Sunday, November 26, 2006

Rosemary Focaccia--two ways!

Sunday, November 26, 2006
This is not my very last bread--I still have one to make--but it's the only one that has been unsuccessful, so I felt that I had to give it another try. This time it worked. But I can't figure out why this time, both the original focaccia and the variation, with garlic poached in olive oil, were rousing successes and very easy, and the first time nothing went right.
The directions say that the dough will be very soupy, but after beating for about 20 minutes, it will be "transformed into a smooth, shiny ball."
On my first attempt, that transformation never occurred--it just stayed soupy. After about 25 minutes of waiting for the transformation to occur, I added more flour, but it still stayed soupy. I tried baking it anyway, but it never metamorphosized into anything resembling bread.
This failure has galled me for my entire year of baking bread.
Elizabeth was still at home for her Thanksgiving break, and she said she wanted to try her hand at bread baking too, so she opted for the focaccia with pockets of garlic variation. After she heard about my first attempt, she said she would simply use less water. I told her it was supposed to be a very wet dough. She said, "Mom!" (Generally when she says "Mom" with an exclamation mark, it means I've said something stupid.) "Mom! Haven't you ever heard of the scientific method? We'll experiment!" As it turns out, neither of us followed the recipe precisely, but her change was deliberate and mine were accidental. And both methods gave us beautiful bread.
I intended to measure everything with great precision, but, as usually happens when I start baking before I have my full measure of coffee, I made a few errors. I used 3/4 teaspoon of yeast instead of 3/8 because I got confused. And I started pouring in the water before I had even measured it, so I measured out 442 grams (the correct amount) and poured out approximately the same amount that I'd already added to the flour. While I was doing this, I kept telling myself that I should just start over. After all, I'd only be wasting flour and water. But I just kept going. And this time, right on schedule, after 20 minutes of beating, the dough miraculously turned into the shiny, smooth ball.

And, even more miraculously, when I poured it into the dough-rising container, it looked exactly like "melted mozzarella," just as it was supposed to look.

Because I'd doubled the yeast, my dough rose in 2 hours. While I was waiting, I poached the garlic for Elizabeth's bread. The poached garlic is fabulous--even better than roasted garlic because the temperature is easier to control, and the garlic becomes soft and creamy without getting hard and chewy on the outside. And, of course, you're left with garlic-infused olive oil. The only disadvantage is that garlic permeates the air of the entire house, causing both your eyes and your mouth to water.
After being baked for just 13 minutes, the stretchy, shiny dough turned into the best focaccia I've ever tasted, and we dug into it immediately. It was crispy, but incredibly light and airy. It was not just bread, it was vindication!

I remembered the testy e-mail I sent to Rose after my first failure, telling her that she should get rid of this recipe in the next edition. NO! Pay no attention to that e-mail! It not only works when you follow the directions, but it also works even when you don't follow directions.

After the three of us greedily ate the rosemary focaccia, the less yeasty dough was ready to receive its garlic. Elizabeth and I made pockets in the dough--hers, like mine, was smooth and very elastic--and worked in the golden bits of garlic. In another 13 minutes, out came another perfect pan of focaccia--and this one was even better than the first.

My 82nd bread this year; Elizabeth's first ever. And both of them superb. Thank you, thank you, Rose, for not listening to crotchety people like me and for insisting that this wonderful bread can indeed be baked perfectly.

So what happened? What accounts for the difference? I can think of only a few possibilities. This was my first loaf of bread and I used flour that I'd had on hand. Because I didn't do that much baking, my flour might have been middle-aged if not elderly. This time, I opened a brand new package of King Arthur all-purpose flour. Or the first time, I was measuring the old-fashioned way: with cups and teaspoons. Now I use a scale and no longer understand why we don't weigh instead of measure in this country. Or it could be my shiny new KitchenAid. But my friend Sara has made this bread without incident many times using her old Artisan model. Finally, I might try to chalk it up to experience, except that Elizabeth's bread turned out as well as mine, and she has no experience at all. (Although she was guided by me, which must be worth something).
If my first description of baking this bread has discouraged anyone from baking this, or if, like me, you've tried and failed, I beg you to pluck up your courage and open The Bread Bible to page 205. You'll be glad you did.


Paddyscake said...

Mmmmm..It looks wonderful. This is a type of bread I haven't tried, but will soon. I've lost track, what is to be the finale? I hope we can look forward to more cooking/baking adventures with you?

Chubbypanda said...

(Ex-bakery boy with your answer.)

If your focaccia dough stayed soupy during your first attempt, it was because gluten failed to form during the kneading process. From the sounds of it, your dough was either too old, or it may not have contained enough gluten to begin with (say if you used cake flour on accident). Since you mentioned that the dough refused to firm up despite added flour, that rules out over hydration.

- Chubbypanda

Anonymous said...

The breads looks delightful! You certainly put that demon to bed!
How nice that your daughter wanted to bake with you too. It looked like quite a lot of garlic; poaching it must make it much milder then... one hopes anyway.
Well done to both of you. Melinda

breadbasketcase said...

I am irrationally superstitious (well, I suppose there's no such thing as rational superstition, is there?) about announcing the bread I'm planning to bake ahead of time, but I do plan to bake this unnamed bread this coming weekend.

breadbasketcase said...

I think you must be right about the old flour. I'm sure I didn't grab bread flour by mistake because I'm equally sure I didn't have any on hand, in that pre-BBC era. For some reason, and maybe you can hazard a guess why, this bread must be particularly sensitive to flour that's past its prime because I know I'm not the only person who sent churlish emails to Rose about this bread not working out.

breadbasketcase said...

The poached garlic is wonderful! It's very mild, not at all bitter, and highly addictive.

lost said...

look at how far you've come, whats the last bread??

Anonymous said...

Dear Lost....
She isn't going to tell us! It is a suprise.

evil cake lady said...

congratulations on taking back the focaccia! i went back and re-read your entry about your first focaccia, and its great to see how much more confident you are about bread baking.

i look forward to reading about your last bread!

lost said...

argh i hate suprises, i wonder which bread it will be, good luck!

yiuma said...

There is no need to guess and not so much a surprise. If you go through the content of the Book. You know which one is missing, That is it.I have done the count down since there were about 10 breads left and cross out the list each week.

Chubbypanda said...

Hey BBC,

Start off by checking out this article on flour.

With the large holes in its crumb and an airy, chewy texture, focaccia requires flour with a higher gluten content, which makes sense given that Italian wheat has a high gluten content. Most All-Purpose flours have a gluten content of 10%-12%, which is ok for focaccia. However, Southern All-Purpose flours, which I seem to remember you being fond of, can have a gluten content closer to that of cake flour, which is normally 6%-8%. So, depending on the brand of All-Purpose, flour used, there may not have been enough gluten present. Add to that the fact that the gluten in milled grains denatures over time, and it's quite possible you were working with dough that had a gluten content of <6%, which would have given you the results you observed.

This is all just speculation on my part, though.

- Chubbypanda

breadbasketcase said...

Interesting article, Chubbypanda. It also says you can use flour for up to six months, and mine could have been older than that, although I think I had just bought new flour for Christmas cookies last December. I did fall in love with White Lily flour, but that's more because of the name than anything else, but you can't buy it in Minnesota anyway, so it wasn't that.
I love speculation--so much more interesting than facts.

Rose Levy Beranbaum said...

was about to collapse into bed when i thought i'd just check your blog and what a reward! is this indeed the same marie who had sent me that first semi-irate posting causing me to question why i ever put that recipe in the book!!! it's really to your credit that you didn't give up on bread baking or at least the book right then and there!
both look fantastic. looks like yours doesn't have quite as big holes and the reason would be that i think i forgot to say to dimple the dough deeply just before baking. since the garlic version requires inserting them it automatically gets dimpled.
chubby panda is right about the age of the flour. i failed on my first 15 baguettes due to old flour. i didn't know at that time that flour had a shelf life! king arthur says if you freeze it this extends the shelf life practically indefinitely but who has that kind of freezer space! my freezer is stuffed with bread, and yes--a few less often used flours such as pumpernickel and high gluten for bagels.
anyway, brava--you've vindicated both of us.
and the final bread will be a surprise to me too though i'm tempted to look through the book and try to guess.

extrastorchy said...

The focaccia was the second bread I made from The Bread Bible--my second loaf ever, in fact. (My first was the prosciutto loaf, which my friend April has dubbed "that delicious pig bread"). I decided last minute to bake the focaccia when we'd invited a bunch of folks over for dinner. Now, I have no idea what possessed me to do this, since I NEVER cook or bake something for guests without first giving it a test run. Cooking has never been my forte, you see; that's my husband's department. But, bake the focaccia I did.

My experience with this bread swung between little victories ("Woohoo! I've combined flour and water!") and moments of "Aw, jeez... I'm baking caulk." In the end, I stuck the slop in the oven, threw my hands up in the air, and figured I'd call my husband and tell him to pick up one of those $5 loaves from A Southern Season (they're dipped in gold!) on the way home from his shopping. However, when I pulled the focaccia out of the oven, it was perfect. And I couldn't believe how light it was--not at all like the bricks you're often served in restaurants. My guests loved it. I loved it. The focaccia disappeared in about ten minutes, and it took all the will power I could muster not to stab one of my guests with a fork to prevent him from taking the last piece.

The next day, I looked up "rosemary focaccia" on your blog and I almost fainted.

breadbasketcase said...

Great story! You know, looking at these pictures again makes me really, really, want to have more of this bread. Have you ever made it a second time?

extrastorchy said...

I haven't, but I really want to -- especially after seeing that pic of the focaccia with the olives in it. Hoo boy, I'm a sucker for olives. However, I'm mostly still in that phase in which my curiosity to try new breads tends to win out over my desire to revisit past successes.

Steve said...

Hi Marie,

I'm glad you gave this focaccia recipe another try! It's one of my favorites from The Bread Bible because it has such a unique texture. Comparing your first attempt with your second attempt I noticed one major difference that may have made the all the difference between success and failure. In the first attempt you say you were using the dough hook and in the photo of the second attempt I can see that you are using the paddle. Since this is a very soupy dough I don't think that the dough hook would be able to work the gluten properly which is the key to creating the unique internal structure of this dough.

My main problem with this recipe was preventing it from sticking to my pans. The first couple attempts didn't burn at all but the bottom would carmelize and stick badly to the pan. The best solution I found was to spray a brand new Teflon pan with Pam cooking spray.

- Steve

breadbasketcase said...

Are you a detective, by any chance? You should be one. It never occurred to me that the different outcomes could be because of the mixer attachment I used. In fact, I didn't even remember that I'd used the bread dough hook the first time. I'll bet you're right. Thanks for writing--seeing these pictures again reminds me of how good the focaccia was.