If stranded on a desert island and forced to pick one food for eternity, I wouldn’t hesitate to select freshly baked bread. That being the case, I decided I should probably be baking more fresh breads to enjoy while I don’t have to make that improbable choice.
A recent weekend presented itself with few social engagements and time to try out a new recipe and an old favorite. The projects started on Saturday with the initial mixing of yeast doughs that needed to rise overnight — one in the refrigerator and one in a warm spot. I usually cover my dough and place it on a dark pantry shelf overnight or in an oven that is not being used. I’m a big fan of breads that don’t require kneading, as I tend to overwork my bread dough.
I found a recipe for no-knead focaccia bread that looked like something I could tackle. I have been wanting to bake focaccia for its flexibility. It can be eaten plain with a little salt and olive oil or served with a variety of toppings from fresh herbs to tomatoes and cheese.
The focaccia dough required one envelope of active dry yeast, a bit of honey, flour and salt. If your yeast is inactive, you’ll know within five minutes while it sits in lukewarm water to foam. After tossing a few bread starters in the past, I have learned to keep a close watch on the expiration dates of my yeast and keep plenty of it on hand.
Once the yeast is activated, add the dry ingredients and mix. I usually use my hands. This is a shaggy dough that is ready as soon as no dry bits are visible. The recipe calls for 4 tablespoons of olive oil, although I didn’t need quite that much to coat the dough before covering it with plastic wrap and refrigerating it overnight. The recipe suggests at least eight hours for rising, but notes that three to four hours at room temperature will also do the trick. I didn’t want to chance it.
I wanted thick slices, so I prepared a 13- by 9-inch pan with butter and lifted the risen dough into the pan with a couple of forks. The recipe called for using the forks to fold the dough in a couple turns. I was happy just to get the dough into the baking dish intact. After pouring the remaining olive oil over the dough, I spread it to the corners of the pan and let it rise another four hours.
When I was ready to bake, I used my olive-oil-covered finger tips to deflate it a bit and put little holes or dimples throughout the loaf. I also sprinkled flaky sea salt and a little more olive oil over the top. After 25 minutes in a 450-degree oven, it was perfectly golden brown. I melted butter with a little grated garlic and brushed it on the warm bread and served it immediately. I froze the remainder and defrosted it in the fridge a couple of days later. We topped it with fresh tomato, basil, Parmesan Reggiano cheese and a hearty drizzling of olive oil, and the loaf perked up perfectly in about 10 minutes in a 300-degree oven.
With all of the ingredients out, I also prepared my go-to no-knead bread, a popular recipe that also requires the dough to rise overnight. I have tweaked it a little, but it always bakes into a dense loaf of delicious and crusty bread.
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Instead of using 3 cups white flour, I use 2½ cups unbleached white flour and 1 cup wheat flour. It adds a little color and texture. I also put closer to 1 teaspoon of dry yeast instead of the ½ teaspoon called for in the original recipe. It seems to rise a bit nicer. This bread bakes in a scalding hot Dutch oven in a very high-temperature oven, so it’s important to be careful handling the dough. I take pride in being able to plop the dough right from the board into the center of the hot pan in one quick motion.
Another nice thing about this bread is you can shape it anyway you like as long as it fits in the pan. I prefer a round loaf, and I usually pinch the top to give it some lift. The loaves also can be stored in the refrigerator in a paper bag for several days or frozen. It’s great toasted.
Shockingly Easy No-Knead Focaccia
One (¼-ounce) packet of active dry yeast (about 2¼ teaspoons)
2 teaspoons honey
5 cups all-purpose flour
5 teaspoons of kosher salt
6 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil (divided)
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter plus more for pan
Flaky sea salt
2-4 cloves of garlic
Whisk active dry yeast (about 2¼ teaspoons), honey, and 2½ cups lukewarm water in a medium bowl and let sit 5 minutes. Add all-purpose flour and salt and mix until no dry streaks remain.
Pour up to 4 tablespoons of olive oil into a large bowl that fits in the refrigerator. Transfer the dough to the bowl and coat it with oil. Cover and chill for at least eight hours and up to one day.
Generously butter a 13- by 9-inch baking pan and transfer the dough into the pan. Spread to the edges to deflate the dough and let it rise again in a dry, warm spot for 1½ hours to four hours.
Dough is ready when it springs back slowly. Lightly oil fingers and poke deep holes into the dough to create dimples. Sprinkle remaining olive oil and flaky sea salt over the dough and bake at 450 degrees for 20-30 minutes.
Focaccia is best served right after it’s cooked. While it is still in the oven, melt 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter on the stove and add 2-4 cloves of grated garlic for 30-45 seconds, being careful not to burn it. Brush the garlic butter mixture over the focaccia bread before slicing and serving.
3 cups unbleached white flour (or 2½ cups of white flour and 1 cup of wheat flour)
½ teaspoon to ¾ teaspoon of dry yeast
1½ teaspoon of salt
1½ cups of water
Mix together ingredients for about one minute and transfer to a bowl. Cover and store in a dry place for at least 15 hours.
When ready to bake, place a Dutch oven in the oven at 500 degrees. Put the dough on a lightly floured surface and fold on each of four sides. Pinch the top to create a peak. Being careful and using an oven mitt, plop the dough into the center of the Dutch oven and cover. Bake for 30 minutes. If it’s not crusty enough, you can remove the lid and bake for another few minutes.