by A.J. Coltrane
Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Rosemary Focaccia Sheet from The Bread Bible. To quote:
This intriguing dough presents an apparent contradiction: it is incredibly light yet moist and satisfyingly chewy. Consider the percentage of water in this dough! In relation to the flour, it has 113.5 percent water, making it the highest percentage of any dough in this book. [ed: most doughs generally run 60-70 percent water as a percentage of the flour weight.] Who would have thought it even possible to make a dough this wet and still produce bread? And that is the secret of its incredible texture. The exceptionally high amount of water keeps the gluten in the flour from breaking down during the very long beating process. This enables the dough to develop into long stretchy strands that hold the air and give a chewy texture. It will remain a soupy batter until toward the very end the twenty-minute beating, when it suddenly metamorphoses into a shiny, smooth, incredibly elastic dough.
I adapted this recipe from my favorite neighborhood bakery, the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City…
So yeah, that’s some great pedigree. I had four hours before I needed to be out the door, instead of the five hours called for the recipe, so I goosed the yeast a little and figured I’d sacrifice a bit of the flavor associated with the rising time — the bread was getting rosemary and a healthy amount of salt and olive oil anyway, so it seemed like a reasonable tradeoff.
The recipe (notes are in italics)
390 g AP Flour
3/8 tsp instant yeast (I increased this to 3/4 tsp)
442 g warm water
3/4 tsp each sugar and salt
36 g extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp rosemary, fresh
1/4 tsp sea salt or fleur de sel
1. Mix the dough. In the mixer bowl, with the paddle attachment on low speed (#2 Kitchenaid), combine the flour and yeast. With the mixer running, gradually add the water, mixing just until the dough comes together, about 3 minutes. It will be very soupy. Increase the speed to medium (#4 Kitchenaid) and beat until the dough is transformed into a smooth, shiny ball, about 20 minutes. (This never happened, or at least it hadn’t after almost 30 minutes. It just stayed soupy. I wound up adding about 1/2 cup+ of flour so that the dough would cooperate. It was a humid day, which may have effected it somewhat. I added a tiny amount of salt and sugar to compensate for the added flour — otherwise it might have tasted “flat”.)
Add the sugar and salt and beat until they are well incorporated, about 3 minutes.
2. Let the dough rise. Lightly oil a bowl, cover and let rise for about four hours. (I did this directly in the Kitchenaid bowl. With the greater quantity of yeast that I used, this only took about 90 minutes.)
3. Shape the dough and let it rise. Coat the sheet pan with a heaping tablespoon of the olive oil. Pour the dough onto it. Spread the dough as thin as possible without tearing it. Let it rest 10 minutes, then stretch again. Cover the pan and let rise until doubled 1-1/2 to 2 hours. (I used another sheet pan upside down as a cover. Mine was ready after about 60 minutes. Typically I use parchment paper to make “unmolding” easier. As it turned out, this dough decided to completely cement itself to the tray. The unmolding was a hassle.)
4. Preheat the oven. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F for 1 hour before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone or baking sheet on it before preheating. (Maybe I’m just too cheap… I let it preheat 30 minutes. I can’t believe that the oven will retain *that* much more heat if I let it go for an hour. I used a baking stone.)
5. Sprinkle on toppings and bake. Uncover the dough and drizzle on the remaining olive oil. With oiled or wet fingertips deeply dimple the dough. Sprinkle evenly with the rosemary and salt. Place the pan directly on the hot stone or sheet tray and bake 12-13 minutes or until top is golden. Remove from oven and drizzle on a little extra olive oil if desired. (Mine was done at closer to 15 minutes.)
Other than resolutely sticking to the pan, it was a nice bread. I wouldn’t call the texture “incredible” like Beranbaum does, but for a fairly fast bread it was better than serviceable. The crust had a light chew to it. The crumb had an almost spongy, open texture, similar in appearance to the structure of a luffa. (Appetising, I know — I mean that in a nice way.) The hole size was very consistent throughout. (It really sucked up Iron Chef Leftovers’ terrific pig sauce.)
One reason I chose to try this bread, as close to the recipe as I had time for, was the 20 minute mixing time and super high hydration. Both of those parameters were well outside of what I make usually make. Normally I would try to minimize the oxidizing of the dough by not mixing for that long, but for this bread, it worked. I can see making this one again, though I’m sure the Kitchenaid won’t dig having to run for that long if I choose to make multiple breads for a crowd.
For a crowd, though, the Go To potato onion focaccia recipe is here.