There is a cooking school in the area that I’m interested in exploring. I know nothing about the school but it looks like a pretty good place, based on the reviews that I’ve read. I’m particularly interested in Pro Baking course, a 10-week class that meets for four hours, once a week (and very conveniently on Saturdays). The price is steep at $1,400 but it’s so much more affordable, compared to a full-blown culinary school, especially for someone like me who’s not necessary looking to enter a professional pastry career.
I was on the verge of signing up for the course one night … until I came up with an idea. I thought … why not try to bake everything in the course curriculum on my own first? I gave myself a permission to enroll in class if, after baking pies, tarts, soufflé, cakes, croissants, and artisan breads, I’m still interested in pursuing it. (Check out this lovely blog, The Food Librarian, and read Mary’s experience attending this course … it’s very yummy!)
One of the items on the curriculum was Focaccia, a beautiful Italian bread with olive oil and herbs, so I decided to test out the recipe from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice (I LOVE this book). This was perfect for my “Dine at Home / $100 food budget month” challenge because, while some good quality breads from places like La Brea Bakery and Il Fornaio are available at a very reasonable price now, they can certainly add up over time.
There are many wonderful picture tutorials for the Focaccia recipe, thanks to Pinch My Salt and the BBA Challengers. I really recommend that you check out other blogs for more detailed information! But for now, here a chronicle of my first Focaccia journey! :)
1. Stir together the bread flour, salt, and yeast and mix with the stand mixer (you can do this manually). Add oil and water and mix until the dough is smooth. Keep kneading the dough until the dough is smooth and sticky. At this point, the dough is still very soft.
2. Transfer the dough to a well-floured working surface. Relax the dough for about 5 minutes.
3. This is the fun part. With well-flour hands, stretch the dough on each end until it because twice the size. I made a mistake here and stretched it on all sides; thus the need for step 4-C to tuck top and bottom sides in.
4. Fold the dough, letter style. Imagine that the dough is folded in three sections. Bring the left section to the center (4-A). Repeat for the right side (A-B). Tuck the top and bottom (4-C), if necessary.
5. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil. I didn’t have a spray so I just brushed some olive oil on the dough.
6. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes.
7. The dough will double in size. After 30 minutes, repeat steps 3, 4-A, 4-B, and 4-C, and let it rest about for another 30 minutes.
8. After folding the dough envelope style twice, move the dough on a 17 x 12-inch sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Drizzle olive oil and “use fingertips to dimple the dough and spread it to fill the pan.” Wrap the dough in plastic bag and refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days. I ended up letting it rest for 3 days.
Take the dough from the refrigerator. Drizzle more olive oil on the dough and dimple the surface. Cover the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for 3 hours. I did this process early in the morning at around 5:00 a.m. and went back to sleep. I woke up three hours later and baked it so I had it ready for lunch this afternoon! Because I didn’t make an herb oil before, I sprinkled dried dill and sea salt on the dough for some flavor.
9. Preheat the oven to 500 degree F. Reduce the temperature to 450 degree F and bake for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, rotate the pan 180 degrees and bake for another 10 minutes.
10. When baked, take it out of the oven and move it to a cooking rack (I used a large cutting board). It is best that you remove the parchment paper immediately. I had trouble peeling off mine but I’m glad I did it immediately when the bread is still hot; otherwise, I think it would have just stuck on the bottom. Let it rest for about 20 minutes before cutting and serving.
The bread was delicious with pizza-like ends and fluffy interior. I personally like the crusty French banquette or sourdough boule much better, but this was pretty darn good. The flavor of olive oil really comes through on the recipe. I cut it into smaller pieces and pop them in the freezer to enjoy throughout the month. Now, I have to start thinking about what kind of sandwich I would like to try … perhaps some pesto, tomato, and mozzarella? I’m so excited!