Focaccia for the yeast impaired
There were the donuts that took 4 hours (!!!) to make and then sank to bottom of the fryer, the country loaf that managed to be both burnt and raw all at once, and more batches of dough that refused to rise than I can count.
While I can cook most anything and bake sweets all day long, I accepted the obvious truth: Yeast was my nemesis.
Recently a friend mentioned an easy bread recipe. It ended (of course) in more unrisen dough being thrown away, but this time my ornery streak kicked in. I was going to make bread, darnit. I didn't care how much time and flour and misery it took.
I would make bread!
Success finally came with an easy focaccia recipe and a good bit of trial and error on my part. Below is the formula that worked for me. I use a stand mixer due to ... well ... general laziness, but those who like a workout could knead by hand.
4-5 cups bread flour
1.5 t salt
2 t yeast
13.5 ounces water
Mix 4 cups of flour with salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Heat water to 100 degrees. Dissolve yeast and let stand for 10 minutes. While the water can be a notch warmer, do not exceed 120 degrees - that will kill the yeast.
Add yeast-water mixture to flour.
Using the mixer attachment, incorporate the water into the flour until a sticky dough forms.
Switch to the dough hook and knead for 5 minutes.
Ok, this is where it gets interesting. This is a sticky dough, so don't be overly alarmed by that. The goal is to reach a consistency where the dough sticks to the dough hook but can easily be peeled off of it. I've needed to add anywhere from an extra 1/4 cup to an extra cup of flour to achieve this state. Knead in the flour in 1/4 cup increments, checking after each to see if you've reached the desired consistency. The dough ball that forms will be a little shaggy and not the smooth round ball that other recipes require.
Warning! Many recipes mention the 'window pane test'. This is where you stretch your dough and a thin, semi-transparent area forms. This dough does not pass the windowpane test. Don't worry. It will taste fine. Just keep going with the gloppy dough ball. It'll all work out in the end.
Place the dough into a floured bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise for 1 hour.
Tips on rising: This is where I've run into trouble before. Most recipes say to let it rise in area that is around 80 degrees, but no place in my house fits the bill. My solution is to preheat the oven to its lowest setting (150 in my case) for 3-4 minutes, turn it off, and let the dough rise in the warm oven. For later rises, I preheat for around 30 seconds more to keep a nice level of heat in there. The goal is to get the oven warmer than room temperature but not hot.
Oil a pizza pan and sprinkle with cornmeal. You can skip the cornmeal if you'd like, but I find it makes it easier to remove the bread after baking and adds a nice texture. Stretch the dough and spread it out to fill the pizza pan. Let rise for another 30 minutes.
Once the dough has risen a second time, use your finger to make indentations in the top of the bread (1 indentation every 3 inches or so). Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with herbs. Thyme, rosemary, and dill all work well.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown.
Photo by bookgrl