I missed Christmas and I missed New Year. I did bake a few things, but just didn’t get around to writing about them. To be honest, after the vegan pavlova I lost my mojo. I didn’t bother with any of the other Bake Off challenges (not that I was going to try and make pita bread over an open fire anyway). I did bake a couple of Christmassy things. Here’s my cake that I made from recipe for Festive Fruit Cake from Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh, and decorated with the help of Good Housekeeping Magazine.
I apologise for the picture. It was never planning to publish it.
Although the Christmas cake is finished, we’re still feeling rather hefty after Christmas and New Year, so I thought I’d avoid cake for a while. I decided to attempt a focaccia. I always find bread rather tricky (have a look at the mess that I made of a fougasse and baguette) so I could use the practice. The recipe I used was from The Larousse Book of Bread by Éric Kayser.
Step 1: The Starter
All of the recipes in the Book of Bread require a sourdough starter. I made this over a few days. On the first day, I mixed together rye flour, water (which should be at 30°C) and honey to make a paste. Well, the picture in the book showed a paste anyway. All I had when I added the four tablespoons of water required by the recipe was some slightly damp rye flour. I added more water until I got a paste that looked like the one in the photo. Next, I covered the mixture with a cloth and put it in a warm place. I decided to go with the bottom of our oven with the light on. That was pretty warm.
On day two, I repeated step one using twice as much water and rye flour, then I added day one’s mixture to day two’s and, again, covered it up and left it for twenty-four hours.
On day three I did the same, but with more flour and water. According to the recipe, the mixture should have been bubbling by now. I can’t say my starter had any bubbles. I gave it a prod with a wooden spoon and found that it did have quite a crust. The recipe didn’t say anything about that.
Day four was D-day. This time, I added plain flour and water to the starter mixture, stirred it well to get rid of the crust, and there it was, the finished starter. It didn’t have many bubbles. I’d had concerns about a sourdough starter before. Looking back, the starter I made for my boule loaf was exactly the same.
Step 2: Kneading
If you’ve ever read any of my bread making posts, you’ll know that I hate kneading by hand. I know that bakers are supposed to love it, but I don’t. I hate the sloppiness of it, the way it sticks to your hands, and then sticks to everything within 20 yards. Handily, the Larousse Book of Bread knows that some people don’t knead by hand, and has instructions for kneading in a mixer.
I put plain flour, water (at around 20°C), my starter, a small amount of easybake yeast and salt into the bowl of my mixer. I had a new Kenwood Chef for my birthday so the KitchenAid has been retired to the cellar. No doubt it will stay there until we retire to the seaside.
Using the dough hook, I kneaded the mixture on a low speed for five minutes before cranking it up for another seven. After seven minutes at the higher speed I added some rosemary and olive oil which had been steeping overnight, and kneaded for another three minutes.
At this point I was supposed to have a dough that I could shape into a ball for proofing. Here’s what I ended up with.
I turned it out onto the work surface, as per the recipe and tried to do something with it. In the end, I put it into an oiled bowl to proof. Next time, I’ll try to knead the dough until it will hold it’s shape. I think it’ll take a lot longer than the ten minutes high speed kneading required by the recipe.
Step 3: Shaping
The good news was that the dough had increased in size during the two hours proofing time. The other good news was that it didn’t need to be shaped into a loaf. The recipe says that you put the dough onto a lined baking tray and spread it out. This is how my focaccia looked.
I covered it with a damp cloth and left it in the oven with the light on for another hour and a half.
Step 4: Baking
I heated my oven to 230°C fan and put an empty baking tray into the bottom. The Larousse Book of Bread doesn’t say whether it’s oven temperatures are for fan ovens or not, but I remembered that I’d had concerns about oven temperatures when I’d made Viennese bread. After that bake, I’d read the baking section of The Book of Bread which says that the best bread is baked in a convection oven.
The last time I’d given convection a second thought was probably during my physics GCSE which was much longer ago than I care to think about. I looked it up again and, what do you know? Fan ovens are convection ovens. I trusted that the temperatures given in the book would be for convection ovens and so went for the temperature set out in the recipe.
My dough was looking OK, although it was a bit thin in parts of the baking tray and a lot of it was stuck to the damp cloth I’d covered it with. I had to throw it (the cloth, not the dough) away.
I made some dents in the dough with my fingers and filled these with olive oil. Then I sprinkled some sea salt over the top. I poured water into the empty baking tray to create some steam in the oven and baked the focaccia for twenty minutes. Here it is just as it came out of the oven.
It was a bit misshapen, but I was expecting that because the dough had been so sloppy. In general though, it looked OK. It smelled good anyway. I cut it into small squares and handed it all over to my husband who was in charge of toppings.
Was it Worth It?
Since this is what he had for dinner on Saturday night, I’d have to say that it was worth it.
Jon made three toppings: parma ham and artichoke; mackerel and salsa verde made with parsley, mint, basil, capers, anchovies, garlic, lemon juice and salt and pepper; and gorgonzola, fig and honey.
The focaccia tasted good, and was great base for the toppings. I think that, if I made another one, I’d add more rosemary and perhaps a bit less salt. Saying that though, I did use table salt when I should have used sea salt. Obviously there’s more salt in a teaspoon of saxa fine than in a teaspoon of Malden sea salt flakes.
I’d happily have another go at making focaccia. Next time, I’d like to get the consistency of my dough right. I need a free afternoon though. I’m not sure when that will be.