Day Of The Dead Focaccia

A simple focaccia for a Day Of The Dead Party-

The topping is olive oil, zaatar, and Maldon Sea Salt Flakes.

The hydration is 75%, which is not on the high end for a focaccia — the dough is sticky but can be handled with wet or oiled hands.

The formula:

  1. 800 grams King Arthur Bread Flour, 600 grams cold water, 16 grams kosher salt, 2 teaspoons Instant (not rapid-rise) yeast.
  2. Mix the dough for 8 minutes on low speed, then cover and move to the refrigerator for 2-3 days. The refrigerator step can be skipped if crunched for time, though the focaccia will taste better after an extended cold fermentation.
  3. Remove from the refrigerator at least 4-5 hours before you intend to serve the bread.
  4. As the dough returns to room temperature: About every 30 minutes to one hour work around the bowl, lift the dough from the sides and push/drop the dough back towards the center, taking care not to pull so hard that the dough tears.
  5. When the dough is near room temperature remove it from the bowl and place it on a baking sheet lined with oil-coated parchment paper. 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil should be plenty to coat the parchment. Spread out the dough without tearing it into a round/oval shape towards the edges of the sheet tray. If the dough fights back wait five minutes and try again.
  6. Cover (I use another inverted sheet tray) and let rise one hour. If using zaatar mix 4 tablespoons with 4 tablespoons olive oil and let it rest and hydrate.
  7. Preheat the oven to 425F. Using the tips of your fingers, dimple the dough all over, pushing down to the sheet tray. Spread a liberal amount of olive oil over the top, then top with the zaatar and a “healthy” sprinkle of flake salt. Cover and let rise one hour.
  8. Bake for 30-35 minutes at 425F, then remove to a cooling rack, taking care not to spill any residual oil on yourself or other things you’re attached to. If during baking the bottom of the dough is getting too dark add a second sheet tray underneath the first. For this bake I used two sheet trays for the entire time.

The focaccia was served at a friend’s house with a Day of the Dead menu and beer theme and the bread was a big hit — the zaatar “face” motif didn’t last very long. This focaccia would also be good if substituting other herbs or cheese for the zaatar — I was targeting a sort of scary pumpkin face sort of thing, and zaatar tastes good and stands up to other strong flavors which made it a good choice for this event.

I’ve made many focaccias and I’ve come the the conclusion that the most important element is patience. The bread will be fine without the long refrigerator rise or extra folds and multiple rises, but I think the end result is better when it isn’t rushed. Because this was a weeknight bread I brought the dough to work and stored it in the refrigerator there, then removed it around to my desk at 2:30pm to start warming up for a 7:00 dinner. Many recipes will call for “one hour out of the refrigerator then proceed…” , but that never seems like enough time for the dough to warm up to room temperature and the later rises don’t wind up very satisfactory. Give it time.

2022 Container Garden Recap

The weather this year was generally cooperative. Our total harvest checks in at 175.5 pounds not including the beans or basil which we don’t weigh (too fiddly on a weeknight). 175.5 pounds from 10 boxes comes out to 4.7 pounds per square foot of growing media. Summary below the tomato pic –

A mix of mostly Black Krim with some Cherokee Purple

Carmen Peppers – 1 box, 6 plants, 2.2 pounds

King of the North Peppers – 1 box, 6 plants, 2.9 pounds

Our historical yield for peppers has been around 1.5-2.0 pounds per plant. This year there were lots and lots of leaves and not a lot of fruit. I’m not sure what we can do differently other than hope next year is better.

Black Krim and Cherokee Chocolate Tomatoes – 1.5 boxes, 3 plants, 34.7 pounds

It was two Black Krim and one Cherokee. My feeling is that the Cherokee dragged down the average. We love earthy, rich taste of Black Krims so they’re staying. This isn’t the first year that a Cherokee was “meh”, so we’ll see on those.

In a related “unripe tomato” note – almost everything we harvested green ripened up on cooling racks on the kitchen floor over the last couple of weeks. I think that airflow and a fairly bright and warm environment are the keys to not having stuff rot. No more paper bags for us.

Purple Bumblebee Cherry Tomato – 0.5 box, 1 plant, 7.0 pounds

Very uninspiring yield. They tasted ok and they were attractive and something different.. But. The longer we’ve been gardening the more I lean away from cherry tomatoes because I’d rather spend the few minutes to harvest a few large tomatoes instead of tediously picking a zillion small ones.

Roma Tomatoes – 2 boxes, 4 plants, 47.6 pounds

One of the four plants did poorly and dragged down the yield. Either it was a weak plant or it didn’t get enough sun on the north/shady end of the stack. Still, almost 50 pounds of Romas makes a lot of sauce.

Oregon Spring Tomatoes – 1 box, 2 plants, 19.3 pounds

Oregon Spring are the first tomato plant I’d recommend to anyone gardening in the Pacific Northwest (we’re a little north of Seattle). They’re early, they’re prolific, they taste good, and they work pretty well for sauce too. 19.3 pounds isn’t the best year, typical would be 30-50 pounds for two plants.

Late July, before things really start ripening

“Slicing” Cucumber – 1 box, 4 plants, 31.7 pounds

31.7 pounds is on the low end of average. On the other hand they had good shape all summer — the plants waited a long time to start producing “fun house mirror” cucumbers. I’m totally happy with the cucumbers this year.

“Green” Tomatillos – 1 box, 2 plants, 13.7 pounds and

Tromboncino Zucchini – 1 box, 2 plants, 16.4 pounds

The tomatillos and zucchini shared a trellis with the idea that the pollinators would hit the zucchini as a byproduct of visiting all of the tomatillo flowers. I also helped out a little bit, pollinating with a toothbrush later in the season. It seems to have worked ok — in a bad year we’ll get five pounds of zucchini and in a good year we’ll get 15-25 pounds. We would have gotten more but critters (birds?) did some damage and destroyed a few zucchini when they were smallish. The tomatillos were right around the low end of average at 13.7 pounds, which is plenty of green sauce/salsa. I think we’ll try the same “share the trellis” strategy next year.

Other thoughts:

The trees are continuing to block out more and more sunlight as the years go by. Next year it may be that we reduce it down to one box of indeterminate tomatoes (Black Krim), just ensure that everything gets enough sun to be productive.

There were fewer destructive bugs than usual, but also fewer bees and more animals or birds destroying the random tomato.

It was a very marginal year for peppers and an average / low average year for everything else. October has been beautiful and sunny and if it had traded places with May the total yield would have been around average or a little better than average.

Still, if that’s a typical year, sign me up.

Container Garden Update September 25, 2022

To paraphrase Yogi Berra: It’s getting late early around here. Our oak tree that always confirms the season is just starting to turn to fall colors and the garden is basically done.

On the 12th it became clear that the bugs were threatening to impact the pepper harvest, so we pulled what was left of the peppers:

Clockwise from top left: Oregon Spring, Roma, Rattlesnake beans, Black Krim, Purple Bumblebee (cherry tomato), tomatillos and cumbers, Cherokee Chocolate tomatoes, Carmen peppers, King of the North peppers

The next week we harvested another sheet tray of ripe Romas. (not pictured)

As of the morning of the September 24 the garden looked like this:

L-R Front: Rattlesnake beans, Roma, Oregon Spring, Roma. Middle Left is the other tomatoes with cucumbers on the right. Back left is tomatillo and Tromboncino with Fortex beans on the right.

A closeup of the “better looking” Roma box on the 24th:

The Purple Bumblebees on the 24th:

The tomatillo and Tromboncino shared a trellis. I think it worked out well. Our Tromboncino yield is up relative to the last couple of years and it didn’t seem to impact the tomatillos one way or the other. Yay pollenators:

Then after “picture time” we harvested everything except the tomatillo and Tromboncinos. We left those two boxes with the hopes we’d see a little more output. And the yard waste bin was full so that was a good stopping point.

The Rattlesnake and Fortex beans that we’re saving for seed or dried beans for eating. We’ve been harvesting the Fortex all summer in addition to what’s pictured:

And the last somewhat unripe harvest — it’s around 30 pounds of tomatoes:

We’ve had the most success with ripening not-ripe tomatoes on the floor of the kitchen on cooling racks. The kitchen is generally warm, and when the furnace starts up there’s a heater vent that provides good air circulation.

I feel like 2022 was a better year for the garden than 2020 or 2021, though the shade trees continue to grow and are gradually going to force us to reduce the size of the garden or just accept that the yields are not going to be what they were ten years ago. The wildfire smoke was minimal, and July and August were relatively warm and clear.

Next post will be the How Much Did That All Weigh? I’m curious to see if my perception of yield matches reality.

Container Garden Update August 28, 2022

In the Seattle area, mid-to-late August is when the garden starts to ripen in earnest. It’s also when the plants are starting to show that they’re thinking about being “done”.

A sort of close up overview picture:

The front right is Carmen Peppers and King Of North Peppers. The Carmen’s are having a much more productive year. A Carmen close up:

Normally we lose a few to earwigs, but that doesn’t seem to be the case this year. I’ve only counted one lost to the bugs.

Pictured next is the more energetic of the two Roma Tomato boxes. This box got the sunnier location and it shows:

That’s two plants in one box. They’re leaning over to the left and invading the space of the Oregon Springs. The nice thing is that the Oregon Springs are a very early harvest so we should be able to pull those plants out in 2-3 weeks from now.

I think the Tomatillo and Tromboncino “sharing a trellis” is working out pretty well. The center of the space is dominated by the Tomatillos. We need to harvest a big batch of them within the next few days.

The Tromboncino are growing up the sides and along the top. They’re having a better year this year than they have in the last few. We got a 32″ fruit about a week ago. Today we harvested this:

Tromboncino have all of their seeds in the bulb at the end of the fruit. The flesh firmer than a regular zucchini. Their leaves are less susceptible to mold, which helps in our climate. They work especially well for us because we’re gardening on a concrete patio and the vining aspect of the variety keeps the fruit off of the hot summer cement.

Finally, the Rattlesnake Beans:

We’ll let these dry and use them like Pinto Beans. I like growing beans – we plant 20-40 seeds in a box and make sure they get water and that’s about it. It’s basically “free” food.

The cucumbers are also having a better year than in the last couple of years. After the early cool weather it’s turned into a fairly warm summer, but we haven’t had wildfire smoke sucking up the UV.

So that’s good on a few levels.

Container Garden Update July 31, 2022

Up until three days ago it’s been a very mild summer. The last three days have been in the mid-to-high 80’s. So far we’ve harvested basil, beans, and zucchini, which is normal for this time of year. We should have cucumbers in the next few days. The tomatoes and peppers are further away.

A view from the front right:

Peppers on the right, tomatoes in the center. More tomatoes in the middle-left. Cucumbers middle right.

From up the slope on the left:

The three tomato plants in the front from left to right are Roma, Oregon Spring, and another Roma. The left side of the garden is North, and that side of the garden has been more shaded over the last few years by the ever-expanding oak tree to the northwest. The Roma plant to the South is doing tons better and it’s not close.

From the house:

The big thing in the center is Fortex beans. They always do well, and we always save bean seeds for replanting in the early summer. The basil is poking out from behind the left of the cucumbers.

We also set up the Tromboncino Zucchini and Tomatillos to share a trellis with the idea that the pollinators would hit both and we’d see a better yield from the Tromboncino. There aren’t very many bees this year, so we’ll see how much it helps. What’s odd is all of the Tromboncino flowers were male a couple of days ago:

But so far so good anyway. The Tromboncino on the left weighs right around three pounds.

Container Garden Update July 3, 2022

We’ve had exactly one day this year that could be considered “hot”. It feels like the garden has yet to “take off”. It’s overcast and drizzly this weekend with the next sunny stretch forecast for… not in the next seven days. Highs are forecast as the mid-to-low-70’s. We’ll need some hot weather for the basil and peppers to really grow and fight off whatever is chewing on them.

Front (L-R): Rattlesnake Beans, Roma Tomatoes, Oregon Spring Tomatoes, Roma Tomatoes, Carmen Peppers, King of the North Peppers. Middle left are the Black Krims, Cherokee Chocolate Tomato, and “Purple Bumblebee” Striped Cherry Tomato. In the middle are “Slicing Cucumbers” and (hiding) Sweet Basil. Middle right are Fortex beans. In the far back left there are Tromboncino Zucchinis and Tomatillos:

So far the Tomatillo and Tromboncino are sharing the trellis nicely — The Tomatillo are in the center and the Tromboncino have been trained up the sides. I’m hopeful that by removing browning Tromboncino leaves towards the middle and bottom as they arrive it’ll leave enough light and space for all four plants.

One more view from the “front” of the garden:

The photo also highlights how we label the plants. The indeterminate tomatoes are doing well, and the beans grow regardless of the weather.

Hopefully we have some sun coming in the next couple of weeks.

Four New (Old) Heirloom Wheat Berries. And a Boule.

In April I purchased four varieties of heirloom wheat berries from Breadtopia: Turkey Red, Rouge de Bordeaux, Sonora White, and Red Fife. UPS caused a bit of a hang-up when they delivered to the wrong address, but the customer service at Breadtopia was top-notch in sorting it out. I’m a happy customer.

I’ve read through both of the books I purchased (Leonti’s Bread Lab and Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads), and I’ve baked a little bit out of both. I’m at the point now that I want to try things that aren’t huge departures from how I’ve been baking to see how the finished products compare. With that in mind, a boule with 50% fresh milled Rouge de Bordeaux and 50% King Arthur Bread Flour:

Another added variable is the new Le Crueset Bread Oven. I’ll likely do a review after a few more bakes but so far I think it’s going to get a lot of use in the future. It was a very thoughtful gift.

Continue reading “Four New (Old) Heirloom Wheat Berries. And a Boule.”

Easy Sandwich Bread With Fresh Milled Whole Wheat Attempt #3. And Leonti’s Flour Lab Yeasted Loaf

First up, the weeknight sandwich bread with whole wheat:

The recipe: 600 grams total flour — 200 grams whole wheat (the picture above utilizes freshly milled hard red winter wheat), 400 grams bread flour (King Arthur), 420 grams room temperature water (70% hydration),12 grams kosher salt (2% of total flour weight), 1.5 teaspoons instant yeast.

  1. Place the whole wheat flour in the mixing bowl. Combine with all of the water and let rest and hydrate for 45 minutes – 1 hour.
  2. Add the other ingredients to the bowl and mix on low speed for 8 minutes.
  3. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.
  4. Fold the dough so that it will fit into a 9″ x 5″ bread pan. I used a fair amount of surface tension, which may have helped the dough rise evenly.
  5. Cover and let rise for two hours. At the 90-minute mark set the oven to 425F
  6. Slash the dough down the center.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes covered with another upside-down bread pan. Remove the cover and bake for another 35 minutes.

So it’s totally doable after work, assuming you get home at a reasonable time. All-up it’s about 4.5 – 5 hours and most of that is hands-off.

Continue reading “Easy Sandwich Bread With Fresh Milled Whole Wheat Attempt #3. And Leonti’s Flour Lab Yeasted Loaf”

Easy Sandwich Bread With Whole Wheat — 2nd Attempt

At least from an appearance standpoint, this one is closer to the truth:

The recipe was similar to the first attempt, but this time I gave it more total flour, yeast, and time.

The recipe:

375 grams bread flour, 125 grams (fresh milled) hard red winter wheat (500 grams flour total, which gives the following baker’s percentages), 325 grams cool water (65%), 15 grams honey (3%), 20 grams oil (4%), 10 grams kosher salt (2%), 1 tsp instant yeast.

Continue reading “Easy Sandwich Bread With Whole Wheat — 2nd Attempt”