At last, Campbell’s secret of savory bread is revealed!
OK. I’ve promised this, before. Here’s my secret to savory breads. In this case, my recipe for Focaccia.
I tend to start with a quick Biga, rather than the traditional, slower, overnight rising. If you wish to develop the yeast, more slowly, and acquire more flavor — only add about a 1/4 teaspoon of yeast and don’t even use the light bulb to heat the oven. Let it talk to itself 12-24 hours.
12 oz very warm water + 9 oz. all-purpose, unbleached flour + 1 level tsp dry active yeast + pinch of ascorbic acid powder [vitamin C]. I only use King Arthur flour. I use SAF Red Label dry active yeast. Mix thoroughly into batter consistency, nice and smooth. I stick the container [covered with plastic film to retain water] in our kitchen’s lower oven with the bulb turned on — stays around 90 degrees in there — and let it rise till it starts to collapse on its own. Typically, about 2 hours at our altitude. Then, I add another 5 oz. flour, mix it, still using the paddle on my Kitchenaid and put it back in the rising oven. Check it about a half-hour to an hour later — and add the final 2 oz. of flour along with a level tsp. of salt.
This gives me 75% water by weight in the dough. It’s pretty ragged and wet. After a wee bit of mixing and hand-kneading, I put the ball of dough into an oiled bowl, roll it to coat with olive oil and cover it with plastic film. I usually preheat the bowl with hot water before I put the dough into it.
Three or four risings [depends on how patient you are], punched down each time and back into the rising oven. At our altitude [6500’] with the self-generated yeast throughout the dough, this doubles in size in 25-30 minutes. Here’s the sneaky bit. Regardless of toppings of herbs and other flavorings I might knead into the dough before the final rise, I knead a couple of very finely chopped shallots into the dough before that last bowl-rise. I’ve experimented with several aliums; but, this is the one that works. Bread baking temperatures and time seems to cook the shallot to perfection and still leave just the hint of texture. The aroma this adds is a delight.
Use your own preferences for other additions. Sometimes, I will add oregano to the dough. Sometimes, I brush the finished product with egg white and water, halfway through baking, and sprinkle chopped rosemary or fennel seeds, whatever.
Now, practically “pouring” the dough from the rising bowl onto a piece of parchment paper on an open end baking sheet, I shape it with firm fingertip pressure into a round focaccia. I usually sprinkle the top with a little coarse-ground corn meal and cover it with a dish towel and put it back into the rising oven for a minimum hour-and-a-half rise — often as much as three hours.
I put a full-width pizza stone in the oven and preheat to 450 degrees for at least a half-hour at temperature — and switch over to 450 degrees convection just as I put the loaf in. I slide the loaf on the parchment paper onto a peel and, then, both, onto the pizza stone. After about 6 minutes, I use the peel to slide it back out, rotate 180 degrees, and slide the focaccia back in directly onto the stone — to crisp and brown the bottom a bit more. This is baked through in 12-14 minutes total. Remove and set on a rack to cool.
Yes, I’m one of those people who won’t let you get into freshly-baked bread for 25 minutes minimum. Try this when you have a day at home. I think you’ll love it.