Happy Valley Chow

gour-mand (noun): one who is excessively fond of eating and drinking

Focaccia Bread

As some of you know, I am a Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Major at Penn State University. One of the classes we have to take is actually running a restaurant/kitchen. It's a really fun class, especially being a foodie like myself, we get to mess around a lot in the kitchen and create a lot of great stuff. Today we made up some sun dried tomato focaccia bread which turned out delicious, so I figured I might as well snap some pics of it and share with you all. The recipe below is just a straight focaccia recipe, but we added in some sun dried tomatoes. You can add in whatever you want (i.e. sun dried tomatoes, olives, pepperoni, etc). Just make you don't add in more than 10% of the weight in flour, in other addition ingredients. So if you are adding in sun dried tomatoes, you should take 10% of the 2.5 lbs (4.0 oz) and only add in around that much sun dried tomatoes. Enjoy!

  • 24 oz. Water
  • 1.0 oz. Yeast 
  • 2.5 lbs. Bread Flour
  • 3.5 tsp Salt
  • 1.25 tsp Sugar
  • 2.0 oz. Olive Oil

Place a cast iron skillet in your oven and Pre-heat to 425 degrees F

Measure out your water, being as precise as possible, and mix in the yeast. In a bowl combine the flour, salt and sugar until incorporated. In the bowl of a stand mixer, with the dough hook attachment fitted, place your flour mixture in and add the water/yeast mixture and olive oil in. Start the mixer on a low speed and mix for 8 minutes. If you are adding in extra stuff, throw that all in the last minute of mixing to incorporate into the dough.

Once your dough has reached a proper consistency transfer dough to an oiled bowl, cover with a dish towel and let proof for 1.5 hours in an 80 degree F area (2 hours in 75 degree F). Once proofed transfer to an oiled sheet pan and mold dough to the shape of the sheet pan and let proof for another 30 minutes. Once proofed, take your pointer, middle and ring finger and gently push holes down into the dough the whole way around (this is to have little pockets for the olive oil). Generously drizzle the top of the focaccia dough with olive oil coating the whole thing and then sprinkle with kosher salt (You can also use some chopped fresh herbs on top as well, be creative!)

Place the dough in the oven and throw a few ice cubes into the hot cast iron skillet to create steam. Bake for 10 minutes or until crust is golden brown. 

Why Steam Bread??

Ever wonder how professional bakers get those beautifully domed loaves a bread with glossy brown crusts? The secret - at least one of them - is steam...
In the first few minutes of baking, loaves of bread will rise rapidly as the gases trapped inside expand and the yeast has a final burst of activity (this is called "ovenspring"). Steaming within this time helps keep the crust soft. This allows the bread to continue expanding freely.
The steam that has settled on the surface of the bread also dissolves sugars in the dough. As the bread stops expanding and the steam begins to evaporate, the sugars are left behind to caramelize (yum!) and create a glossy crust.
Steaming is really only useful during the first 5-10 minutes of baking while the yeast is still active and the internal structure hasn't set. After this time, the crust needs its own time to set and dry out.
There are several different methods for getting steam inside your oven and the trick is always doing it without losing too much heat. Personally, I prefer to set a cast iron pan on the oven floor and let it preheat along with the oven. When the time comes, I slide the loaves in and then I either quickly pour a cup of very hot tap water into the pan or toss in a handful of ice cubes.
Some bakers advocate using a spritzer bottle to spray a mist of water into the oven, but I feel that this lets out too much heat and doesn't really generate the same amount of steam as using a pan with water or ice cubes.
Also, you can add steam when baking any bread, whether it's a simple white sandwich bread or a hearty country round loaf. You learn something new everyday!

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