Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Simple and Good

(Update Aug. 22: I've added a photo and some text to the end of this post.)

I used to travel frequently to Liguria, where a good friend from Milan has made her home not far from the lovely group of villages called the Cinque Terre. Everything is beautiful in the small beach town where she lives: the rich blue sea, the green mountains falling into the sea, the green, ochre and pink houses, and the lovely sunlight that bathes it all.

One of my favorite things to do when I go there is to buy focaccia. It's overall fairly thin, though thicker parts provide a variety of textures. Little indentations filled with olive oil are juicy and tender and salty, while the thinner parts are crisp and crunchy. It is quite oily. ("E unta" would say my friend as she showed me how to wipe my fingers on the brown paper wrapping it was sold in).

There are various sorts but my favorite is plain, with no other flavorings than salt and olive oil, or perhaps just a little rosemary. According to my friends, Liguria has the best olive oil. I'm sure Tuscans wouldn't agree, but everyone is entitled to a little regional pride, and I'm not one to judge. The Ligurian oil tastes delicious to me.

I've longed for that focaccia but have given up finding it in other places. In Italian restaurants in the US or France or Switzerland, some fairly tasty flat, oily bread is often served, but it is uniformly thick and fairly cakey. In Rome I had something else -- was it called pizza bianca? Schiacciata? I don't remember. It was good, but not the same.

So imagine my joy in finding a recipe that produces something similar to my favorite Ligurian focaccia. All right, it's not identical. Perhaps I made it a bit too thin, or handled the dough too much or too little, so it's a little bit tougher than the original. But a) I haven't finished experimenting to try to get a perfect result and b) it's not so tough that little teeth don't enjoy biting into it and c) I have to have something to look forward to when I go back to Liguria!

And the best part is, it is child's play to make. Really and truly. I've never made bread before, was scared of yeast (except in waffles), yet this turned out well the first time I tried. Even though I prepared the dough at the same time as I made and served the kids' dinner. Those of you with children will appreciate how brainless an effort that has to be.

Thank you to Nicky, author of the beautifully photographed Delicious Days for sharing this great recipe.

Recipe: Focaccia
Source: Delicious Days

Recipe source: adapted from Chefkoch-Forum (German)

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

Ingredients (serves 2):

- 1 cup (250 ml) tepid water
- 20g fresh or 1 tsp dry yeast
- 1 tsp ground sea salt
- 2 cups (320g) flour, type 550 (all purpose flour)
- extra virgine olive oil
- toppings: coarse sea salt, rosemary, olives...really anything you fancy

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

2. 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.

3. 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)

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

My only additional comments or suggestions are the following:
- Consider doubling the recipe, it gets eaten very very quickly...
- I have no idea if I used type 550 flour. I just used the regular white flour I buy at the supermarket here
- Different sources give different gram measurements for a cup of flour, and I found 320g to be a bit on the high side (according to my sources 2 cups = 250g). So I would use only 300g, or perhaps a bit less.
- I used dry yeast, but would like to try with fresh at some point.
- I used fleur de sel for sprinkling on top. Yum.
- Keep a close watch as of 15 min., as the first focaccia I made got a bit too dark on one side.
- I think it is best eaten within an hour or two of baking. The first batch I baked in the morning and served in the evening. It was a bit too hard for my taste, though everyone liked it.

Ideas for making it more tender
(I still have to test these)
- Don't spread it quite as thin as I did
- Bake it for a little less time
- Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the dough itself?
- Knead the dough less, or more?
- Try a different kind of flour?

Update August 22:

I've made these many times since this post. I've tried them thicker (see above), kneading with my hand-held mixer with the kneading attachment, with different flour (halb-weiss, French 55 flour, French 65 flour) and adding a teaspoon or two of oil to the dough. Frankly, none were exactly like my Ligurian focaccia but all were very good, as long as they were eaten as close to baking time as possible. I still prefer the thinner versions.

I'm beginning to think that the secret to Ligurian focaccia is dousing it with an absolutely indecent amount of olive oil. I don't dare go there...

Update to the update: I've looked at some Italian websites and am beginning to find more ideas. First, what I'm looking to recreate is called Focaccia genovese, or fugassa in dialect. Apparently a mixture of oil and water are spread on the bread, which I guess would contribute to make it more tender. Also, many recipes seem to require a small quantity of malt flour and/or "strutto," whatever that is. And the flour is supposed to be type 0 (Tanya?)...


zorra said...

Nice picture! I will try this recipe, too. I can recommend this one also: http://kochtopf.twoday.net/stories/2275727/

Astrid said...

Thanks Zorra. Mmm your focaccia looks delicious, it's lunch time and my stomach is rumbling! More comments on your blog directly.

zorra said...

I think if you do it less thin it will be more tender. try it with the olive oil. "my" foccacia was very tender, but also much more thicker. How long did you chill the dough?

Astrid said...

I chilled it overnight, more than 12 hours, then let the dough warm up to room temperature for two hours before spreading it in the pan and baking it.

I'll post an update after I make my next batch to say if I've made any progress on the texture. But even if I don't make progress, I'll continue making this recipe as it is very good as is.

Kai Carver said...

Wow, I'm going to try this. Any idea where I can get fresh yeast in Paris? Can you just buy it from any bakery? Otherwise I'll try it with the dry yeast, which is probably easier.

Astrid said...

Hi Kai -- Not sure where one buys levure de boulanger, but I guess I would try as you suggest by asking the boulanger himself. As for dry yeast, it's sold next to the levure chimique in the baking section of a supermarket.
(It's an easy recipe but uhm... you do need an oven!)

Kai Carver said...

It's so hot in Paris right now (36°C!) that I don't think I even need an oven.

But anyway, surely this qualifies as an oven. It works for frozen pizzas...

Kai Carver said...

Here are pictures of my first try (sorry, other random pics crept in too). It came out nice and moist and not too thin. However, it's not very crunchy on the outside, and looks undercooked, though I put it at 230°C for 20 minutes. Maybe my oven isn't as hot as it says it is. Also the focaccio has a slightly bitter taste. I only put it in for 6 hours in the fridge. Also, I used 3-year-old flour (am I going to DIE??).

All and all a success, though, (thanks!) so I'll try it again (if I don't die). I bought some new flour, 35 cents a kilo, cheap! and slightly more bread-oriented (number 55 as opposed to the usual 45 here). Explanation of flour types.

So here's a request for more easy recipes!

Astrid said...

Wow, Kai, I never thought I'd get you baking! OK, I promise, I'll share these easy recipes when I find them, but they're precious few to have such a high return on investment (as the author of the original post referred to it).

I'm amazed your little oven was able to produce anything close to a focaccia. I don't know if you'll die from 3 year old flour, but ugh... And I think letting it rise in the fridge for the full 12 hours then 2 at room temp. before baking would be important. (Did you skip bringing it back to room temp? Maybe that's why it didn't heat up properly?) In the original post it said that if you don't have the time to let it rise for so long in the fridge, you should let it rise a few hours outside the fridge.

Thanks for the info on the flour. But I looked, there are no numbers on the flour here. I'll look again to make sure. What they do have is flour for Butterzopf, or flour for Späetzle... I would guess the first one is cake flour low in gluten, not sure about the other one.

Would Wikipedia have a translation of Swiss flour types, as well as German, US and French flour types?...

Astrid said...

Kai, I just read the Wikipedia article more closely, and discovered that if the flour packaging shows protein level you can extrapolate the wheat flour type. Mine is 10% protein which places it just between pastry flour (405 = 9%) and all purpose flour (550 = 11%). Interesting (in a nerdy way)! So I guess I should look for flour with a bit more protein in it.

tanya d said...

I'm proud of you for entering the bread-making world. It's addictive. You might try the Cook's Illustrated focaccia, which is quite good. Most of the focaccia (I'm tired of typing that word) recipes I've used have potato and olive oil in the dough, which makes it very tender and fluffy. In SF, there was a little shop that only sold fresh foccicia (4 flavors) and closed each day when they ran out.

tanya d said...

Re: flour - I'm attempting to understand flour types in CH and Europe, but the flour varies widely from country to country (French, German, and Italian flours are completely different, which partially explains why the breads are different). I intend to post what I've found on my blog when the chaos of my research resembles something useful. FYI... you can't get "bread flour" in CH, aka white flour over 11% protein. You also can't get cake flour here, aka finely milled white flour with 6-8% protein. I'm still trying to figure out why and what to do about it.

Astrid said...

Hi Tanya, thanks for your comments. They're both encouraging and disheartening: I never realized the importance of flour type before tiptoeing into the world of bread makers!
Can you please remind me of the address of your food blog? Thanks!

zorra said...

Hi Astrid, I just tried another Foccacia recipe, which was - for me - disapointing.

Dolce said...

I got hooked by all these wonderful Focaccia-Recipes - I will bake my favourite recipe with potatoes and crème fraiche soon.
Your recipe looks just wonderful...mmmhhhh


Astrid said...

Zorra - I saw your post about the focaccia, I imagine your frustration. I've made this recipe several times now, thinner and thicker, and really like it. And it seems easier than any other out there. Only drawback is you have to prepare it the night before.

Claudia - Your focaccia with potatoes and crème fraîche sounds yummy, though I imagine the texture is quite different from the Ligurian version. I guess that's the appeal of focaccia: many variations possible, all yummy.

iamwillis said...

So I came across your blog in doing some research on Ligurian fococcia for use in a restaurant I'm helping to open. I've been playing with it for several months, lots of success, lots of failures, but I'm close to something I think I'll be able to unleash on the public, just wanted to say thanks and if you're interested I'll post some pictures and my final recipe when its completed if you're interested.

Astrid said...

Iamwillis, I would love to see photos of your focaccia! I wish I could give you more tips. My friend's husband, a real Ligurian, had all sorts of advice, which I partly forgot. Such as, add oil after the focaccia comes out of the oven. Or never sprinkle salt on top. Or, make sure the dough rests overnight in the fridge. I'm not sure I remembered these exactly, sadly.

Kai Carver said...

Made it in Taiwan, very popular!

Astrid said...

Kai, thanks for your comment! Must try this recipe again. Funny to think there was a time when baking with yeast seemed daunting!

Kai Carver said...

"simple and good" is a great title for a recipe! I have made double batches 3 or 4 times already. Last night/this morning did a variation with half whole wheat flour, was a big hit. I also have started putting big holes in it, for it to cook more evenly, and to come closer to one of my favorite baked foods, la fougasse! (ce koi ces Italiens qui nous piquent nos recettes non mais...) Yesterday I added some olives, not bad. But so far I've found less is more with this recipe. Including less salt... Though cumin/caraway seeds are pretty nice.

Kai Carver said...

fougasse pictures