America's Test Kitchen's Rosemary Focaccia Bread

[scroll down to view: recipe | video]

The focus of this post is my attempt to bake a bread I wanted to make for potlucks and other events where it wouldn’t be just family in attendance. I decided on Tuscan Focaccia bread which is an Italian bread and is often topped with herbs and dimpled for a rustic look. Luckily, there’s a good video of America’s Test Kitchen (season 11 episode 22: Simply Italian) demonstrating how to make Rosemary Focaccia bread.

America's Test Kitchen Rosemary Focaccia Bread
America's Test Kitchen: Italian Rosemary Focaccia Bread
As with most breads, be aware that you do have to plan ahead since you have to make the biga (aka preferment, starter, poolish) 8-24 hours before the rest of the dough and there’s a lot of waiting time in between each of the steps. The time used to all the bread to rest and rise basically replaces you having to knead the dough. Gluten will naturally form in time and through a little bit of folding. This becomes in a way a no knead bread. Rest assured that the bread will continue to rise in the oven in a process called the oven spring. The oven spring is the bread's last hurrah where it rises once last time before the yeast dies in the heat of the oven.

Putting together the Focaccia Biga
Putting together the Focaccia Biga

After making several breads, there’s a point once a bread is done and you let it cool that you cut into it. I call this the Moment of Truth because it’s hard to gauge how the bread will turn out. Yes, you do have a thermometer to make sure that the center of the bread hits 200-210 degrees Fahrenheit, but there’s always going to be that sense of suspense and uncertainty right before you cut into it when you see whether Santa left you a nice little present or a lump of coal. The instant read thermometer did register the magic number of 210 degrees exactly when I took it out of the oven and the crust was crisp and wasn’t hard. Allow me to say that it came out perfectly: the center was cooked all the way through and the crumb structure was just immaculate. I find that focaccia bread gives you a nice looking crumb with plenty of air bubbles, a common characteristic of artisan breads. Not only that but when I took my first bite, I just felt like I was in heaven - yes it was THAT good. I actually made this focaccia bread to complement the eggplant parmesan I made as well for a nice Sunday Italian dinner, but in actuality this focaccia would go well with any Italian dish: fettuccine alfredo, spaghetti with meatballs, tortellini, cheese ravioli, lasagna, etc.

Yeast eating sugars and releasing air bubbles
Focaccia Biga the morning after being made: the holes indicate the yeast is working by eating the sugars and releasing air bubbles for flavor.

The difference between this focaccia bread and other focaccia breads is that the crust is crisp and gives a good crunch. Other focaccia breads have a soft crust with almost a fluffy, sponge-like texture. I have nothing against that type of focaccia bread which is the type that I would most likely encounter. I personally don't know why some focaccias come out that way and why others come out crunchy, but I do like both kinds. My theory is the high hydration level of the dough.

Italian Focaccia Bread sprinkled with coarse sea salt and garlic
Italian Focaccia Bread sprinkled with coarse sea salt and garlic

I wouldn't change much in this recipe. The bread came out how I expected with good flavor and texture. I just added some coarse sea salt and some garlic as a topping [Update 9-6-13: I put 2 heaping teaspoons of fresh, minced garlic in the dough because the garlic tended to burn when sprinkled on top. What also works is to heat the olive oil with a few cloves of garlic in a sauce pan giving you garlic infused olive oil and then mincing the garlic and incorporating it into the dough]. Rosemary has that distinct piney and earthy flavor, and I would lessen the amount of rosemary because I didn't want the rosemary flavor to be too overwhelming.

Crumb structure of the Focaccia
The Crumb Structure of my Focaccia Bread

In terms of the process of making the focaccia bread, instead of going through the trouble of putting the dough on a floured surface, having to handle such a wet and sticky dough, and splitting the dough into 2 round pans, I would actually just use 1 pan for the entire dough. The reason for this is because it could be very difficult when doing step 4 of the recipe below. When you watch the accompanying video, your dough will NOT turn out the way that America's Test Kitchen chef Becky Hays. Your dough will have the consistency like that of pancake batter.

ATK Focaccia dough in one pan
Focaccia Dough if you were to use one rimmed baking sheet instead of 2 round pans.

Instead what you should do is just oil up a rectangular rimmed baking sheet and just pour out the batter straight from the mixing bowl using an oiled spatula. Because I found it difficult handling the wet dough (putting it onto a floured surface, halving it, and putting each half into a separate pan), this allows you to bypass that altogether. The only time you would have to handle the dough is when the dough is already on your baking sheet and once the top of the dough is well oiled (and your fingers are oiled too), it'll be easy to spread the dough out to fill out more of your rectangular baking sheet. Most focaccia breads I've seen are cooked on rectangular baking sheets.

Making 1 large focaccia instead of 2 small ones
Common in Italy to make 1 large Focaccia instead of 2 smaller ones

FlavorFool's Notes

  • The dough for focaccia bread is extremely wet. It is so wet that this dough is virtually impossible to knead. Because of the high hydration of this dough, you have to be very delicate and gentle when handling it. No one told me that making focaccia was like trying to diffuse a plutonium bomb...no sudden movements, only precise and surgical motions in the presence of daunting circumstances. The recipe says to use a liberal amount of flour to dust your work surface and your hands. Do dust your work surface with flour, but I recommend that you coat your hands with olive oil instead of flour. The dough has a lesser chance of sticking to your hands when handling it and putting it into the pans.
  • My biga looked more wet than in the video, but I was still able to make it work.
  • I know that every oven is different, but this recipe becomes fully baked after 28-30 minutes. However, at this time, the outer crust of the bread becomes too crisp and the inside crumb is no longer soft and chewy. I suggest cutting the time by 5 minutes or so.
  • Because this recipe lacks fat (other than the olive oil used to brush the surface), it’ll go stale quickly. Fat in the form of butter, oil, milk, etc. makes a bread last longer. After a few hours, you can already taste the staleness setting in, so be sure to eat right away or freeze. You can always warm it up in the oven.
  • The recipe calls for 2 tbsp of olive oil in the pan that you would use to coat both sides of the dough (see accompanying video). Because of the delicate nature of the dough, I only put 1 tbsp of olive oil in the pan and brushed the 2nd tbsp of olive oil over the top. I wanted to avoid over handling the dough.
  • I added fresh minced garlic that I used as a topping in addition to the fresh rosemary that was used. Instead of adding salt to the bottom of the pan, I ended up sprinkling a pinch of coarse sea salt on top similar to what you would see on a traditional Bavarian Pretzel. When it comes to focaccia bread, I like it plenty salty and garlicky. I found if you used the amount of fresh rosemary as the recipe indicates, the rosemary overpowers everything else, so go easy on the rosemary. Other common toppings for a focaccia bread include sun dried tomatoes, parmesan cheese, shallots, salami, caramelized onions, kalamata olives, gorgonzola cheese (the Italian version of blue cheese), grapes, raisins, etc.
  • I find that when making bread, portioning out the flour can get messy with flour spilling onto the counters as you're scooping it out since my flour jar opening is quite small when putting in a measuring cup or it's filled to the brim. In either case, flour always finds a way to get spilled when scooping. In this recipe, you have to do it twice - once for the biga (1/2 cup flour) and then another time for the rest of the bread (flour). To minimize the amount of scooping and spilling of flour, I just portion out the entire amount of flour used in the recipe (3 cups) and put it in a bowl that is big enough and then set it aside. Then from those 3 cups, I portion out 1/2 cup flour for the biga and put it in a bowl of equal size. I then add the water and yeast to the smaller porton to make my biga. When the next day comes and it's time to prepare the rest of the bread, I'll already have the remaining 2.5 cups of flour measured out and all I'll need to do is add that to my biga. I no longer have to go through the trouble of portioning out another 2.5 cups of flour from the flour jar and cleaning up the spilled flour on the counter since it's already done.
  • I find it easier to pour out the dough onto 1 larger rectangular rimmed baking sheet instead of having to handle the dough to halve it and putting it into 2 smaller round pans. This saves you from having to handle the gentle and wet dough too much. Handling extremely wet dough to me is such a pain.
  • Rosemary Focaccia Recipe

    America's Test Kitchen - season 11 episode 22, Simply Italian
    Makes two 9-inch round loaves

    Ingredients

    If you don’t have a baking stone, bake the bread on an overturned, preheated rimmed baking sheet set on the upper-middle oven rack. The bread can be kept for up to 2 days well wrapped at room temperature or frozen for 2 months wrapped in foil and placed in a zipper-lock bag.

    Ingredients
    Biga
    1/2 cup (2 1/2 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
    1/4 tsp instant or rapid-rise yeast
    1/3 cup (2 2/3 oz) warm water (100-110 degrees F)

    Dough
    1 1/4 cups (10 oz) warm water (100-110 degrees F)
    2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for shaping
    2 tsp Kosher salt
    1 tsp instant or rapid-rise yeast
    4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
    2 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary [this is way too much so I used about 1 tsp for both loaves]

    Instructions

    1. FOR THE BIGA: Combine flour, water, and yeast in large bowl and stir with wooden spoon until uniform mass forms and no dry flour remains, about 1 minute. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature (about 70 degrees) overnight (at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours.) Use immediately or store in refrigerator for up to 3 days (allow to stand at room temperature 30 minutes before proceeding with recipe.)

    2. FOR THE DOUGH: Stir flour, water, and yeast into biga with wooden spoon until uniform mass forms and no dry flour remains, about 1 minute. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 15 minutes.

    3. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons salt over dough; stir into dough until thoroughly incorporated, about 1 minute. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature 30 minutes. Spray rubber spatula or bowl scraper with nonstick cooking spray; fold partially risen dough over itself by gently lifting and folding edge of dough toward middle. Turn bowl 90 degrees; fold again. Turn bowl and fold dough 6 more times (total of 8 turns). Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. Repeat folding, turning, and rising 2 more times, for total of three 30-minute rises. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to upper-middle position, place baking stone on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees at least 30 minutes before baking.

    4. Gently transfer dough to lightly floured counter. Lightly dust top of dough with flour and divide in half. Shape each piece of dough into 5-inch round by gently tucking under edges. Coat two 9-inch round cake pans with 2 tablespoons [I used 1 tbsp to coat the pan and I brushed the other tbsp on top] olive oil each. Sprinkle each pan with ½ teaspoon kosher salt [I didn't do this but instead sprinkled a pinch of coarse sea salt on top]. Place round of dough in pan, top side down; slide dough around pan to coat bottom and sides, then flip over. Repeat with second piece of dough. Cover pans with plastic wrap and let rest for 5 minutes.

    5. Using fingertips, press dough out toward edges of pan. (If dough resists stretching, let it relax for 5 to 10 minutes before trying again.) Using dinner fork, poke surface of dough 25 to 30 times, popping any large bubbles. Sprinkle rosemary evenly over top of dough. Let dough rest until slightly bubbly, 5 to 10 minutes.

    6. Place pans on baking stone and reduce oven temperature to 450 degrees. Bake until tops are golden brown, 25 to 28 minutes, switching placement of pans halfway through baking. Transfer pans to wire rack and let cool 5 minutes. Remove loaves from pan and return to wire rack. Brush tops with any oil remaining in pan. Let cool 30 minutes before serving.


    Video: Chef Becky Hays Making Rosemary Focaccia Bread on America's Test Kitchen

    4 comments:

    Anonymous said...

    Made this today and LOVED IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I also like their other recipe by the same name from America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, which is a more flat bread. My husband like this (CI one) better though.

    FlavorFool said...

    Hi @Anonymous, that's awesome that your focaccia turned out great. This was one of the few recipes that I tried where I was able to nail it the first time around, and it sounds like you definitely nailed it too. I'm glad that you and your husband loved how it turned out.

    Linda Lucas said...

    Great recipe, second time am making it. Decreased salt in pans to 1/2 teaspoon after first batch a bit too salty. Kept everything else the same, thanks for posting!

    FlavorFool said...

    Hello @Linda, ya the focaccia bread from Amercia's Test Kitchen can be a little salty, but I'm happy to hear that you're enjoying making it. It's definitely a good recipe to know how to make.

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