Focaccia — pronounced foe—CAUGHTCH—ya (rhymes with gotcha!) for me means divine aroma in my kitchen!
AHHH! the aroma of bread baking, in your own kitchen, well, just what could be better with a pot of soup for a fall dinner! Last night I made a focaccia to go with one of my favorite comfort foods – Tuscan White Beans with Pork Chops; they were fabulous together.
I make focaccia quite frequently, freezing any leftover bread for another meal. Normally, there is no bread leftover here, but one recipe of focaccia makes a 9 by 11-inch pan. If you forget to freeze it, cut or tear it into bite-size chunks, toss with a bit of olive oil and bake until golden — super delicious croutons! It is truly a family favorite!
A quick tutoring session on yeast! Many of my students experience, well, shall we say, not the best of results when working with yeast. Here are a few pointers that should make you successful every time!
- Check the expiration date on the package. If the yeast is old, it may be dead.
- Make sure the yeast is viable by proofing it: dissolve the yeast in warm water (100 -110°F) with a quarter teaspoon sugar. Use a thermometer here is you are unsure of the temperature. If the water is too cool, the yeast will not activate. If the water is too warm, it will kill the yeast. If the yeast is viable, after about 5 minutes you will see a layer of tiny bubbles on top of the water, and it should smell like baking bread. The bubbles are caused by carbon dioxide production, the aroma is alcohol, both of which are the by-products of fermentation. If fermentation is happening, your yeast is working!
- If your yeast does not produce bubbles and aroma, try again, checking the water temperature carefully, or go and buy more yeast. Sometimes yeast can be dead from improper storage — and it may not be your fault. It may have gotten too hot somewhere between the factory and your supermarket! So, proofing will save you the time and trouble, and make sure that you don’t waste the rest of your ingredients.
- Store your dry yeast in a cool, dark dry place — the fridge is a good place.
This delicious family favorite serves many purposes - a light and airy bread with dinner, or in the rare event there are leftover pieces, as croutons or crostini - prefect to be topped with fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil.
- 1 package yeast
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 cup warm water
- 3 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
- 1- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
- olive oil
- coarse salt, for topping
Dissolve yeast and 1/4 teaspoon of the sugar in warm water, let set until bubbles form on top. Using a food processor fitted with the plastic dough blade, process flour, salt, remaining sugar and rosemary to mix. Then, with the machine running, add yeast mixture, a little at a time, until a soft ball forms.
Continue to process the dough for an additional 35 to 45 seconds. The dough should be smooth, soft, and just a bit sticky. Remove from the food processor bowl, cover and let rise in a greased bowl, about 1 hour, until double. The dough has raised to double when you poke it with your finger and it does not spring back, the indentation remains in the dough.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375°F. Brush a 9- by 11-inch sheet pan with olive oil. Turn dough into oiled pan, pat out to edges, stretching at the corners if necessary. Using your fingertips, make indentations all over top of dough. Rub or spray with olive oil. Allow to raise once more about 20 minutes, until the dough is about 1- inch deep.
Sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake at 375°F for 13 to 16 minutes; until crust begins to turn golden brown. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Makes one 9- by 11-inch loaf.