfer it to a baking sheet with cornmeal on it.  Since the dough is so sticky, I just shape it on a sheet of parchment paper on top of my peel (though you can put the paper on a baking sheet if you don't have a stone to bake on).  The dough can then be transferred to the baking stone paper and all.  Once the dough starts to bake, it releases from the parchment paper.

(adapted from Julia & Jacques)

2 1/2 cups (11 3/4 oz)  + 1/2 cup (2 1/4 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp table salt
1 1/2 cups (12 oz) warm water
olive oil
1/2 to 3/4 tsp kosher or coarse sea salt

Put 2 1/2 cups flour, the salt and the yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer.  Mix with the paddle attachment on low speed just until blended.  Add the water and mix for about 2 minutes.  Add the remaining 1/2 cup flour and blend again until the flour is absorbed, about 30 seconds.  The dough will be more moist than most bread dough.  

Transfer the dough to a well-floured work surface.  Knead very lightly about a dozen times, using a dough scraper to gather the dough together after each turn.  Plop the dough into a large bowl that has been greased with a bit of olive oil.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled, about an hour.  While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

When the dough is done rising, place a sheet of parchment paper on your peel or on a baking sheet.  Turn the dough out onto the parchment paper.  Start to pat the dough into a round or oval shape.  Drizzle a teaspoon or two of olive oil on top of the dough and continue to stretch and pat the dough with well-oiled fingers until it is a 10" circle or an oval that is about 8" by 12".  

Sprinkle the coarse salt over the surface of the dough.  Let the dough rest and rise slightly for about 15 minutes.

Bake the focaccia until golden brown, about 25 minutes (mine took 22 minutes).  Place on a wire rack to cool slightly, then cut and serve.

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