Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sourdough Focaccia with Toasted Almonds and Garlic

I write to you with the sounds of "Scarlet Begonias" ringing in my ears and the sights of sunshine pouring in my usually cloudy Columbus window and it has put me in a rather jovial mood! 

This formula is coming from Daniel Leader's older book Bread Alone. I have been subconsciously avoiding baking from this book because it annoys me. It bothers me because the recipes are not so much formulas, as much as they are loose amounts of ingredients with wishy-washy instructions that leaves too much open to interpretation. I feel that he should have tested his recipes more and come up with actual amounts rather than 10-14 ounces of this or 12-18 ounces of that. I guess I blame myself for not looking closer when I purchased the book.

I remember baking foccacia with Richard Miscovich, the man who peaked my interest in baking and who was my mentor during my sophomore year of college. (I owe a lot to him. Thank You Misky.) I am about to finish graduate school in a few weeks, and needless to say, it has been a long haul. There is a reason for this rambling. I sort of consider focaccia to be a beginning baker's bread. I do not mean this as an insult, but I simply prefer baking loaves. Also, I think that a pissaladier blows focaccia out of the water! That being said, it is on my list, so I baked it!

Once again Leader is using his annoying method of using all of the prepared sourdough starter, so I went ahead and looked at another formula and created my own sourdough build. I used 2 ounces of bread flour, 3 ounces of whole wheat flour and 3 ounces of water with 0.8 ounces of stiff levain. The reason I used whole wheat flour in the build is because Daniel Leader calls for 20% bran flour in this bread. (He does this in many of his recipes) The 3 ounces of whole wheat flour in the starter represents 20% of the total flour in this bread.

When a build is prepared with whole wheat flour, it has a stronger sour taste, and seems to have more body. Also I had class the next morning, so I knew I was going to have to "retard" and I have found that whole wheat flour holds up well with this sort of treatment. It is almost as if the germ and the bran are the endosperms protector during the refrigeration. If you really think about it, the bran is literally the berry's jacket while it is on the stalk, so it does make sense. I would like to share with you one of my favorite lines from literature. 
"Beans are a roof over your stomach. Beans are a warm cloak against economic cold." 
This is from Tortilla Flats, a wonderful little book by John Steinbeck. My good friend Dave, recommended this book, and I really enjoyed it! If you want a nice little book, give it a read.

I gave the sourdough build about 15 hours to sit and get lovely. When I got back from class it was ready. It had grown quite a bit, and had a nice earthy color because of the whole wheat in it . 

This bread is a wet one, so be prepared for that. I mixed it on first speed for three minutes and then on second speed for close to five minutes to help develop the gluten and to compensate for the high hydration. Daniel Leader did not mention anything about a fold, but I gave it one. It needed it. This particular formula is strange in that the bulk fermentation is shorter than the proofing. This bread is given about an hour to rise, and is then divided and then shaped into a rough round. This is allowed to rest and then is thinned out into a rough round shape before being placed on a well floured peel (Remember to use semolina flour, especially for wet breads such as this). Even with tons of semolina on the board, I still had a little bit of trouble, but I was able to make a smooth transfer. 

Close up of the sliced almonds and garlic

After about the 90 minutes of proofing, the dough is dimpled with your fingers in order to create little wells. This dimpling keeps the dough from rising too much, and it creates little divits which will help to trap olive oil. There are a number of toppings that can be used. I have made focaccia with roasted mushrooms and onions and another with figs and thyme. This time I went with a nut topping. I used 1/2 cup of sliced almonds, and 3 cloves of garlic which I sliced very finely. This mixture is tossed with 1 1/2 tsp of olive oil. Prior to putting the topping on the dough, the dough is brushed with 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil. This helps to add flavor, but it also gives something for the almond garlic mixture to stick to. I wish I had some marscapone cheese. That would have been divine with this bread. 

The oven was preheated to 425 F for an hour and then the dough was baked for about twenty minutes. After ten minutes of baking I gave the dough a 180 degree rotation. During the spin, I also took a note of how far along the bread was. 

Even though I placed the dimples in the dough, the bread actually rose quite a bit in the oven, There was very large air bubble, which I was happy about. Overall, the bread was pretty good.  Focaccia is not a personal favorite of mine. I find that it tastes too strongly of olive oil and there is too much garlic flavor in this bread. On the other hand, the almonds really added a nice flare to the bread. I always love the crunch that is provided by nuts in bread. 
A holy hole! 

I do not think that I will bake this bread again, but it was a nice change of pace from the loaves that I have been making lately. I am getting to the point where I have to buckle down and buy some more pricey ingredients, like figs and high quality green olives. 

Keep on Baking and they will keep on eating.

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