Arrested and kept forever...
July 11th, 2006

It happens quite rarely, maybe once a month, maybe twice. But last week indeed was an extraordinary week, besides the German soccer team losing the semi finals – it happened twice in A WEEK! Alright, perhaps too much drama for what I have up my sleeves entering this week; on the other hand I have nothing short of a killer recipe and one to-be (soon I hope).

Focaccia

What comes before finding a killer recipe? Tasting one! Which usually triggers my bulldog-like persistence to not leave without the recipe in my hands, money being no object. Killer recipes don’t necessarily have to be top notch creations, quite the contrary! Sometimes it is the unspectacular, unostentatious dish, that marvels me the most.

Act ONE: Last Wednesday, still feeling a little sad about the lost semi-finals, I needed a break from work and rushed over to our beloved grab – a – quick – bite – to – eat – and – save – the – day – type – bistro – and – coffee – bar Liebherr. They offer an amazing variety of fresh sandwiches and extravagant salads, but all I could think of was cake. The young family running this place is blessed with a wonderful grandma who is in charge of most of the cake creations. Intrigued by what I saw on the counter, I daringly placed my order without even knowing what kind of cake it was, partially because buying grandma’s cakes is a matter of trust… Anyway, to make a long story short, back in our office I gobbled the huge piece of creamy apricots cake down in less than a minute. Ah! So good. M. M. M. The juiciest apricots and dough, the creamiest topping – all combined in one heavenly combination! Off I was again, sending little prayers that there’d be more left… I was lucky – and so were my colleagues, with whom I shared the rest of the cake.

Returning to the bistro on Thursday put my nerves to the test, when I was waiting in line and each and every one in front of me ordered a piece of this fantastic cake. How could they possibly know? Nervously I began to count the pieces left on the tray after every new order, only to realize that there was no way I was going to be lucky today, already the last person in front of me was left empty-handed! Damn it! As I stood there obviously disappointed, pondering over what to choose instead, Antonia vanished into her kitchen, mumbling something along the lines of “We need more cake” and returned with a whole new tray of this delight. Life is good – she even promised me the recipe …and I’ll make sure to remind her :)

Baked Focaccia

Act TWO: I was poking around the German Chefkoch cooking forums, when I stumbled on a Focaccia recipe. Nothing overly flashy and not exactly one that would have normally caught my attention, as we prepared Focaccia in the past – more or less successful. What did arrest my attention were the hundreds of comments on this recipe, and skimming through them, I found the majority to be very affirming and some even overwhelmingly positive. People were discussing the method in detail, sharing tips and tricks.

Focaccia in the making

The best thing about it – besides its taste of course – is that it really only takes a few steps to make – or using Oliver’s business tongue: this recipe has a huge ROI (return of investment)!

We made this Focaccia three times last week, both with fresh and dry yeast, including different resting times. The perfect result we achieved using fresh yeast and allowing the dough to rest for about 12 hours (over night) in the fridge. The bread came out with a wonderful crumb (with occasional large air pockets), an aromatic taste and a slightly crunchy crust.

As mentioned before, I love working with fresh yeast. When a recipe calls for dry yeast I usually substitute it with fresh yeast without batting an eye. Following a recent BBQ invitation meant a sudden increase in demand for fresh Focaccia bread, so we – in an experimental mood – used both fresh yeast for one part of the dough and in parallel dry yeast for the other, to ultimately compare the difference in volume (texture) and taste. It’s quite obvious, that my favorite (the fresh yeast) creates a much more airy dough… but frankly, taste wise there wasn’t much of a difference! More on yeast.

comparing yeast - after 10 minutes

comparing yeast - after 50 minutes

comparing yeast - after one and a half hour

Dissolve the yeast (either dry or fresh) in the tepid water.

Add the yeast/water mix to a larger bowl together with a cup of flour and the salt, stir for about 2 minutes. Then add another cup of flour, stir again for just about 3-4 minutes. The dough should not be overworked, it’s consistency will remain quite soft and sticky – it’s not the type of dough you can shape much with your hands, but if you feel it’s too soft add an extra 2-3 tbsp of flour.

If your timing allows, keep the dough refrigerated until the next day (it really does make a difference!) if not, then a few hours in a warm and draft free spot will do as well. However, if chilled, remove dough from fridge about 2 hours before baking. (12 hours in the fridge plus two hours in a warm spot presented the best results to us)

Preheat oven to 230°C (450°F). Carefully pour dough on an oiled baking tray or tin to not ruin its fluffiness and use your finger tips to pull the dough into the shape you’d like to give the Focaccia. Don’t worry about punching holes into it, they’ll be gone before the Focaccia leaves the oven – in fact, they even add to a wanted non-perfect rustic style.

Note: Dipping your finger tips briefly in olive oil will keep the dough from sticking too much to them.

Sprinkle with 1-2 tbsp of olive oil, coarse sea salt, chopped herbs and optionally olives or other toppings your heart desires. If you like your Focaccia more oily (like I do!), pour a little olive oil in the dents.

Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned on top, you may want to turn on the grill for the last minutes to speed things up a bit. Then remove from the oven (and the tray or tin) and place on a rack to cool.

Focaccia

Nearly every salty topping works fine, our favorites would include coarse sea salt, chopped thyme, rosemary and olives or a blend of typical pizza spices. Some extra fine olive oil to dip it in – VA BENE!

Focaccia

Recipe source: adapted from Chefkoch-Forum (German)

Prep time: 5min., rising time: overnight (if possible); baking: 15-20 min.

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Ingredients (serves 2):

1 cup (250 ml) tepid water

20g fresh or 1 tsp dry yeast

1 tsp ground sea salt

2 cups (~275g) flour, type 550 (all purpose flour)

extra virgine olive oil

toppings: coarse sea salt, rosemary, olives...really anything you fancy

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