Bread

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.” –  Robert Browning

This recipe is focaccia and / or rustic french loaf aka pain à l’ancienne. Following are abreviated instructions to use a reference while preparing and baking. Longer notes follow.

Prepare the dough

  1. Put 560g of water in the Kitchen Aid bowl, and put the bowl in the fridge.
  2. In a large glass bowl:
    • flour: 765g
    • table salt: 2¼ teaspoons
    • instant yeast: 1¾ teaspoons
  3. When the water is at fridge temperature, put the dry ingredients in it and mix for 8 minutes on medium speed.
  4. Coat the insides of the glass bowl with olive oil. Put in the dough, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  5. In the morning put the bowl on the kitchen counter for the day, until it’s doubled in size.

Shape & bake

  1. Preheat the oven to its maximum temperature. Usually 260°C but 290 if it goes that high. On the middle shelf, but a stone tile big enough for your bread. On the bottom shelf put an empty pan.
  2. Cover a large cookie sheet with baking parchment, and on that sprinkle semolina flour or cornmeal.
  3. Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and divide it into four loaf-shaped blobs, and carefully lay them out on the parchment. With a large pair of scissors, cut diagonal lines through the loaves.
  4. Open the oven and slide the parchment and bread onto the baking stone. Pour half a litre of boiled water into the empty pan.
  5. Shut the oven, turn it down to 220°C, and bake for about 18 minutes. The breadcrust should be golden brown and the interior should be at 96°C. When done, put the loafs on a drying rack.

Notes

Proofing

The reason for the cold water and refrigerating the dough is to “proof” the fermentation which gives the dough a richer flavour and texture.

Ingredients

Unbleached general purpose flour is good. Eventually some whole wheat can be added for variety, along with various seeds etc. But traditional bread and focaccia are just white flour.

Just use normal cheap table salt. Sea salt and kosher salt etc. is a waste of money. Course salt is good for the focaccia topping.

There are two kinds of yeast: instant and active/dry. Instant is easier and gives the same result.

Proofing / fermenting

The dough can stay in the fridge for a day or two. Also it could be taken out before going to bed, then baked the following morning. All of this is still up for experimentation.

We’ve found the bread a little heavier than traditional bread. I may experiment with letting it rise after shaping, but normally I put it straight in the oven.

Baking

The goal of the baking stone is to bake the bottom of the loaf. The bigger and thicker the better.

Water is added to the pan to humidify the air. Professional ovens have a steam jets for this. When adding water be careful not to get any on the glass of the oven door, because it may crack. The thicker and heavier the pan the better. A cast-iron frying pan is good.

The timing and temperature are all still open to experimentation. I’ve been using a mix of fan and no fan in the oven. You just have to stand there and watch it bake. Sometimes it bakes unevenly and it’s worth while to open the oven and carefully rotate the parchment 180°. However, resist the tempation to open the oven to check on the bread. The oven will have difficulty maintaining such a hot temperature as it is.

Focaccia

Everything is the same, except:

  1. Before shaping the loaves, put an eighth cup of olive oil and some finely crushed rosemary in a frying pan. I tried large, more fresh leaves, but they burnt. Other herbs etc. could be tried. Plain dried “herbes de province” is OK. Make an infusion of tasty oil.
  2. Get a tin of black olives, cut the olives into quarters or to taste.
  3. When shaping the loaves take half of the dough (which was made, above) and shape it into a large flat blob. Again be careful not to squeeze out the gas. At this point it can be left to rise for a few hours, which will make it fluffier, or proceed directly to the next step.
  4. Sprinkle the olives evenly on the dough, and then push them all the way down to the pan with your fingers. You want to make dimples where the oil can collect.
  5. Brush the oil on the loaf.
  6. Sprinkle two pinches of sea salt on the top. Go easy on the salt though, there’s already a bunch in the dough.
  7. Bake as for bread.