Bread 8: Italian Bread and Focaccia

2006-03-05

Italian BreadFirst up this morning was Italian bread. The only notable differences from our standard recipe was mixing up the slurry with cold water, then adding flour, lukewarm water, malt and salt. After kneading, this dough was incredibly easy to work with, very soft but not tacky at all. We didn't need to let it rest on the bench, so we immediately scaled, rounded and let it rest for ten minutes. Following the shaping technique for a baguette, we then rolled it out into a long cylinder, then joined the ends to make a free-standing ring. I tried squishing the two ends together, one on top of the other, but it didn't make a very nice seal. My partner for this class showed me a technique she learned from making bagels: she pinched the ends together around the circumference, then rolled it smooth. After a circular slash around the whole loaf, we baked them on cornmeal dusted pans.

On to the focaccia. Chef prepared seasoned grilled vegetables before class: onions and red and green sweet peppers. In addition, we also had sundried tomatoes, olives, bacon, feta and Swiss cheeses. After mixing and kneading the dough, we let it rest as usual then formed five small rounds and rolled them into flat circles. We fitted them into greased 7" cake tins. After dimpling it with our fingers, we generously brushed some herb-infused oil on top. Our instructor made this by heating vegetable oil with garlic, rosemary and basil and letting it stand. Everyone scattered their preferred toppings on the dough, then topped it with the grated cheeses and some Parmesan as well.

FocacciaThe Italian bread was pretty plain, although we did sample it in class, warm, with some of the herb oil. The focaccia was simply delicious (how can anything with strips of cured and smoked pork not be?). During the break, as we sampled Chef's version, a bunch of us thought that if we had made six of them, we would have had a thinner base, giving us a better ratio of bread to toppings. Mmm, more bacon per bite.

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