This is a story that has a happy ending.
What happened before that ending, however, was not quite so happy.
There was the steady stream of smoke spewing from the oven; there was the coughing. And then there was the glowering from Mike (who was doing the coughing).
But there was a lesson learned while making focaccia for the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge this week:
Don’t be so greedy — use less olive oil.
My focaccia-making began uneventfully. First, I stirred together high-gluten flour, salt and yeast, then I added olive oil and water, mixing it all together to form a wet, sticky ball.
After much more mixing, the dough became smooth and sticky.
I took it out of the mixing bowl and formed the dough into a rectangle and let it rest for a few minutes.
Then, I stretched it on both ends and folded the ends inward to form a rectangle…
Then that had to rest for quite a bit more before more stretching, folding and resting.
While this stretching and fermenting was happening, I started on the fixings that would gussy up my bread.
So I was determined to go for MAXIMUM flavor when it came to my focaccia toppings.
I warmed up some olive oil, then chopped up some fresh basil and mixed it together with coarse sea salt, dried garlic, fennel seeds, cayenne pepper, paprika, onion powder and black pepper. When the olive oil had cooled, I mixed in the herb mixture and set that aside.
The doughy rectangle had grown quite a bit during this time …
… so I very, very gingerly transferred it off the counter and onto a sheet pan that I’d coated with olive oil.
After I’d spread half of the herb oil I made over the dough, the fun part began — pressing my fingers into the dough to dimple it as I spread it out to fill the pan. (Using the tips of your fingers ensures that you don’t degas the dough too much.)
Next, I wrapped it up and refrigerated it overnight.
By the next morning, the dough had absorbed most of the herbed oil.
At this point, the recipe says you can use more herb oil to coat the dough.
Since I was going for MAXIMUM flavor, I decided to just
dump on the rest of the herb oil I’d made, even if it meant I ended up with a dough that was swimming in so much oil the basil and fennel bobbing about resembled bits of debris, floating down a river.
After a few hours of resting (and rising), the dough once more had absorbed a significant amount of the herb oil …
… and, into the oven it went.
Now, I’d been nervous about making focaccia because it bakes at 450 degrees F.
If you’ve been following my bread-baking adventures, you might recall that the last time I made a bread that baked at that high a temperature, my apartment had filled with smoke and I’d ended up with blackened, rock-hard loaves of ciabatta.
Oh, the ego-crushing devastation!
So, when I started hearing intense sizzling coming from within the oven and clouds of whitish smoke started filling my living room, I began to worry.
From the little peeks I made into the oven, I gathered that the herb oil was bubbling over and sizzling. Not good.
When I started coughing and Mike had to leave because his eyes were stinging, I figured it was probably time to take the focaccia out, even if there were still a few minutes of baking time on the clock.
But in the end, the focaccia tasted lovely — far tastier than most store-bought versions I’ve had. (If I do say so myself.) It also made a fantastic canvas for a BLT sandwich, I’ll tell you.
In my bid to achieve MAXIMUM flavor by being greedy and dumping heaps of herb oil onto the bread, however, I’d made it just a hair too oily — something to avoid the next time I make focaccia.
It’ll probably be better for my lungs, too.