I recall promising a bread series late last year to power through my handicap with yeast. Even though I decided to put together the series early on, it took a while to materialize as I wanted to make sure I do it right. While you’ll see a bread or two from my oven really soon, I have a few of my friends coming in and sharing their experiences on how they took up this challenge; of befriending yeast. Yeast, you see, is a hard fellow to tame.
This series is a combination of some remarkable bloggers sharing their tips and tricks, taking you step-by-step for simple everyday breads. This is my journey of breadcraft, and I invite you to join me in it.
My very first guest kickstarting the series is fellow blogger, Dara ( from Cookin’ Canuck). When I told her about the series she truly empathized; having been once in a place where I was. See her baking breads today and realize there is hope for everyone. She explains the process with such ease and in detail.
We are opening with a personal favorite, Focaccia. The perfect Italian bread that welcomes herbs and toppings of your choice. It’s impressive as it’s tasty – light, airy, perfectly presentable. I like mine best when its served warm with some flavored butter or olive oil and balsamic.
Dara has done a great step by step tutorial for us and I’m going to let her get right to it.
When Anuradha told me that she was hosting a series on yeast breads to help quell her hesitation in using yeast, I felt her pain. It was not that long ago that the thought of tackling anything with yeast scared the heck out of me. I’d happily make sushi, whip up a curry or poach some eggs. But yeast? Well, I was certain that everything would go wrong before I had even started.
This seemingly irrational fear continued for years, reinforced by an attempt to make breakfast rolls, which did not rise even half an inch. I learned later that I mixed the granules of yeast with water that was too hot, effectively scorching the little suckers.
I don’t remember exactly what encouraged me to give yeast another chance, but before long I found myself perfecting a pizza dough recipe that we now use every Friday night. Once I learned the proper temperature to activate the yeast, which took nothing more than a few go-rounds with an instant-read thermometer, my confidence soared and I was determined that no little grain of yeast was going to intimidate me again.
The first focaccia bread I ever attempted was under the careful supervision of a strict Italian grandmother in a Tuscan kitchen many years ago. Just last year, I finally attempted it on my own and made Focaccia with Caramelized Onions, Tomato and Rosemary. The recipe I’m showing you today uses the same basic dough, but this time it is topped with roasted red peppers (see my post on How to: Roast a Bell Pepper if you’d like to make your own), kalamata olives and Parmesan cheese for a tender bread with a savory, salty taste.
Now, let’s get down to business.
In a medium bowl, stir together yeast, warm water, and honey. Let rest until yeast blooms and bubbles form on top, about 10 minutes. Ideally, yeast should be stirred into water that is between 100 and 110 degrees F. To me, the water feels a little warmer than lukewarm, but I suggest using an instant-read thermometer the first several times until you’re comfortable with estimating the temperature.
You can either use the individual packages of yeast or, to save money, buy the larger glass containers, particularly if you are going to be using the yeast often. One package equals 2 ¼ teaspoons of the yeast. It tells you this right on the side of the jar, so need to memorize.
Stir in flour, 1/4 cup olive oil and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead until dough is smooth, 5 to 10 minutes.
Now, of course you could also use a dough hook attached to a stand mixer. That will work perfectly well. When it comes to yeast dough, I like to use my hands to knead because, quite honestly, I love the feel of the dough. Whatever floats your boat.
Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl (or coated with cooking spray), cover with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and let rest in a warm place until dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Remove dough from bowl and press it into a lightly oiled 9- by 13-inch baking sheet until it touches the edges. Using your finger, poke holes all over the dough. Drizzle the dough with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Let rest until the dough becomes puffy, about 20 minutes.
Top the dough with roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, dried oregano, Parmesan cheese, and salt.
Bake until the focaccia is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a rack. Cut into pieces and serve.
Recipe: Focaccia with Roasted Red Peppers, Kalamata Olives & Parmesan Cheese
- 1 package dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water (100 to 110 degrees F)
- 1 tsp agave nectar or honey
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring the board
- 1½ tsp kosher salt, divided
- ¼ cup plus 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
- 1 ½ (3 halves) roasted red peppers, cut into thin strips
- ⅓ cup sliced kalamata olives
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- ¼ cup (packed) finely grated Parmesan cheese
- In a medium bowl, stir together yeast, warm water, and honey. Let rest until yeast blooms and bubbles form on top, about 10 minutes. Stir in flour, ¼ cup olive oil and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead until dough is smooth, 5 to 10 minutes. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and let rest in a warm place until dough doubles in size, about 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F
- Remove dough from bowl and press it into a lightly oiled 9- by 13-inch baking sheet until it touches the edges. Using your finger, poke holes all over the dough. Drizzle the dough with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Let rest until the dough becomes puffy, about 20 minutes.
- Top the dough with roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, dried oregano, Parmesan cheese and ½ tsp kosher salt.
- Bake until the focaccia is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a rack. Cut into squares and serve.
Thank you Dara for that very insightful post. A fantastic start to the series.
Baking a loaf takes time and its even longer when we all have day jobs keeping us busy. While the yeast for the next bread has just been put in a 110º water bowl, I’ll make sure its served to you as soon as its ready.
Hop over to Dara’s to check out her drool inducing blog for more recipes and tips.
This post was also submitted to Lora’s #BreakingBread Event. Hop over to check out the other fabulous sweet and savory focaccia recipes.