Bread. A basic staple, with a hard outer layer, but soft and fluffy on the inside. It can be eaten with anything, anytime of the day, and anywhere you are. We might think that it is so simple to make because of its abundance, but it isn’t really. Don’t fret though! We’ll make it simple for you. This is just to get you out of your comfort zone. We are going to start by making Focaccia. A savory, thick Italian flat bread with a crispy salty outer layer, drizzled with a lot of olive oil. Inside is a soft spongy layer. On top can be anything, from tomatoes, basil, rosemary, potatoes, cheese or whatever suits your taste.
A critical part of bread making that should be done before fermenting the dough is kneading. Kneading stretches and compresses the dough and it helps distribute the gluten network throughout the dough. It strengthens the dough by forming more hydrogen bonds between adjacent gluten proteins. The dough will start off soft and mushy, but will become harder and more malleable the more it is kneaded.
The key to great bread is in the fermentation or the metabolic action of yeast. Yeast is activated in the hydration process, with warm water or other liquid. If the liquid is too cold, it will not activate the yeast, and if it’s too hot, the yeast will die. Fermentation is the process in which it allows the dough to rise, and in order for this to happen, yeast will need food, moisture, and a controlled warm environment.
Yeast is a leavening agent. It contains enzymes that are able to break down the starch in the flour into sugars. These enzymes break down starch into maltose, then uses maltase to break down maltose into glucose. Glucose acts as food for the yeast, and it metabolizes it to produce carbon dioxide and ethanol. As the yeast produces carbon dioxide, it gets trapped inside the dough, which causes it to rise. This is the reason behind why bread has a spongy look and texture to it. Those are the pockets left behind by the carbon dioxide gas.
Now, let’s begin baking! For your equipment, you’ll be needing a 9 x 12 inch baking pan, about 2 inches deep.
Yes, we’ll need lots of olive oil in this recipe! Don’t be afraid to use that much, because this is what’s going to make the focaccia taste really good! For the toppings, we’ll do something simple by just using cherry tomatoes and basil. But really, you can put anything you want, cheese, garlic or olives!
- Mix the yeast into the lukewarm water. Stir until well combined, then set aside.
- Add the flour, 1/2 tablespoon of salt, and 1/2 cup of olive oil into a large bowl. Mix well using a wooden spoon.
- Once all ingredients are incorporated, add the yeast and water mixture into the large bowl. Continue mixing using the wooden spoon until it has become difficult to mix. Now it’s ready to be taken out of the bowl and kneaded.
- Dust your table with a bit of flour, and also your hands. This is to make sure that the dough doesn’t stick everywhere.
- Place the dough on the table and knead for 10 minutes, or until the dough has become a bit warmer.
- Put the dough back in the bowl and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Set it aside and let it prove or rise for 40 minutes.
- While waiting, you can preheat your oven to 400 F / 200 C.
- After 40 minutes, dust again your table and hands with more flour. Take the dough out of the bowl and start stretching it to the size of your tray. You may use your hands or a rolling pin.
- Once it’s done, take your tray and drizzle it with 1/2 cup of olive oil. Place the dough inside and add your toppings. Add salt to taste and of course, some more olive oil!
- Place it in the oven and bake for 35 to 40 minutes.
Once it’s finish baking, drizzle some more olive oil and add a bit of salt. Again, don’t be afraid to add as much olive oil as you want. This is going to give the focaccia more flavor. After that, let it cool completely. Once it’s cool, take it out of the tray and slice into squares. Share it with your family and friends and enjoy!