Some books change your life. They help you find your calling, open your eyes to social injustice, heal your inner wounds or push you beyond what you thought you were capable of. I recently read a book like that. The book? Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread. While I'm not quitting my job and joining the Peace Corps, it has made it possible for me to do something I never thought possible: make very good bread. Bread that people can't resist. This was one of those recipes.
I had a lot of trepidation about making this particular yeast dough. It called for stretching out and folding the dough repeatedly, like this ciabatta that was a resounding failure. But I should not have worried. This dough came together easily and stretching and folding it over 30 minute intervals was so relaxing.
I made the dough several days before I needed the focaccia, so I let it sleep in the fridge, allowing the flavor to develop. If you want to smile whenever you open your refrigerator, stick a sheet pan of focaccia dough in there.
I made the mistake of not measuring the olive oil to spread over the pan before stretching out the dough to rise, and I probably used twice what the recipe called for. There was some olive oil pooling in the corners, and the baked focaccia had a oiliness on the bottom that wasn't unpleasant, but it would have been nicer without it. I used my "good" olive oil from my adopted tree in Italy and it gave a wonderful flavor to the focaccia.
This bread was a delight to make and eat. It requires frequent intervention, but not a lot of hands on time. It holds well in the fridge before you bake it off, and a longer hold deepens the flavor.
When making the herb oil to brush on the top, I didn't want to go to the store (again) to buy fresh basil, so I used dried spices. How I have kicked myself over my laziness. But I will make it again, and I will use fresh herbs. And I will caramelize onions and garlic. And I will again thank Peter Reinhart silently as I marvel over how a yeast-phobe like me could bake such an extraordinary treat.
If you want to tame your inner (yeast) demons, buy the book and join us in baking through it. I'm blessed to be part of the Slow & Steady Subgroup of the The Bread Baker's Apprentice group, and it's a delightful group of bakers discovering their yeast muses.
Lethally Delicious is on vacation, but we'll be back in a few days.