Monday, August 20, 2012

Pepper-Herb Focaccia

My pepper-herb focaccia uses crushed red pepper flakes--the kind often sprinkled on pizza and spaghetti--to add a bit of spiciness and warm pepper flavor. If you want a hotter, spicier flavor, you can add another 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes to the flour mixture. And if you have fresh rosemary, you can substitute 1 teaspoon of finely chopped fresh for the dried, and sprinkle some fresh rosemary leaves over the top. I enjoy making bread by hand, although it does take more time and effort to work the dough manually. If you prefer, you can use an electric mixer with a dough hook to mix and work the dough in merely a few minutes.

I highly recommend using a cooking thermometer to make sure the water is within the recommended temperature range--if the water is too cool, the yeast won't activate; if it's too hot, it will kill the yeast and your bread won't rise. I like to bake my focaccia in a large rectangular glass baking pan, e.g. 9" x 13" or larger, but for a more "rustic" look you can use a large baking sheet.

2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 envelope dry active yeast (I use regular, not rapid-rise)
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 tsp dried rosemary, lightly crushed
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 cup plus 1 Tbs warm water (105° to 115° F or as recommended on the yeast package)
1 1/2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for working with the dough and greasing)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh or dried rosemary, approx. 1/2 to 1 tsp
Sea salt, approx. 1 tsp
Crushed red pepper flakes, approx. 1/2 tsp

Combine the flour, yeast, red pepper flakes and herbs in a large bowl. Stir in the warm water and use a large wooden spoon and/or your flour-dusted hands to mix and work the dough until it becomes a soft but somewhat cohesive dough (this will take several minutes by hand, and you might need to add just a little more flour if the dough is too sticky, BUT not so much that it becomes a ball or stiff dough). Drizzle in the 1 1/2 Tbs olive oil and continue to work the dough until it's elastic and pliable. Turn out onto a flat surface that's lightly dusted with flour and knead for a few minutes to make a ball (dough shouldn't be "tacky").

Lightly oil the inside of a large glass or metal bowl and transfer the dough ball into it. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and place in a warm place to rise for 45 minutes (I like to turn my oven on to the lowest "warm" setting for two or three minutes, then turn it off and place the covered bowl in it for the dough to rise there).

Uncover the bowl and use your fingers to punch down the dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and gently stretch it out into a large rectangle. Let it rest 5 minutes--while the dough is resting, use your fingers and a little olive oil to grease a large rectangular baking pan (9" x 13" to as large as 16" x 18") or baking sheet. Using well-oiled fingers, transfer the dough rectangle into the baking pan or onto the baking sheet and press out to fit the pan (or to your desired size & thickness on the sheet).  Cover with the kitchen towel, place in a warm place and let rise 30 minutes.
Focaccia fresh from the oven

After 30 minutes, preheat your oven to 400°F. While the oven is heating up, uncover the dough and use a fork to pierce the surface in several places. Use your fingers to spread about 1/2 to 1 Tbs olive oil over the entire surface (you can use a pastry brush to spread the oil if you prefer). Lightly sprinkle the oiled surface with the remaining topping ingredients, i.e., rosemary, sea salt and crushed red pepper flakes. Let rise for an additional 15 minutes while the oven finishes preheating.

Bake the focaccia at 400°F for 30 minutes or until golden brown on top, rotating once half-way through the baking time. Remove from oven, let sit for a few minutes until cool enough to handle but still warm. Cut to serve warm or carefully remove from pan or sheet to finish cooling on a rack. When completely cooled, store in an airtight container or a ziptop plastic bag (squeeze out all air before sealing) or tightly wrapped in plastic or foil

Zestfully yours,

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