Tuesday 3 December 2013

Breaking Bread: Foccacia With Olives And Rosemary

“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight... Bread making is one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world's sweetest smells... there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel. that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”― M.F.K. Fisher

Nothing lifts up my mood more than an half hour kneading session with the ever so consenting bread dough. Its quite a workout, believe me!! Half an hour of punching, kneading,squeezing, beating and hurling will definitely have you relieved of all your pent up energies and frustrations. The bonus, apart from losing calories and firming up your arm muscles, is a delicious loaf of bread and a house that smells great. Not a bad deal at all, I say. In fact doctors should be prescribing this wonderful therapy to ease out their patients stress and anxiety. I see it as a complete win-win situation as what better way to get rid of your stress levels as well as work up a great appetite.

I find many people are nervous about baking breads. Even though the process might seem quite daunting, on the contrary, it is really simple. Some feel that it doesn't make much sense sweating over a mere loaf of bread when it is so much easier to walk across and pick it up from your nearby grocery store. But I can assure you, nothing can be more enriching and comforting than watching a piece of dough come to life before your eyes and result in a beautiful mound of golden deliciousness. You will feel it is worth every ounce of your effort, when you take a bite into the fresh, warm bread, straight out of the oven. Slather some butter on it and you are in pure heaven!!

Another thing that I feel puts some off baking bread is ready availability of fresh yeast and the confusion whether to use fresh yeast or dry yeast? Some even feel that fresh yeast might be superior to dry yeast as it would result in a softer bread. But that's not true. If used properly, dry yeast will produce the exact same results as when using fresh yeast. As long as the amounts are correct, the process is the same. Also using dried yeast is easier for those who do not have easy access to fresh yeast. 
Active dry yeast can be substituted for 50% of the weight of fresh yeast. But if you are keen on using only fresh yeast, go to your local bakery shop - yes, the one around the corner selling cakes and pastries, befriend him/request him/ beg him for some fresh yeast. Most of them are magnanimous enough to part with a little yeast. It usually works unless the baker is in a bad mood !! 
If you would like to get some more tips on baking breads, check out these great sites below. They will give you a fair idea as to what could possibly go wrong while baking bread.
I love baking breads. 
Baking bread at home, apart from being therapeutic and comforting, gives me the flexibility of using fillings of my choice. I have done a varied batch of filled breads earlier (Check out my recipes for Calzones, Pizza Rolls, Pigs in a blanket and Tomato Rolls) but this is my first attempt at making Foccacia. I realized Foccacia dough are quite similar in style and texture to pizza dough. Yes, that means you can make fresh pizzas at home using the same dough. 
Another plus point about this dough is that you don't  have to break a sweat trying to roll it out. You can just press it into shape by hand into your baking tin. Easy isn't it? Once the dough is pressed into the pan, have fun, or even better ask your little one to make dots in the dough with his finger. He  will love it. Garnish with filling of your choice, a drizzle of olive oil (to preserve moisture in the bread) on top and you are on your way to making foccacia. 

1 tbsp dried yeast or 20 g fresh yeast
1 tsp sugar
450 gms flour
1 tsp salt
90 ml olive oil
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tsp dried Rosemary
10-12 green olives
300 ml  lukewarm water

In a small bowl dissolve sugar and yeast in 4 Tbsp lukewarm water (out of the 300 ml water) . Let stand for 15 minutes in a warm place until the yeast has risen to the top and bubbling. 
Take a food processor or a mixer fitted with a dough hook and combine the flour, salt, 4 tbsp olive oil, dried rosemary, freshly ground pepper and the yeast mixture on a low speed.
Once the dough has come together, take it out on a floured surface and continue kneading by hand, lifting and throwing, pushing and pulling (there is no right or wrong way to do this, so just have fun!!) for further 10 -15 minutes until it becomes smooth and soft "like a baby's bottom".
Brush a large bowl with olive oil.   
Put the kneaded dough in the bowl and flip it so that the surface is little oiled. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for at least 1 hour.
Generously brush a rectangular baking tin with olive oil. 
Turn the dough into a lightly floured surface and knead to knock out the air. 
Transfer the dough into the tin. With your hands flatten the dough to fill the tin evenly.
Cover with a dry tea towel and let rise in a warm place for 35 – 40 minutes until puffed. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 200 C. 
Brush the dough with the remaining oil then top with dried rosemary leaves.
With your fingertips, poke the dough allover to make deep dimples. Also push in some olives in the dough.
Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until crisp crusted underneath and lightly browned on top. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool slightly before cutting and serving.

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