Americans love to see how much they can cram into one day. We rush around at the speed of light, multitasking like madmen. Instant gratification is the name of the game, but not when it comes to bread baking — that is a beast we have yet to conquer. Of course, we’ve tried to move things along with “quick-rise” yeast, but even that will only take you so far. Yeast breads cannot be rushed — unlike everything else in this world — one simply must slow down and wait.
Baking is a process — mix, knead, rise, shape; rise (yes again) and finally bake. But the result, ahhh, and that smell … there is absolutely nothing that compares! Baking bread gives me a sense of satisfaction that a simple batch of cookies cannot. I find it not only relaxing but also downright restorative. Someone once said, “All sorrows are less with bread,” and I agree wholeheartedly.
Have a problem? Spend the day with your hands in dough and you will feel like a new person. It’s cheap therapy: just the price of a little yeast and flour. We’ve already got fast food, speedy check-in and quickie sex. Leave bread alone.
How to Make Focaccia Bread
If you have never made yeast bread, focaccia is a great place to start. It’s relatively easy and the characteristically craggy look doesn’t require a lot of shaping finesse. There are definitely healthier breads out there, (ones that don’t require a butt-load of olive oil), but a slice of hearty wheat doesn’t always cut it.
Combine 1 ¾ cup warm water with one package active dry yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in a small bowl. Set the bowl aside, in a warm place until the yeast is bubbling and aromatic, at least 15 minutes.
In the bowl of a mixer, fitted with a dough hook, combine 5 cups of all-purpose or white whole-wheat flour, 2 teaspoons salt, ½ cup olive oil and the yeast mixture on low speed, scraping down the bowl while mixing. Once the dough has come together, continue to knead for 5 to 6 minutes on medium speed until it becomes smooth and soft. Add a sprinkle of flour if the dough is really sticky.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for a couple of strokes just enough to form into a loose ball.
Coat the inside of a large bowl lightly with olive oil and return the dough to the bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap or a clean dishtowel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, at least one hour.
Coat a jelly roll pan with 1/2 cup of olive oil. (Chef’s note: this may seem excessive, but focaccia is an oily crusted bread. That is why it is sooo delicious!) Place the dough in the pan and begin to press it out, turning over once to coat the other side of the dough. Continue to stretch the dough to fit the pan while spreading your fingers through the dough to create holes all the way through.
Place the pan in a warm place until dough has doubled in size, again about 1 hour.
Sprinkle with coarse sea salt (or fresh herbs, roasted tomato slices, olives, jalapenos, cheese, whatever you prefer). Bake in a 425 degree oven until the loaf is golden brown, about 18 to 20 minutes.
Have you tried your hand at bread baking? What is your favorite type to make? —Karen