Since her acquisition of a mighty stand mixer with a dough hook, Maggie has become an avid baker. Oh, she was already accomplished, when it came to quick breads, cakes, skillet cornbread and such. Yeasted breads had her daunted–that dreaded yeast!
There seemed to be so many hurdles: how to successfully activate it (is this water too warm? not warm enough? did I just kill it?) and feed it (does it really like sugar?) and work it into a sponge (so sticky!) And then there was that all rising time, followed by punching down. And, another uprising!
Mercy. There seemed to be too many opportunities for things to go awry.
But when we talked a couple of weeks ago, she declared that she had conquered these fears. She was baking delicious ciabatta and focaccia breads with ease.
“I’ve got it down, Nance,” she said. “When you come out, we’ll make some. We’ll have it in the oven in under two hours. I’ve got the garlic and tomatoes, if you’ll bring the basil. It’ll be ready for lunch. Steve thinks its the best bread he’s ever eaten.”
I couldn’t wait! Off to the country…
Maggie had the modest ingredients assembled prior to my arrival, so we could get right to it. We decided to make a basic bread—just embellished with sea salt and olive oil. But it would be very easy to fleck the surface with fresh rosemary, or green onions, or sundried tomatoes.
We tested the water–very warm, almost hot (it should range between 105-115 degrees) and dissolved the yeast with the sugar. In less than 10 minutes, it had developed a foamy scum on top of the liquid. Proofed! Activated!
“What’s great about this recipe is that it only requires one rise,” she said.
Then she added the other ingredients. This is where the dough hook is so helpful—it churns up the flour mixture into a ropy sponge. When the dough comes together and climbs up the hook (it takes about 10 minutes) it is ready to form into a ball and knead by hand until smooth.
“So much of this is by feel,” Maggie said, hands busy shaping the dough. “What I learned is this: RELAX. It’s just bread. If you mess up, just throw it away, and try another time. I think that the reason I had failed in the past was because I was too uptight in the process. That kind of thing gets communicated into the bread.”
Meanwhile, the dough had achieved the right elasticity.
With that, she pressed the dough onto a baking sheet and set the focaccia aside for its one-time one hour rise.
Post-rise, we dimpled the surface to accept the fruity oil. We sprinkled the surface with a couple of fancy sea salts, gifts from one of her friends–Hawaiian pink and Fleur de Sel.
Once in the oven, we could turn our attention to lunch. A plummy Italian heirloom from her garden awaited.
I whipped up this intense aioli, using my garden basil, and Maggie’s garden garlic. Sometimes with these emulsions, I use the whole egg. This time, I wanted a smaller, more powerful amount, and in the Provencal manner, used just the yolk.
Place a swipe of this indulgence on your focaccia, still warm like ours, and slap a ripe tomato slice on top. A spritz of salt, another aioli dollop, and dive in. You’ll experience a summer treat that, as Maggie is wont to say, “is moanin’ good.”
MAGGIE’S EASY & BASIC FOCACCIA
5 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 2/3 cups Warm Water
1 packet (approx 2 t.) Rapid Rise Yeast
1 t. Sugar
2 1/1 t. Salt
Olive Oil â€“ 1/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp for coating plus more for coating bottom of pan
Sea Salt/Kosher Salt â€“ to taste
In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together Warm Water, Yeast and Sugar. Cover and keep for 5-10 mins until foamy.
Add Salt, Olive Oil and 4 1/2 cups of All Purpose Flour (more can be added as needed).
Mix with the dough hook until dough starts to come together. Let the dough mix for another couple of minutes, adding more flour as needed. Once you have a fairly smooth ball of dough, turn out onto a floured board. With floured hands, knead dough for 1 minute or until a smooth ball forms.
Generously drizzle Olive Oil to coat the bottom of a 15Ã—10 inch baking pan. Place dough ball in pan and press into the bottom into an even rectangle shape. Cover with kitchen towel and keep in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours to rise.
Preheat Oven to 425
With your finger, gently make indentations one inch apart all over the dough. Brush the remaining Olive Oil on the top of the risen dough. Sprinkle with salt. Bake Focaccia for 20 – 25 minutes (Keep an eye on it towards the end â€“ all ovens are different).
GARLICKY PROVENCAL-STYLE BASIL AIOLI
1 clove Garlic
1 Yolk from a farm-fresh egg
Juice from 1 Lemon
3 T. Basil Leaves, coarsely chopped
pinch of cracked Black Pepper
8 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
food processor fitted with a swivel blade
Process the garlic and egg yolk together for a couple of minutes. Add lemon juice and process another minute. Then
add the basil—pulse until it is coated with the mixture. Season with salt and pepper, and add the olive oil, while processing, just drops at a time. Scrape the sides of the food processor from time to time. Continue adding olive oil. The mixture will become very thick and creamy–like garlicky basil melting in your mouth. Cover and refrigerate.
This makes a small amount–use within one day (so good, it’s easily done.)