M.D. had her 12-13 month old jabs yesterday and has woken up today with a temperature and a grumpy face. Luckily, her mum is home today – lucky for me and Matilda . . . probably not for my wife. This has created a homely, nursing atmosphere so I decided to make a bread that I thought would suit this. I have come to trust Paul’s recipes in their effects within the house. I have also come to trust my judgement on how I think a recipe will end up in our house. So I saw this focaccia and began to salivate like a pavlovian dog just at the idea of the smells that would fill the house.
Breads like this one remind me that bread making is most definitely a science. For once you decide to add ingredients outside of flour, water, yeast, salt and oil/fat, you have to start asking; how will this ingredient affect the dough? If you are adding onions you have to remember you are adding an acidic ingredient. When you are adding mushrooms (especially a very wet, turgid mushroom like chestnut mushrooms) you have to appreciate how much more liquid you will be adding. So when I saw that Paul’s recipe did not give a set amount of water to add, I decided to deduce that it should be slightly drier that a normal focaccia recipe (approx. 360ml water for 500g flour) so I used 330ml which still gives a wetter dough than usual but nowhere near as sloppy as a focaccia can be.
Mixing and Kneading
I used rapeseed oil rather than the advised olive oil, basically because this recipe uses a lot of oil and rapeseed is still cheaper than olive round here. The mix was very simple and the large quantity of oil (60ml) made the dough very pliable and soft very quickly. I added about 200ml water in one go and added the rest in increments to get it to the right consistency.
A dough this wet does make for an awkward knead, even if it is a white loaf! You can be tempted to keep adding flour to make it stop sticking but, again, you are affecting the make-up and consistency of the dough. There are two tips I can give (other than just give up, or use a kitchen-aid type machine); the first is speed, a fast kneading action will prevent the dough from sticking to the work surface, especially if your action lifts the dough from the work surface with each stroke (this is easier if you are doing it one handed). The second tip is a repeat, I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before, add flour to your hands and rub them together over the dough – this stops you from over flouring.
So, once kneaded it is left to prove for an hour whilst I cooked off some mushrooms and onions. The idea is to brown them off but not completely cook them as they will finish in the bake. Because the mushrooms were chestnut, not Paul’s choice of button (I couldn’t be bothered to go out and get more mushrooms) it meant that I cooked them for longer than the onions because the extra moisture needed to be extracted and evaporated off.
Once cooled, they are added to the risen dough along with a ‘handful’ of chopped basil. Yes, that mysterious measurement returns once again – never mind. This mixture is pushed into a 12 inch rectangular pan and the bread is left to rest for 30 mins. This allows the bread to rise slightly. You attack the dough, leaving finger shaped dimples all over, brush oil over and sprinkle rock salt to finish. This is now left for 1 and a half hours . . . 1 and a half hours?!?!?! That can’t be right. But there it is in black and white. I think Paul has lost the plot here, the 30 min’s rest made the bread rise to over double the original size – 1 and a half hours will let it engorge the pan and create some strange, yet slightly appropriate, squat mushroom shape.
I decide to try Paul’s time frame but to also keep an eye on it, having a look every 10 mins. After 40 mins I pull the plug on Paul’s recipe and decide to bake it then. The dough had already overlapped the dish, hence the lack of straight edges in the photo below.
Aha, I was right. The smell is glorious, it is also immediate. I put the bread in the oven, popped upstairs for my camera, and on the way down the smell was already engulfing the house. The sweetness of the onions, the earthyness of the mushrooms and the perfume that is cooking basil, tricks the mind into thinking that it is already eating the bread – and it tastes good!
The bake is at 200 for 30 mins, resulting in a lovely crispy (not crusty), thin crust with a beautifully soft crumb. Left to cool for an hour, I divvy some up and enter the lounge to see my sick baby girl and her mum waiting in anticipation for their lunch. It goes down a storm, M.D. absolutely loved it. She loved it so much, she made sure the dogs got to taste some as well; but not before she had eaten 3 slices, one of which was mine! One to definitely do again.
History of Bread
Today we return to Pliny the Elder for a novel way of making bread that was traditional in Picenum:
“Picenum still maintains its ancient reputation for making the bread which it was the first to invent, alica being the grain employed. The flour is kept in soak for nine days, and is kneaded on the tenth with raisin juice, in the shape of long rolls; after which it is baked in an oven in earthen pots, till they break. This bread, however, is never eaten till it has been well soaked, which is mostly done in milk mixed with honey.” Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 18.27