Once you begin making bread, you start a never ending journey to perfection. If there’s one thing about bread making, it’s all about trial and error, because there are so many factors involved to make this iconic food. Indeed, bread making can be the most frustrating and satisfying task in the world but at the end of the day, you do what you can. It is completely likely that two loaves of bread, made with the same flour, leaven, and water can turn out totally different out of the oven. It is even more likely that the same bread recipe may work brilliantly in one country and fail so hard in another because of changing humidity levels, temperature, flour quality, and existing bacteria in the air – that is, if you have the exact same oven… the oven is another story. So there are some simple rules I have put together for the keen crumb:
Practice makes perfect, and getting your kneading routine down is very important. An under kneaded dough is crumbly and yucky, so be sure to kneed your dough enough so that you can make a little see-through window when you stretch a tiny piece with your fingers.
Use the freshest, best quality flour you can get your hands on. The fresher the flour, the more active the glutens, and the sweeter the taste. There is nothing quite like bread made from just-milled flour, I urge you to try.
A hot oven is essential. You don’t slow-cook bread. It needs a blast of super hot air to freeze those big pockets of carbon dioxide before they start deflating. You also want a good crust, one that won’t break your teeth when you bite in, but also one that makes a wonderful crunch sound when you break into it.
Don’t use dead yeast. Yeast is what transforms your blob of water-y flour into a spongey delight. If it’s old, it’s not active, and if you’re using a sourdough starter, then it needs to be fed regularly and gorged at least a day before you use it to increase it’s fart-y activity.
Make it a weekly event! It’s something that will stay with you for life and give much happiness to the household (or yourself).
Focaccia (makes 1 loaf)
You will need:
1/4 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp dried yeast
400ml lukewarm water
1 tsp salt
1tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
Combine sugar, yeast and lukewarm water (blood temperature) in a cup and stir. Leave for 5 mins. It should start to form bubbles after a few minutes, so if nothing happens, start again with some fresh yeast.
On your clean bench top, tip the flour into the middle and add the salt. Mix together with your hands before making a big well in the middle. Add the olive oil to the centre of the well, then pour in your yeast mixture. Using a fork, combine the well walls into the liquid, little by little. After everything has been combined to make a rough dough, flour your hands and the surface to start gently kneading with light motions to begin with (I do this so that less dough sticks to my hands). *If you prefer to do this step in a large mixer you may. Start to knead your dough by stretching it out in front of you and folding over. Repeat this for a good 40 mins, or if you have used a mixer, then mix with a dough hook for 4 mins, then knead with your hands on a surface for 8 mins until the dough springs back when you make an impression with your finger.
Transfer to an oiled bowl and leave covered in a dark spot until doubled in size. Once doubled, tip out onto your cleaned surface and punch out the air with your fingers before lightly rolling out with a rolling pin to the size of your baking tray (28 x 38 cm). Streatch out the corners with your hands to make a rectangle shape, then oil and dust your baking tray with corn meal. Transfer your dough to the baking tray, make dimples with your fingers, and scatter on fresh rosemary and sea salt. Cover again with a tea towel to rise for another hour in a dark place. Preheat your oven to 220C, then slide your focaccia in to bake for 20mins until golden.
Eat hot or cool on a rack.