Monday, 9 March 2015

Focaccia with cherry tomatoes

Focaccia with cherry tomatoes

I find the science of making bread very fascinating. 
And somehow poetic is the Italian expression used to call it, "arte bianca" meaning "the white art", where white obviously refers to the color of flour (at least the type most commonly used ) while the word art emphasizes how valuable and noble this activity is.
Even if I have been cooking and baking for many years, only recently I started practicing in making bread and similar baked goods. The reason of this late approach to this field is that I was somehow scared to try: I thought that making bread was a complicated job, just for experts, and I also considered almost necessary to have an electric mixer.
But then, a couple of years ago, I finally found the courage to try. To make it easier (and don't risk much) I started with one of the several possible versions of the so called no-knead-bread, where most of the work is made by yeast and time. Luckily results were satisfying enough after the very first attempts - in fact, in case of initial failures, I am not sure whether I would have continued making bread - so that now I bake on my own most of the bread, as well as other baked goods, we have at home. And to be honest, eating so often homemade bread I've become much more demanding and selective when it comes to buy it from shops (and there aren't many shop-bought breads that we really like now).

My interest in bread making is growing fast and I am experimenting a lot. But I haven't bought a book dedicated to the topic yet; if I went and look for a book now I'd probably come out of the bookstore with at least two or three books! For the moment I have decided to satisfy my curiosity and willing to learn through the web (where it's possible to find lots of good stuff, both videos and articles), and of course by trying and trying, leaving books for later on.
And I have to say that experiments are going very well so far!

Something that, at the moment, is interesting and intriguing me the most is how it is possible to make bread, a good bread I mean, using different techniques. As I do not own an electric mixer, I'm taking into consideration only bread making techniques where you need just your hands, and even in this "limited" field there are so many ways to make bread: short or long proofing time, more or less yeast, more or less water, different kneading techniques, baking on a tray or in a pan, and so on.
These techniques are often named after the baker who developed them: the most popular in recent times is probably the "No-Work, No-Knead Method" introduced by the American baker Jim Lahey. In Italy, for example, almost all home cooks know - or at least have heard of - the so called " metodo Bonci", a no-knead and long raising technique for making pizza (the thick, soft type, more similar to focaccia, that is baked on a tray) used and made popular by Gabriele Bonci, owner of a renowned pizzeria in Rome and also TV celebrity chef.
Focaccia with cherry tomatoes
A technique that I recently tried, and much appreciated for the results it gives, is the one developed by the South-African, UK based, baker Emmanuel Hadjiandreou (what a difficult to pronounce name!) and specifically addressed to home bakers: highly hydrated dough, long proofing time and a simple kneading technique making a surprisingly delicious homemade bread. I've tried some Hadjiandreou's recipes, all found on the internet, and liked them all so much that I've put his book "How to make bread" on my wishlist.  
A recipe that I absolutely like, and made many times now, is Hadjiandreou's focaccia, soft and airy inside, lightly crunchy outside. And the version with cherry tomatoes is particularly tasty.
Making this focaccia is not complicated, it requires only time and dedication: in fact, during the quite long raising time, you can't leave the dough unattended as you would do for other types of bread, but you have to knead it - using the simple "ten seconds knead" Hadjiandreou's technique - every thirty minutes. Therefore, when you want this focaccia, you have to be patient and dedicate to it your whole morning (or afternoon): but trust me, it is really worth, your time will be really well spent! And anyway, as your active time during the long wait won't be much, in the meantime you can always cook something else (or read a book, watch a movie, or whatever you like to do at home). 
Focaccia with cherry tomatoes
Focaccia with cherry tomatoes
makes 3 small focaccia
400 g all purpose flour
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp / about 2 g instant yeast (or 4 g fresh yeast)
300 ml lukewarm water
3 bunches cherry tomatoes on the vine
garlic (optional)
extra virgin olive oil
In a small bowl mix the flour and salt together and set aside. This is the dry mixture.
In another larger mixing bowl, add the yeast then pour the lukewarm water over the yeast and stir until it has dissolved. This is the wet mixture.
Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture.Mix the two mixtures together with a wooden spoon until they come together to form a sticky dough.
Oil another bowl and transfer the dough into it. Cover with the bowl that had the wet mixture in it and let stand for 30 minutes.
After the 30 minutes rest the dough is ready to be kneaded. Leaving it in the bowl, pull a portion of the dough up from the side and press it into the middle. Turn the bowl slightly and repeat this process with another portion of dough. Repeat another 8 times going round the whole bowl (watch the first part of this video where Hajandreaou shows the "ten seconds knead").
Cover the bowl again and let stand for 30 minutes.
Now repeat the kneading process other 7 times, making sure you let the dough stand for 30 minutes in between. In total you'll have 4 hours proofing, with 8 kneadings (with the same simple folding method). At the end the dough should be doubled in size, smooth and resistant and full of bubbles. At any kneading step remember to oil your fingers and the bowl so as the dough is always oiled (oil is very important for a soft focaccia).
After the whole rising, gently divide the dough in three even parts (use a dough scraper), transfer to a baking tray lined with parchment paper and let stand for 10 minutes.
With the tips of your fingers, oiled, flatten the dough to form three focaccia (should be oval shaped). Use a light touch so as not to break the bubbles that have developed in the dough; you can make some dimples in the dough, to collect oil.
If you like you can gently rub the surface with a halved garlic to give just the flavor; then garnish with the washed  tomatoes (you can leave them on the vine for a nice presentation, but I recommend to put just the tomatoes if you want to cut the focaccia easily), squeeze some tomatoes over the surface so as to moisten with their juices. Add a generous splash of extra-virgin olive oil and let rise for another 20 to 30 minutes during which time the dough will increase in size. In the meantime preheat oven to 240°C.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden. To check if the focaccia is cooked, beat it with a wooden spoon: when ready it should
sounds as if it was “empty.  
Serve hot or let it cool slightly. This focaccia is good also at room temperature.

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