Sunday, April 22, 2007

Rosemary Olive Focaccia

Saturday, April 21, 2007
Last Saturday, April 14, my friend Mary and I went to Lorenzo's Bread Circus, held at the Mill City Museum. This event was sponsored by the St. Paul Bread Club, which sounds like some venerable institution, but it's only been around for a few years. What it lacks in longevity, it more than makes up for in enthusiasm. I've never been around so many people who are so crazy about bread, and so willing to share their passion.
Mary and I watched Pat Roberts demonstrate making walnut potica, a pastry of eastern European derivation. What you do is mix up a buttery, eggy dough and stretch it out to about the size of a ping-pong table so that it's incredibly thin. Her theory is that the dough part should be practically invisible in the final product: "If you have thick dough, you might as well just make coffee cake!" Then you fill it with a combination of walnuts--10 cups!--butter, milk, eggs, sugar, and honey, and roll it up. She was so skilled at making the pastry and spoke with such love about learning to bake from her mother and grandmother, that I wanted (very briefly) to run back home and start my own batch. Then I remembered that I'd had potica, and, sorry to say, was not that crazy about it. I tried another piece and still wasn't that crazy about it--maybe just because it doesn't bring back childhood memories. I'm not that crazy about lefse, either, or pasties--other foods that make people from The Range sigh in bliss. ("The Range" is northern Minnesota's iron range; people came from all over Europe to work in the iron mines, resulting in more cultural diversity than Minnesota had ever before known). If you're interested in making potica, however, you should pick up a copy of Baking With the St. Paul Bread Club, available from the Minnesota Historical Society Press. Pat Roberts' recipe will guide you through the process.
After watching Pat make her potica, and after sampling other Bread Club members' challah, rye bread, flatbread, sourdough, whole wheat bread, and cheese bread, I picked up a copy of the cookbook myself. It's got a nice sampling of some of the members' favorite breads, stories about how they came to baking, and their most important influences.
My first recipe was Karen Vogl's Rosemary Focaccia with Olives. Jim has been asking me to bake another loaf of olive bread since I first made the version in The BB--a bread that he rated as his number 1 choice in the entire Bible. He thought this one was not quite as good, but he had to eat about a dozen pieces in order to make the comparison.

Rosemary Focaccia with Olives

1 12 to 16-ounce russet potato
2 1/2 cups (313 grams) bread flour
3 t. fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
1 t. salt
1 c. (237 grams) warm water
1/4 t. sugar
1 package active dry yeast
4 T. (56 grams) extra-virgin olive oil
12 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1/2 t. sea salt

1. Bake or microwave potato until done. When cooled, scoop into small bowl and mash. Measure 2/3 cups potato.
2. In medium bowl, combine flour, half the rosemary, and salt. Add potato and blend.
3. In small bowl combine water, sugar and yeast, and let stand until foamy. Stir in 3 T. oil.
4. Pour yeast mixture into flour, and mix (by hand or in stand mixer) until smooth, about one minute. Knead only about a minute more, either by hand, on floured counter, or in machine. Place in large oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubed.
5. Preheat oven to 450.
6. Brush large baking sheet with oil. Punch down dough and knead for about 30 seconds on lightly floured surface. Pat or stretch dough into a 12-inch round and transfer to baking sheet. Press with fingertips to make dimples. Brush with 1 T. oil. Sprinkle with olives, sea salt, and remaining rosemary. Cover with cloth, and let rise about 20 minutes, just until puffy.
7. Bake about 20 minutes, until golden.

--Adapted from Baking with the St. Paul Bread Club. The recipe notes that it is adapted from the September 1999 issue of Bon Appetit.


Melinda said...

It looks so good and inviting! Nice picture.

I like the idea of the bread being stretched to the size of a 'ping pong table'...hmmm. There would be a million holes in mine! I don't think I have the temperament for such an ordeal, so better not try it.

breadbasketcase said...

The potica expert got holes in her dough, but she was completely unfazed. I don't have the temperament for such things either. I made an elaborate gingerbread house with Sarah and Elizabeth one Christmas--I thought it would turn into a lovely holiday tradition. But the sides of the house kept falling over, and the icing wouldn't glue them together. I started swearing. Elizabeth started crying. Sarah made me promise never to do it again. So much for traditions.

Kim Ode said...

I've been following your blog for months, intrigued by the idea of baking your way through a cookbook. So many of your experiences with The Bread Bible's recipes mirrored mine, but I'm not sure I'll ever get through them all. I salute your persistence. And your photography.
All this by way of saying how surprised and pleased I was to read about Pat Roberts. She is one of the premier bakers in the St. Paul Bread Club, and I was able to make potica with her while researching and writing the cookbook. (Thanks for buying one!) The Bread Club had its annual baking contest Saturday and Pat took honors in several categories.
The Bread Circus was a good first step into what everyone hopes will grow into an annual bread festival.
I wish we could have met each other there. Glad to see you back in your kitchen baking again!

breadbasketcase said...

I did go to your sourdough demonstration, which was one of several things that led me to decide it was time to make my own starter. If the one I'm working on now doesn't make it, I'll try the La Bread method.